Phillips entered Corpus Christi College (CCC), Cambridge,14 as an Exhibitioner in September 1920. The following year, he obtained a first class in the Mathematical Tripos, Part I, and was awarded the Manners Scholarship. In 1922 he was awarded a Foundation Scholarship (at CCC) and the Bishop Green Cup, and was appointed to the position of Temporary Demonstrator in Petrology at the Sedgwick Museum, under the supervision of Alfred Harker (1859-1939; FRS, 1902), Reader in Petrology. Phillips was also elected to membership of the Geologists’ Association in May 1922. The following year he gained his BA, obtaining a first class in Part I of the Natural Sciences Tripos (geology, mineralogy, chemistry and physics). He was again awarded the Bishop Green Cup and, in addition, the Wiltshire Prize for Geology with Mineralogy.15 He subsequently graduated with a first class in Part II (geology) of the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1924, and was awarded the Cowell Scholarship (CCC).
The following year Phillips began the research for his PhD dissertation, The Geology of the Shetland Islands, with Special Reference to the Petrology of the Igneous Rocks (Phillips 1927a), under the supervision of Harker with ‘assistance’ from Cecil Edgar Tilley (1894-1973; FRS, 1938), who was at that time University Demonstrator in Petrology. Phillips was also appointed Student Demonstrator in Mineralogy (1925-1928), under the supervision of the Professor of Mineralogy, Arthur Hutchinson (1866-1937; FRS, 1922)16 with Robert Heron Rastall (1871-1950) and Thomas Crawford Phemister (1902-1982) as his fellow demonstrators.