July 20, 2022 — Shifting from the anatomy lab to the computer lab, a group of two dozen UF College of Medicine students gathered earlier this summer to learn more about the data-crunching technology that is impacting clinical care and research.
A new Artificial Intelligence Boot Camp created by the UF College of Medicine’s Office of Research Affairs is making it easier for students and trainees to learn the basics of AI and how to incorporate its tools into their research and practice. The fast-paced, multiday group training sessions — combined with the college’s growing field of AI expert faculty members and partnerships with enterprising technology companies like NVIDIA — are just the latest way the College of Medicine is pushing the boundaries of medical research and training.
“This boot camp is a quick way for people with absolutely no AI or coding experience to get up to speed and to a level where they will be able to contribute to real-world AI research,” said Benjamin Shickel, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of medicine and one of the boot camp’s co-directors.
The developers of Practicum AI, an AI training and education platform created by UF Research Computing, have also collaborated with the College of Medicine on the boot camp, providing interactive AI exercises and instructional material.
The college’s first AI boot camp took place in June, when UF medical students and other UF staff and trainees took a deep dive into the basics of AI tools during the two-day program. Participants learn the fundamentals of AI as it relates to the world of medicine including important vocabulary and terminology and basic coding in the Python programming language, concluding with an introduction to the most leading-edge deep learning algorithms provided by UF NVIDIA Ambassadors. They also undergo cohort-building and team science exercises.
“One of the goals is to make AI more experiential and concrete,” Shickel said. “People are talking about it a lot these days and there’s certainly a large amount of excitement, but it can sometimes feel abstract. We’re hoping to show people what AI is really all about and how it can be applied for students’ own research here in the College of Medicine.”
An additional three-day AI boot camp is set for mid-August, and participants will include members of the college’s newly created Emerging Research Scholars-AI PhD Program. This group of Ph.D. candidates interested in bioinformatics will receive special training and mentoring opportunities from the Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences and Office of Research Affairs to develop peer networks and fast-track their AI research endeavors. Potential Emerging Scholars mentors will attend the boot camp, and college AI faculty will be invited to a lunch reception with the group.
AI boot camp participants can review the concepts explored in the program and download course materials for up to one year after attending.
“AI applications are so diverse, but a compact introduction on the fundamentals basics can be very beneficial,” Shickel said. “Then the participants can branch off in their own research directions and dive deeper into areas they’re most interested in.”
Azra Bihorac, M.D., M.S., senior associate dean for research affairs and one of the organizers of the AI boot camps, said the college plans to extend the program to include junior faculty, fellow and resident participants and to make it available for continuing medical education credit. The boot camp will also be accessed by researchers and graduate students at the UF Scripps Biomedical Research Center this fall.
“Our AI training programs are part of a research training and workforce development initiative using innovation and team science to create a future biomedical workforce that will carry out the digital transformation of health care and society,” she said.