Julie O'Brien, PhD

Director, Applied Behavioural Science
Published 30 September, 2020

What she does at WW

Julie is a behavioural scientist working to leverage technology for health-related behaviour change. Having spent her career designing and testing scalable solutions that close the gap between what people want to do and what they actually do, she’s passionate about uncovering the subtle forces that drive behaviour.

At WW, she works closely with product teams to identify these hidden forces and design product experiences that take them into account. Through this process, she supports the “problem-solution matching” element in product design that helps members take the actions they care about, at the right time.

Her background

Julie holds a PhD in social psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she studied racism and discrimination, including implicit bias and group diversity. After graduate school, she joined Opower where she created its behavioural research function and worked to design products aimed at energy efficiency behaviours. After gaining exposure to the complexity of health behaviours, she went to Duke University where she led the Better Living & Health initiative at the Center for Advanced Hindsight (CAH), an applied behavioural research centre. At CAH, her team conducted basic academic research on social processes and health behaviours, and worked closely with industry partners to design and test behaviour-change interventions.

Throughout her career, Julie has designed apps, published academic papers, written for popular press audiences, and given dozens of talks and interviews on how behavioural science influences health and wellbeing. In her spare time, she also co-founded a nonprofit that used behavioural science to increase political participation.

What brought her to WW

She’s passionate about making the world a better place and sees behavioural science as her tool for doing so. What better place to do that than WW? Aside from the incredible opportunity to apply behavioural science to meaningful and impactful product experiences, Julie was also excited to join a diverse company that’s led by a strong female CEO. She loves how open-minded and collaborative the culture is, and appreciates that everyone is focused on making a positive impact for members and the world.

Most exciting part of the job

According to Julie, it’s all about the culture. “WW has an amazing culture that embraces behavioural science,” she explains. “Because of this, the opportunities are endless.” She appreciates that there are always exciting new experiences to build for members, and that her colleagues are eager to explore creative and innovative solutions based in behavioural science. This means her work is always challenging, interesting, and fun!

Get to know Julie:

  • In her free time: She loves to climb. When she can’t climb, she hikes. And when she can’t hike, she daydreams about climbing and hiking.
  • You might be surprised to learn: She spent her first year of college majoring in piano. This experience taught her how much she loves Chopin, but how much she does not love being in a practice room alone all day!
  • Best advice she’s ever received: Her former boss and mentor once told her to “embrace the randomness of life”. She tries to follow this advice by not over-planning and enjoying the opportunities that arise when she’s not looking for them.