Who are the people behind the Oura ring? What’s it like to work at Oura? In this interview, we introduce one of our scientists, Dr. Heli Koskimäki, and let her explain what she does, why science is fun, and what’s cool about heart rate variability, among other things.
What have been – and are – your research interests?
I’ve always loved numbers. After I graduated from mathematics, my interest geared towards data: in addition to numbers, also signals, categorical values, etc.
You know, data rarely lies, but it can reveal something you weren’t aware of before.
During the last ten years, I’ve become more and more fascinated about wearable sensors and human centric data. In both areas, real-world applicability must be taken into consideration right in the beginning, which makes the development process challenging. But it’s also very rewarding because people can actually utilize the end-results.
Tell us a bit about your educational background: what have you studied?
I have a Master’s Degree in Mathematics (2003) and a Ph.D. in Technology, more precisely in Computer Engineering (2009). Since 2016, I’ve also held a position as an Adjunct Professor of Applied Data Mining, wearable sensor applications, at the University of Oulu, Finland.
What do you do at Oura?
My job title is Senior Data Scientist. I mainly work with biosignals, feature development and Matlab (Matrix Laboratory created by MathWorks). Together with my colleagues, my job is to turn data into insights for our customers.
But I also collaborate with almost everyone at Oura: I help answering our customers’ questions, fact-check our science blog articles, make different kind of tests, validate our signal data and product features, attend conferences and participate in scientific collaboration with universities – to name a few.
What do you enjoy about working at Oura?
I have to admit that I love every aspect of my job. The signal data of our tiny ring keeps amazing me weekly.
I’ve been told that my eyes sometimes sparkle when I lay my eyes on the biosignals the ring collects! To me, they look beautiful.
And with the new ring design, our product is as beautiful from outside as it is inside. And yes, the diamond design makes my eyes sparkle, too, but maybe not as much as the actual signals do :)
I also like the culture of our company. It’s open and dynamic – things actually happen! And if you want to know what’s going on in different teams (as I do), you can just ask.
But for me the best thing in Oura are the people. I came to Oura after working 15 years at the university (where I still work part-time), and colleagues there are like my second family. You can trust every single one of them, you can be yourself with them and we are better together.
I was anticipating a cultural shock when I came to Oura, but colleagues here have surprised me positively. I do feel as a member of family here, and it didn’t take 15 years to get there. Oura people are amazingly talented, self-driven – and extremely busy at the moment! But I know that every one of them will have time to help me out if needed, and of course, vice versa. They are more like friends to me than colleagues.
What was your dream job when you were young, were you interested in science and tech already as a kid?
I’ve always liked mathematics and numbers but as a kid, I never considered tech or science as a profession. School was easy to me, but I was quite “normal” happy child without any plans for future.
When did you notice that you could become a scientist?
The word “could” is a correct term because I never wanted to become a scientist. I just happened to apply for a position at the university as a Master’s Thesis worker. Even in the job interview I said that I’m not interested in post-graduate studies. I was somehow thinking that I’m not a scientist type. But I proved myself wrong.
What’s best in working as a scientist?
The novelty! The freedom! You’re allowed to think yourself!
What are the worst stereotypes associated with scientists?
That scientists don’t know anything about real world and are making zero value research using society’s money. It’s easy to criticize something you don’t understand. I do think that people wouldn’t survive a day without using devices, protocols or information based on science.
In addition, even I had a picture in mind how a proper scientist looks like and how they act. I did struggle with that stereotype versus my own behavior and appearance, and to be honest, I still do. Not that I would let that stop me being myself: a bubbly, spontaneous extrovert with rational introvert inside. I want to be taken seriously without being serious.
What would you say to girls (and boys) who want to become scientists?
I can without a doubt recommend them a career in science.
Being at the forefront, making an impact and working with highly skilled people is something to aim for.
What makes you tick nowadays?
I’m in my dream job, that’s one thing. And Antti Tuisku (a Finnish pop singer), he’s so talented and dares to be himself! I hope I can deliver him our ring one day.
I’m one of the “best” sleepers at Oura. I have always appreciated a good night sleep (at least most times). But heart rate variability (HRV) has become my favorite. It’s interesting to see how my body reacts to my daily choices. After an evening workout my HRV drops, but the day after it rises above my average value. A morning workout doesn’t have a similar effect. When I’m about to get sick, my HRV drops close to my minimum value. If I take a couple of glasses of wine, the effects show in my 5-minute HRV average (which I can check out on Oura Cloud). It takes three to four hours for the 5-minute HRV to normalize.