All Rhodes lead to Abu Dhabi

Farah Shamout has returned to the place where she began her academic career, but now as an aspiring young researcher.

By Naser Al Wasmi, NYU Abu Dhabi Public Affairs

Some three years after graduating with a Bachelor of Science from NYU Abu Dhabi, Farah Shamout finds herself back on campus working on a first-name basis with the colleagues she was calling professors not long ago.

Shamout is now a faculty at the university she graduated from. With a PhD from Oxford University, she will be researching machine learning in health care and the use of artificial intelligence to improve clinical decision-making.

The decision to come back to an environment she knows fosters research and learning was easy, but the Rhodes Scholar is driven deeper by a desire to have a larger impact on the region she calls home.

“In the Arab world in general, all the doctors I’ve spoken to here are excited about research. You can meet doctors who think that the risks of AI outweigh its benefits and they won’t be excited at all but the culture here is more open to it. I see potential here for my research to grow,” she said.

Working with Cleveland Clinic and a number of other entities, she is researching how to develop data-driven algorithms that can predict patient outcomes based on existing patterns in historical data, offering insights into patient conditions. “We're also looking into building models that are clinically useful in real-life settings,” she explains.

However, Shamout says many of the baselines for machine learning and other assessment systems are built on guidelines and information set out in the UK and the US — systems that may not entirely be equipped for an Arab population.

Shamout is putting together a multidisciplinary team of researchers to participate in her projects, including clinicians, data scientists, and engineers. Being a young researcher in a nascent field will open up opportunities for her work to have a larger impact.

“This is the only academic institution that I would have come back to. NYUAD supports the faculty in a way where you can be productive with your research. Faculty in other places are often spending most of their time writing grant proposals, which is something you do here, but it isn’t what drives you every day. Here, you’re driven by your quality research and the opportunity to pursue your own ideas,” she said.