Cristina Dow is a staff engineer at Stryker, a Fortune 500 medical technology company. When Dow finishes her workday a little after 5 p.m., she’s not really clocking out completely. Instead, she dons a different, but not unfamiliar persona, as an Evening MBA student at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business in Atlanta.
Her schedule is busy and challenging, but Dow finds intersections between the work she’s engaged in at Stryker and her MBA studies, which make those early mornings and late nights worth it. Keep reading to see how Dow manages life as an MBA student alongside her demanding career.
Her (Early) Morning
“I start my days early. I get up around 5:30 a.m., and I get ready to go to the gym. It's my contemplative, quiet time. I drive to the gym at 6 a.m. and meet my CrossFit Identity family. I do CrossFit because I'm very competitive, and I enjoy a challenge. The class lasts about an hour. After my butt gets kicked by all of that, I go home.”
Starting Her Workday
“My office is in Fort Lauderdale, one of Stryker’s digital robotics and enabling technologies hubs, but during the pandemic I was granted permission to work remotely here in Atlanta. I got my undergrad degree in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Industrial Design at Georgia Tech, which led me to my current job at Stryker where I’m the lead human factors engineer for the Total Knee applications on our Mako surgical robot.
I check my school and work emails over breakfast with my husband (we both work from home) and try to assess what the day is going to look like. Then I log in for my day at Stryker. I answer any urgent emails and review what needs to be done for my new project—the latest innovations for our total knee software on the Mako robot.
For an R&D role, my position is relatively customer facing. I can be a risk assessor, a customer liason, or a project manager on any given day. My job really boils down to whether or not I can answer the question: is our product safe and effective for use?
I work closely with lead system designers, software engineers, system engineers, and project managers. I design all our labs where our users come in and test prototype software. I get to speak the language of the customer, but also of the engineers.
This overlap is why I wanted to gain more business acumen; it felt like the only thing left I didn't have expertise in. A couple of years into my career I realized that I really wanted to get into management and understand how the business as a whole works. I understood the innovation side, but how do we make innovations actually come to fruition?
It was easy to come back to Georgia Tech and become a Double Jacket, especially with its STEM MBA designation and TI:GER (Technology Innovation: Generating Economic Results) program. Scheller touches both technology and innovation—two things I care a lot about.”
“I like to catch up on any reading for my MBA classes or do customer discovery interviews as part of the research for my TI:GER project.”
In the Afternoon
“After lunch, I get back to work to close out anything that's left, like a lab planning meeting or project update. I also place a lot of importance on mentorship as I’ve seen my team grow from three to six individuals, so I'm usually responding to my team’s messages. A strong team dynamic is super important.
I had interned with Stryker twice prior to beginning my full-time work in 2018. During my internships, I helped to build the usability engineering team that I’m currently on. The FDA has placed a larger focus on human factors engineering and it's become something that's important to gain approval. You have to provide proof that you’ve done human factors engineering testing.
I’m the only person left from the original team, so I am mentoring newer engineers, sharing what I’ve learned in business school or things that I've picked up over the years at Stryker. I want my team members empowered to go into any room prepared as the only human factors engineer with the right answers when it counts.”
“I clock out of work between 5:15 to 5:40 p.m. I’ll grab a quick bite to eat and head out the door to Scheller. I’m usually parking at 6:10 p.m. and in the building by 6:15 p.m. By this point I’ve run into someone I know either in the elevator or the walk from the parking lot to the school.”
“This semester, I’m in class on Monday and Tuesday from 6:30 to 9:15 p.m., and they never get out early! On Mondays, it’s Strategic Management with Alex Oettl and on Tuesdays, it’s TI:GER with Jonathan Giuliano.
I came into my MBA wanting to concentrate in Strategy and Innovation. I feel like I’m in my element right now, being in both Strategic Management and TI:GER. I’m helping cover for my manager on maternity leave at Stryker, so I’ve come to see why knowing the strategy and understanding how the pieces come together is valuable to move my team in the right direction.
Having the hands-on innovation experience from TI:GER has strengthened my ability to take good ideas and develop them into viable businesses. As a human factors engineer, I work with customers after a product has already made it past the creation stage. TI:GER has taken the skill sets I already have and added greater business acumen around building out ideas from the very beginning.”
“Scheller has been great for me because I am a people person, and I care about seeing my cohort and making those connections in person. If there isn’t anything big happening at work the next day, I’ll go to Cypress and hang out with friends from my cohort.”
Note: This story was originally published on the Forté Foundation blog, Business 360.