“I am so humbled and thankful to God for his grace and favour that brought on this achievement early in my professional career.” That was the take of Dr Joy Egede, one of the five (5) winners of the 2020 L’Oréal-UNESCO UK Women in Science Rising Talent Award. Her research work on ‘Automatic Multi-Modal Neonatal Pain Assessment’ earned her a place among the top 5 out of over 9,000 applications.
The graduate of Computer Engineering, Covenant University, said the journey through her PhD research, which formed the foundation for the award, was a challenging expedition. “It stretched me beyond my limits, sometimes to the point of giving up, but my faith in God kept me going through all the challenges,” she added.
Reminiscing on her undergraduate days in Covenant, Dr Egede, the overall Best First Class Computer Engineering student, Class of 2008, noted that it was a preparatory and purpose-defining phase of her life. According to her, the unique values of Covenant University further reinforced the foundations of discipline and responsibility set by her parents. “The core values of Spirituality, Integrity, Possibility Mentality, Capacity building, Responsibility, Discipline and Sacrifice, code-named SIMCaRDS, would eventually become the pillars upon which my life goals and pursuits rest on,” she added.
She noted that her alma mater, practically, drilled the concept of finding one’s purpose, having a vision, pursuing it tenaciously, and making a positive impact into her subconscious mind. “I cannot fully express how profoundly grateful I am for the privilege of passing through Covenant University. There were many life lessons learnt from the Chancellor as well as the contributions of Professors Atayero, Idachaba, Katende, Dr Agboje, and all my lecturers to my academic development and achievement thus far,” she stated.
Dr Egede said upon graduation, she wanted to pursue a career in academia, and she got the Horizon International Doctoral Innovation Center Scholarship to study for a PhD degree at the University of Nottingham. “I didn’t just want to research to get a certificate; I wanted to solve a real-world problem. Covenant University taught me I was a solution provider. Thus, I embarked on research to develop technologies that would address crucial neonatal healthcare challenges,” she posited.
Dr Egede’s award-winning research aims to assess the level of pain a newborn baby feels using machine-assisted methods. It employs Computer vision, Machine learning and Digital signal processing techniques to evaluate pain indicators in neonates. It then predicts a pain intensity score to guide clinical decisions on pain treatment. This research work, according to her, stems from the fact that newborn babies in neonatal intensive care units go through several painful medical procedures during their stay at the hospital. However, clinical studies have shown that inadequate pain treatment in neonates and prolonged exposure to pain could have long-term detrimental effects on their neurological development.
Regarding the possibility of collaborative work with former coursemate in Covenant, Engineer Temitope Takpor, who is currently researching on ‘Computer Vision for Childbirth Progression Monitoring: Cervical Dilation Assessment’, Dr Egede noted that the research topic is indeed intriguing. The work, she added, addresses a fundamental maternal health problem using computer vision technologies. Labour, she said, is a very critical aspect of pregnancy which could significantly impact on the health of the mother and the unborn baby and could even lead to fatalities if not well managed.
“I am particularly passionate about creating technologies that improve healthcare delivery for vulnerable populations which includes pregnant women and nursing mothers. For example, I am currently working on Computer vision-driven intelligent health information systems that would deliver perinatal health advice to pregnant and nursing mothers in Africa, with a significant focus on advice surrounding labour. I would be happy to engage in collaborative research that generally promotes healthcare for perinatal women. With the considerable overlap of this project topic with my research interest, I think there is a good chance of partnering on joint projects that would accelerate and boost the quality of maternal healthcare in Africa and the world,” she stated.
On whether women enjoy enough support in science, Dr Egede is of the view that compared to a few decades ago, significant efforts abound to support women in science. However, there is still a need to do more to balance the gender representation in STEM fields, she noted.