Interview: Talking with Glutanimate

Anna Piazza - Jan 09, 2020
anki glutanimate interview

It was so exciting to launch the AMBOSS' add-on for Anki last year, but we couldn't do it alone. Medical student and coder Glutanimate was integral in helping us get it up and running for your study needs. We spoke to him about his ventures into medicine and developing, Anki, and more.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Aristotelis, but I mostly go by Glutanimate online. I am a German medical student with a coding background, and I love using my skills in both of these areas to build solutions that improve studying.

My key focus over the past few years has been working on the flash card app Anki, for which I've published over 50 different add-ons, and I’ve also recorded quite a few YouTube tutorials. Some of my most popular works include Image Occlusion Enhanced, Review Heatmap, and Cloze Overlapper. More recently I've also had the pleasure of working on the development team behind the AMBOSS add-on for Anki.

How did Glutanimate start?

Glutanimate as a nickname actually goes back quite a bit – to the days when I was primarily active in the Linux open-source community. Being the nerdy guy that I was, I coined it after the neurotransmitter glutamate which animates the brain (get it, nudge, nudge).

But if we're talking Glutanimate in the context of my Anki projects, it's basically the classical developer tale of using an app that doesn't quite fit the bill, and then tinkering with it to adjust it to your needs. I've always been a huge fan of optimizing my workflow, and what better way to do that than to dive right into the code!

After modifying and creating a couple of Anki add-ons in that way, I thought that maybe other people might find them useful too. So I started sharing them. Four years and 50 add-ons later, and here we are!


Why is Anki such a favorite tool for medical students?

I think that's primarily because it's tried and tested, both in terms of scientific research and the success stories of upper-level students. Diving more into the reason behind that success, I think it comes down to 

three key points:

  1. Medicine is ridden with minute details, and with its founding principles of active recall and spaced repetition, Anki provides an effective and efficient way for students to memorize them.
  2. Anki takes the burden of planning your studying off your shoulders, as you can simply follow its revision schedule, do your question banks, and confidently head into that upcoming exam.
  3. Its community support is simply unparalleled, with a plethora of different content and tools at your disposal in the form of pre-built decks and add-ons.

How do you manage to work on add-ons and apps while studying?

I really enjoy building stuff, so that helps, but even after all these years this is still quite difficult. It definitely comes down to carefully keeping track of the time available to me, and then methodically prioritizing tasks. Sometimes this does mean putting some projects on ice, e.g. my YouTube channel, which I haven't been active on in quite a while.

Equally important, however, is the incredible support I've received from the community. If it weren't for my supporters on Patreon, I would definitely not be able to dedicate as much time to Anki development as I can nowadays!

What’s a typical way you’ve used Anki throughout your studies?

So many ways! I've used it to navigate through the details of neuroanatomy, memorize the weirdest drug names you can think of, and internalize clinical algorithms in their entirety.

Basically, as someone who has always been more inclined to concept-driven subjects like physics and physiology, Anki has finally opened the door to more fact-laden areas for me.

What’s the benefit of using an open-source tool (like Anki)?

What's cool about open-source is that the community gets to shape the future of the app. See an area you can improve or fix? Well, just roll up your sleeves and join in on the fun! I've done quite a bit of that myself, and it's always a great feeling to see people use your feature.

Anki's open-source nature also means that it will always exist in some way or another, and for an app that you'll ideally be using for years and decades to come, that's very reassuring to know.

Finally, one byproduct of Anki's open source culture has been the incredibly rich library of community-provided add-ons and decks, neither of which I feel would have been possible otherwise.

What makes the AMBOSS Add-on for Anki so exciting?

Well, we were just talking about open-source, so nerding out for a moment, I think it's fantastic to see 

AMBOSS supporting that effort!

Looking at it more from a user perspective, I think that AMBOSS and Anki complement each other incredibly well. Anki is fantastic for memorizing and retaining information, but less so for learning it for the first time, or testing your understanding of it ahead of an exam. This is where AMBOSS comes in for me, supplementing Anki, my lectures, and course material with its knowledge library and question bank.

The add-on puts that curated repository of knowledge right at my fingertips within Anki, combining two of my favorite studying tools together, and to me that has been absolutely amazing.

Why do you think students love it so much?

It really helps with keeping sight of the big picture. That's what I feel most students love about it. Flashcards are insular by their nature, and with spaced repetition it's way too easy to lose the 

connections between them and the greater concepts at hand. The explanations provided by the add-on can really help with that, and of course they're also mighty useful when you're still familiarizing yourself with the topic.

The other aspect about the add-on which I think is key to students is how convenient it is. It basically 

serves you all the context you need to know about each flashcard right within Anki. You don't need to break your flow and switch to another app to read up on things; and when you do need to dive even deeper into a topic, or want to do some qbank questions on it, the corresponding AMBOSS features are just one click away. Time-starved as we are as medical students, that can really be a boon.

What’s next for Glutanimate?

I feel like there is still so much untapped potential out there in terms of adopting evidence-based practices in medical education, and I definitely want to do my part in helping move that along.

On the AMBOSS side of things, that means staying involved with the development of the add-on, and helping push for an even deeper integration with Anki.

On the Anki side of things, that means making the app even more user-friendly and feature-rich – both by pushing out new and even more exciting add-ons, and by contributing to Anki's development itself.

The next couple of months should see quite a few add-on releases from me, so for the readers who are just as much of an add-on aficionado as I am: You should definitely stay tuned to my Twitter & Instagram!

Want to see more from Glutanimate? Check out our webinar,  Anki x AMBOSS Anki x AMBOSS - Excel on USMLE Step 1, to see him, the AnKing team, and AMBOSS’ own Dr. Sean Robert Huff as they discuss Anki, our new add-on, and how you can excel at Step 1.

Want to try the AMBOSS add-on for Anki yourself?