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UKRI Centres for Doctoral Training artificial intelligence call

The call is now open for around 15 Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) focused on areas relevant to Artificial Intelligence (AI) across UKRI’s remit.

This call opens against the background of Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti’s review, Growing the artificial intelligence industry in the UK, and the Government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper, Building a Britain fit for the future.

This investment in AI skills will be kick-started by support for over 100 studentships that will be funded during 2018/19 via the Research Councils current mechanisms and schemes. 

Then, recognising that CDTs are seen to be a successful mechanism for cohort-based training, up to 950 additional studentships, over five years, will be funded through a new call for CDTs opening today. 

This builds on collaborative work between the Research Councils and Innovate UK to develop a clear picture of the training needs in AI, related technologies, their applications and implications.  The call presents an exciting opportunity for highly multidisciplinary, research training in this hugely important area for the UK.  

Universities are invited to apply against two priority areas: 

CDT bids submitted against the new AIAI priority will not be required to include research training in EPSRC’s remit.

This funding for talent and skills is part of the government's industrial strategy, and UKRI encourages universities to consider proposals that support the development of skills in AI across a wide range of disciplines and challenges, building the future talent pipeline and ensuring the UK remains competitive in this growing sector.

Each application domain of AI will have its own challenges to deployment. Therefore, it is essential that bids to this priority area consider the unique and specific implications for their domain.

Training clinicians in AI

The UKRI CDT call in Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides the opportunity to train clinicians as well non-clinical researchers in the understanding and development of AI approaches. MRC would like to encourage innovative CDTs which embed clinicians into the centre’s training. This will foster a shared understanding between individuals developing and applying AI approaches and those using the technology to enable earliest diagnosis and precision treatments. Bids focusing on digital pathology, radiology or diagnostics are particularly encouraged.

To overcome the barrier of costs, MRC will consider providing "top up" funding to cover the additional costs associated with a clinical PhD compared to non-clinical doctorates. This opportunity is restricted to bids submitted against the Applications and Implications of Artificial Intelligence priority area of the UKRI CDT call in AI and will be limited to £150k per individual. MRC anticipates supporting clinicians in up to three successful CDTs, each supporting a small cohort of (up to six) clinical trainees as part of their wider CDT.

Proposals wishing to include clinical trainees in their bid should briefly indicate this at the outline stage. Costings should include the additional clinical PhD costs, however, these additional costs for clinical PhDs do not need to meet the call’s co-funding requirements. The call requirement for 20-40% studentship costs to be contributed from non-RCUK sources should therefore be based on the total studentship costs of the CDT costed as non-clinical doctorates.

To ensure high quality CDT applications can proceed to the next stage while managing demand and costs for clinical PhDs, it is possible that some applicants will be invited to proceed to full proposal but asked to remove clinical PhDs. Further guidance on including clinical PhDs as part of a full proposal will be provided after the outline stage where relevant.

Applications of AI to the biological, health and clinical sciences

The biological, health and clinical sciences provide a wealth of opportunities and challenges that are potentially tractable through innovative use of AI and related approaches. Across the life sciences, data from high-throughput DNA sequencing and other omics technologies, bio- and medical imaging across a range of different scales, automated phenotyping and sensor platforms, healthcare records, population level data and other sources of "big data" present an unprecedented resource for data-driven research. Within the biosciences, AI will provide new ways to explore the fundamental properties and dynamics of biological systems, such as cell and physiological systems, as well as to address key challenges in the bioeconomy. AI will enable automation, quantitation and enhanced reproducibility of analyses extracting information from ambiguous, noisy datasets, such as imaging, with greater sensitivity, potentially marker-free, and with higher throughput enabling the understanding of dynamic biological systems. In the health sciences, AI applications include digital pathology and radiology, acceleration of drug discovery research and development, systems medicine, biomedical informatics, improvements to diagnosis and support for clinical decision making or improving organisation of complex public health services and systems.

Application process

Outline proposals are required by 28 March 2018, by 16:00 GMT, with Outline panels taking place during the week beginning 14 May 2018. For further details please visit the ESPRC website

Following this separate Outline panel stage, those applicants invited to proceed to full proposal will merge in with the main EPSRC CDT process with the new CDT cohort expected to start in the 2019/20 academic year. 

The funding of the Centres will be subject to budget confirmation.

UK Research and Innovation is a new organisation that, from 1 April 2018, will bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England. The aim is to create a system that maximises the contribution of each Council and creates the best environment for research and innovation to flourish. The vision is to be an outstanding organisation that ensures the UK maintains its world leading position in research and innovation. For more information, visit www.ukri.org.