Faces of UMSI: Brad Thompson

Brad Thompson joined the first cohort of students in UMSI’s new Master’s of Applied Data Science (MADS) program in order to gain a nuanced understanding of technological evolutions in a field he’s worked in for decades. Brad is a lawyer who specializes in FDA regulation of artificial intelligence used in medicine. In order to work toward a sensible approach toward AI that is best for patients, Brad said he knows he needs to understand data science at a deeper level. 

Brad is an alum of the University of Michigan Law School, where he graduated in 1986. (“Well before most of my current classmates were even born,” he added.) He currently practices law in Washington, D.C. and lives in Zionsville, Indiana. “I represent clients all over the country, so I telecommute and spend a lot of time on airplanes,” he said. In between flights and online meetings, Brad has found time to take online courses to build out both personal and professional skills. He discovered the MADS program, he said, on Coursera, where he was studying Python and learning how to code. 

“For me, life is not about sitting in a comfortable chair or playing golf,” Brad said. “We need to always be learning stuff and always moving forward. I don’t ever want to be idle.” With that dynamic attitude, Brad enrolled in the MADS program. He’s driven to equip himself with the knowledge required to effectively and responsibly work at the cutting edge of his field. “The use of artificial intelligence in medicine is, as you might guess, an emerging and evolving area of law,” he said. “I need to understand best practices in validating algorithms to the satisfaction of the FDA, but I also need to understand the risks associated with the use of AI in medicine.” 

Brad hopes that the MADS curriculum will help him work toward solving unprecedented issues in his field. “One issue is exactly how the FDA can regulate technology that itself evolves,” he said. “The FDA is accustomed to being able to somewhat precisely identify the benefit/risk balance for a fixed technology. A technology that changes over time completely upends the existing FDA paradigm.” In starting to study how to approach such large challenges, Brad is taking it slow and steady. “Because this is really my first time back in school in 35 years, I’m only taking one course a month during this semester. I took SIADS 505 on data manipulation, basically studying the use of pandas in Python. It was my first formal course in computer science.” 

Throughout his first few MADS courses, Brad has brought his proactive nature to his peer community, and he is looking toward the future of the program. He created a Slack channel dedicated to interesting developments in health data science. “Right now it’s mostly just for that shared interest, but as the program continues I imagine it’ll be a great way to collaborate for group projects,” he said. “Then as students get closer to graduation, it’ll be a great opportunity for others to network about jobs.”

He’s also undertaken the administration of a self-designed survey of the first MADS cohort with the aim of learning more about the far-flung, pioneering population. “By getting as many students as I can to participate, I can distribute the results to everyone to encourage social connections based on geography, prior education and age; job networking based on industry; and academic collaboration based on shared interest,” he said. 

Given the way Brad has immersed himself in new fields, technologies and educational methods, it’s hard to believe that he did briefly consider retiring. For now, though, he’s got important work to do, and the MADS program is equipping him with the necessary tools for the job.