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Catching Up With Talithia Williams, Mathematician, NFP Queen, & Tempdrop Chief Scientist

Since coming on board as Tempdrop’s Chief Scientist, Talithia has kept busy, and we decided that we needed an update on everything she's been up to now that Tempdrop is so close to shipping.

You may have heard her TED Talk about the insights she gained from tracking her basal body temperature every day for over 6 years. But with a PhD in Statistics, Talithia is first and foremost a mathematician and her motto is simple: show me the data!

In addition to her academic accomplishments, Talithia and her husband, Donald, actively teach Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods. She knows firsthand that numbers can tell us a lot about our bodies and our health. Let's catch up already!

Q. Hey Talithia, what have you been up to lately?

Since the TED Talk, I’ve been invited to a lot of speaking engagements and I’ve travelled across the country to talk to people about how they can use their data better. We also have three young kids and I have a full-time job so my hands are always full! Donald and I try to spend as much time hanging out and having fun with our children as we can.

Q. How did you first hear about Tempdrop back in the day?

Michael reached out to me in Irvine at a conference and told me he’d seen my TED Talk. We immediately hit it off and we’ve been partnering ever since. I was really excited by his vision and the work he was doing.

I like that Tempdrop is centered around women and how it empowers women to gain insights about their own bodies and fertility. When Michael first described Tempdrop, I was mostly intrigued about the use of a sensor - I was so used to thermometers, it seemed revolutionary and really “21st century”. It has the potential to truly change the way we think about collecting temperature and how women can use that.

Q. Have you had any recent breakthroughs in the way you’re looking at your own data?

What’s really interesting today is that women are able to track their temperature and data more independently. For a long time, I involved my husband in the process and he would record the data. It definitely strengthened our relationship at the beginning and it made him understand how the woman’s body functions. But I like the fact that women today are empowered and take control of their own data.

As for myself, I’ve started using a couple more apps to track different data about my body, like recording my weight for example. But to be honest, I’m still kind of old school and I appreciate taking my temperature and writing it down on a piece of paper (laughs).

Q. Since your TED Talk, have you seen any trends in body literacy and fertility, both in the industry at large and with the women you’re counseling?

What we’ve seen is that people are really excited about taking hold of their data, especially women who have been wanting an effective alternative to birth control. It’s really amazing to see people learn about their bodies! I’ve heard a lot of “How did I not know this?!” and “I didn’t know this was how my body worked!”. To see women learn about themselves in a way they didn’t know they could is very fulfilling.

Q. Have you noticed women becoming more body and data conscious?

Definitely! And one of the reasons is that everybody has some sort of device today: a Fitbit, an Apple Watch. There are countless ways to collect data about yourself. But people want to go further now and understand what they can learn from their data. They are more interested in apps that will let them share data with their doctors or that will sync with their health records for example. People want to get a complete picture of their health and share it with people they love. If something happens to them, they want to make sure data insights could help explain what led to the event. This seems to be the direction data consciousness trends are heading to.  

Q. What products or trends in body consciousness are you most excited about?

I’ve started using a Fitbit. I also now use the Clue app to record my cycles and moods. We also have an electronic scale at home so I record my weight and body fat and sync it to my phone. These are the things I do on a daily basis. I know my cycle down to a science now! I can pretty much tell you where I am in my cycle based on how I feel, and the data of course.

Here’s a funny story - my husband can also tell when my cycle is about to start! He noticed that it’s the only time I will go walk around aimlessly in shopping malls! It’s like my body sends me to that place at that time of the month. He will text me to ask where I am and automatically know what’s up!

Q. Do you have any tips for women managing their own fertility?

Initially, when we learned about Natural Family Planning, it was through the Catholic Church, even though we are Baptists. Donald and I had just gotten engaged and I did not really want to go on birth control. A friend of mine who was following NFP talked me into it and we loved it! The statistician in me loved collecting data and figuring out what numbers meant in terms of my fertility. It was really empowering! It gave me a better appreciation of how our bodies work and make us who we are.

But, from a more secular perspective, one thing I recommend to women is just to track their temperature regardless of what the goal is. I’ve used my data in both ways - at first, it was not to get pregnant. But when we decided we wanted children, we were now able to know when we were fertile.

Another thing is that you have to remain patient - it can be frustrating to learn how your body works and the process can be slow, very slow. It takes a few months to see a pattern in your data and understand what it means. Everyday feels like an adventure! What was my temperature? Have I ovulated?

I also think that it’s very important to involve your partner - it’s great to see women learning about their own bodies but it’s truly amazing to see your partner understand how your body works. It builds trust and compassion in a relationship. It also allows the dynamic to be more balanced because it turns both the husband and the wife into the gatekeepers, rather than forcing the woman alone to be the gatekeeper. Nobody wants to be the gatekeeper - the responsibility should be shared! This way, your partner could look at the data and infer where you stand in the fertility cycle and you can make that decision together! It’s much more a unified effort that way.

Thanks so much Talithia. We can't wait to send you a Tempdrop!