Reflecting on the OpenAI Scholars Program

openai Jul 2, 2020

The scholars program is coming to an end. Since my next post will detail my final project, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on the scholars program as a whole. I'd like to talk about the goals of the scholars program.

Goal of the Scholars Program

The goal of the Scholars program is to improve diversity in the field at large. This was worked towards by providing stipends and mentorship to individuals from underrepresented groups to study deep learning and produce an open source project.

Self Motivation

Since the objective of a scholar in the program is to study deep learning and produce an open source project, a scholar should be very self motivated and technically proficient. Self motivation is important when developing your own curriculum/project as is done in this program. And the technical proficiency is a good signal that a scholar will be comfortable creating an open source project.

The program was set up in such a way that it was flexible for each scholar to learn/work at their own pace and work on their own domain/project. I personally found that flexibility awesome. I think of myself as very self motivated and I believe that, that was to my benefit during the program. I spent the first part of the program learning about the state of the art in natural language processing and contributing to open source. And I spent the last part of the program working on my final project. I think that to thrive in this program, you must be very self motivated and willing to learn.

In my opinion, this cohort of the scholars program is was very technically proficient. So I believe that any of the scholars in this cohort will be able to contribute to the field. Although our level of experience with respect to deep learning varied from little to none, the experience with the technical definitely helped everyone build a foundation for future deep learning work.

Assuming the scholars program continues to have similar expectations, for someone to be a successful scholar in the future, self motivation and a high level of technical proficiency will be essential. Anyone reading this article looking to apply for a future cohort of the Scholars Program (or a similar program) should consider those skills. Since this is only the third cohort, the scholars program might change in the future, so it's helpful to keep an eye out for the current requirements and expectations in the scholars program. Recently, OpenAI announced that the scholars program will have another cohort this fall. For more on that follow the OpenAI blog.


Since the start of the program I have thought about that main goal to improve diversity in the field and what that means for me, and I have some thoughts to share. Although conversations about diversity are interesting, helpful, and necessary, unfortunately issues such as these are also very "complex, sensitive, and nuanced". I believe that these conversations deserve to be talked about in depth, acknowledging the underlying assumptions and nuances, but I don't feel I can do the whole topic justice in a short blog post format. For that reason I'll try to keep it simple and as specific to this program (or deep learning) as possible.

The goal of diversity programs such as these are definitely noble, I would love to see more people from many backgrounds participate in deep learning specifically. I believe that diversity of thought/background is helpful in the creative process, specifically in divergent thinking. And in a field such as deep learning where there is much to be discovered, divergent thinking is a necessity. And it was awesome to me that the program itself was very flexible, allowing us with varied levels of experience to grow in deep learning. That's why overall, I think that the scholars program is a great way to introduce that, I applaud the effort and I believe we'll see great results from this cohort soon enough.


I'd like to give thanks to some communities and people that have been helpful throughout the

OpenAI: For the opportunity to be part of this program, connect with experts and setting up some future opportunities.

Huggingface, Pytorch Lightning: Very helpful in sharing resources and answering questions.

Melanie Subbiah: my mentor for the scholars program, always insightful and helpful. Good mentorship is rare but Melanie proved to be a wonderful mentor for me.

My wife Noelle for being a support throughout this journey!