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Behind the Screens: Stephanie, Scientific Advisor

When Onoco’s founder Margaret first set out to create the only app that parents need, she didn’t just want to provide useful tools for parents wanting to share care and gain insights into their child’s routines and behaviours; she also wanted to create one single source of truth for new parents.

Being able to provide accurate information and science-backed data is part of Onoco’s success, and that’s where Stephanie comes in!

Stephanie joined Onoco in May 2022 as our Scientific Advisor, an entirely new role within the business to ensure parents can access the most up-to-date information within the field of parenting, children’s health and wellbeing, and their own mental and physical health.

Here she takes us through her journey with Onoco so far; how she’s been able to balance working in a start-up with studying; and the work she’s undertaken so far to ensure Onoco is accessible and informative for all parents.

Hi Stephanie, tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m from the US (more precisely from California) - I’ve lived in different states like Illinois when I was younger, but California is home for me!

I started studying and researching at UC Davis where I got my Bachelor’s degree in Science and Technology Studies. It was at this point that I started working in a nutrition lab, where I researched breast milk composition and discovered a passion for children’s health. I later worked in a microbiology and immunology lab, where I researched infant intestinal diseases, more specifically necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

After my Bachelor’s, I moved to the UK to do a Master’s in Global Health and Social Justice at King’s College London. During my Master’s, I began researching antenatal ultrasound availability and effectiveness in low- and middle-income countries. As my Master’s came to a close, I decided to continue on to pursue my PhD, where I’ve used my previous research to create an innovative pilot study examining antenatal ultrasound access in South Africa, which I hope to be used later in other countries.

But my life is not only about research and university! I also love to travel, which is good for studying global health and being able to immerse myself in a variety of cultures. And I love food and trying new restaurants – London is an amazing city for that.

What made you choose your study field and PhD thesis?

It’s been a series of happy accidents. Through my learning journey, I discovered my interest in the medical field and in research. The more research I did, the clearer the path was. I started to work with parents, with mothers and their babies, which brought me a lot of joy. I was able to see the direct impact of my work and how science can make people's lives better, which I was really passionate about continuing.

What do you do as a PhD student?

There are different stages during a PhD. For my fieldwork, I travelled to South Africa where I visited midwife obstetric units and tertiary hospitals. I spoke directly with practitioners, which was amazing and enabled me to get first-hand knowledge about what expecting women, new mothers, and healthcare professionals were struggling with in terms of access to care. A big part of my work consisted of interviewing practitioners and transcribing the interviews in order to extract data and insights for analysis. I also conducted geospatial analyses to understand the geographic distribution of healthcare resources.

As a researcher, you not only use your own research but also other studies - taking all the existing knowledge and adding more knowledge with my own research - which is something else I find really rewarding. The world is constantly changing and it’s important for us as researchers who are relied on in our specialist fields to be providing quality data and insight. Making knowledge readily available is also a really important part of a researcher's work, which is another reason I love being on the Onoco team and sharing new research with parents!

Now that I’m finishing my PhD, I am more focused on finishing my thesis and presenting my findings. My work has already been published in a few scientific journals and I’ve presented in a few conferences; these can be real “pinch me” moments and are important opportunities to meet like-minded researchers and advisors in the field of parenting, child health, and development.

How did you hear about Onoco and why did you join?

My research is about access to healthcare and useful tools and technologies for pregnant women and new mothers. Ultimately, my final goal is to help increase access to these resources.

It was during this initial research around parenting tech that I discovered Onoco.

It caught my attention because the app was offering parents access to tools to help their child’s development and, because it’s all done on your phone and with a free version available which includes so many important tools, parents can essentially access care and support from anywhere. This was such a crucial crossover between the company’s mission and my journey so far that I knew I had to get in touch with Margaret and see how I could contribute!

Since joining, I’ve really loved embracing the culture of the team. Although everyone is working on different aspects of the business, everybody is engaged and engaging, meaning I can learn from everyone and gain a deeper understanding of marketing, product development, and even fundraising.

We are very connected and there is lots of accessibility for team members. I love being able to work from everywhere - just this year, I’ve worked from South Africa, Italy, the US, and the UK! It’s quite fun to pop up on our weekly team meeting with a different background as it always sparks an interesting conversation about travel and the remote culture embraced at Onoco.

What is the project you are the most proud of (so far)?

Well, I’m currently working on a very exciting project and I cannot wait for the next product release to be able to share more…but until then!

I’m really proud of my work on Onoco’s growth charts. At Onoco, we want to make care accessible to all families, including for parents of children with special needs. Most of the growth charts parents have access to are not made for premature babies, despite the fact that it’s this particular demographic who require the most attention on their development.

I analysed several sources of data, ultimately deciding to follow the UK-WHO growth charts from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. To ensure we’re providing data which parents can easily read, interpret, and make informed decisions with, I used and incorporated these data sets with the at-term WHO growth charts, which are familiar to new parents.

Now with the Onoco growth charts, parents of any newborn can add and closely follow their child's growth and development - whenever they are born. I’m happy that my work is helping to make the Onoco app more inclusive and hope to continue ensuring this across our features.

How was it to join a start-up while studying?

My onboarding was very easy! I started to learn more about the team and their different functions quite quickly, as everyone is very open. There’s a real culture of sharing and being invited to give your opinions, even if it’s not your particular area. It was nice to meet new people and learn more about app development, advertising, and AI.

I now regularly speak to Margaret and my colleagues to provide updates on our tasks, missions, and product development. It’s very easy for me to work on my PhD while working at Onoco; my missions are clear, I have all the help I need from my colleagues, and you just know that everyone’s working towards the same end goal.

What movie or song describes your life at Onoco?

‘She Blinded Me with Science’ by Thomas Dolby! My dad loves 80’s music and when this song comes on, he always says it reminds him of me and my sister ‘blinding him with science’ – we both went into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The lyrics aren’t relevant, but I’m all about science!


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