Cynthia Bir is a biomedical engineer and a professor of research at the University of Southern California. She is in the process of moving from Plymouth, MI to Calabasas, CA with her husband, David, an intellectual property attorney, and their kids, Alexander, 19, Christopher, 17, Rebecca, 12, and Rachel, 8.
Describe your job and a typical day for you.
I just started working at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in the center for trauma, violence and injury prevention where I am a professor of research. I have a PhD in biomedical engineering and my research focuses on injury biomechanics. I basically research all the ways the body becomes injured and how we might prevent those injuries.
Every day is different. One day I might be writing a grant and the next day I might be analyzing data from a project. I study everything from body armor to football helmets to ways to prevent injuries. I conduct studies both in the field and in the lab, looking at the mechanisms of injuries and the ways we can prevent them.
I have a flexible schedule, but tend to work between 40-60 hours per week. It's not unusual for me to work after I get home at night, although in the last couple of years I've tried to minimize how often I do that.
Tell us a cool fact about your job.
I have won two Emmys! It was quite unexpected. I've been involved with Base Productions for about seven years now. They originally approached me to help with a show called Fight Science. After the success of that show, they branched out with a show called Sport Science. We just started our seventh season. I serve as their lead scientist and am listed as a producer on the show helping where I can both on and off camera. It's been an amazing experience—but I haven't quit my day job.
What is your working mom mantra?
Pick your battles.
How do you handle child care?
When the kids were younger we used various day cares. We currently have had an au pair for the last four years. She is mainly a taxi driver for our kids—picking the girls up from school and getting them to their activities. The girls are active in gymnastics. Once we move to California on July 22nd, we are going to find someone to primarily help before and after school.
What is your favorite thing your husband does to help lighten the load?
Dave is great at helping out wherever he can. It's always nice to come home to a homecooked meal. He's a much better cook than I am!
How do you and your husband fit marriage into the balance?
This is a tough one. We used to go on a kid-free vacation every year, but it has become a lot harder since the girls were born. Having four kids makes it difficult to ask someone to watch them. My mom has been a big help, but I feel guilty asking to her watch them while we go and enjoy the beach. Last year, my oldest son bought my husband and me a cruise for Christmas. It was an amazing gift with a promise from him to help watch his brother and sisters while we were gone.
When have you been most daring in your work life?
I think the most daring thing I've done is going on right now. Moving my family and career across the United States from Detroit to Los Angeles. Both my husband and I were born and raised in Michigan, so this is a big step for us. I could have stayed at my previous job and kept doing what I was doing for the next 20 years or I could dare to step outside of my comfort zone. Stay tuned to see how it works out!
Could you share a work mom meltdown and how you coped?
I think I've missed every one of my children's birthdays at one time or another due to my travel schedule. One year, I got stuck in California on Easter. I thought I would feel better if I tried a little retail therapy, but seeing everyone out in their Easter best eating lunch made it worse. I just wanted to be home hunting Easter eggs with the kids.
If you could sit down to lunch with any work mom, who would it be?
I always feel it's so hard to look at someone else's life and apply it to my own. However, I read Lee Woodruff's book, Perfectly Imperfect, and I could really relate to the various family and life scenarios she shared. I have a lot of admiration for her. It would be great to sit down for a cup of coffee and learn some of her secrets to life.
What do your children dream of being when they grow up?
My oldest, Alexander, is in college as a business major. Christopher just graduated from high school and is starting with a performance and music education group called the Young Americans. He will get to travel the world and do what he loves—singing, all while earning college credits.
The younger ones are pretty undecided. Both seem to be independant young ladies, so I suspect they will want to conquer the world. They are involved in gymnastics and I'm sure at least one would like to be an Olympian someday. However, I'll be happy if they remain uninjured and find a passion to pursue in college!
If you could describe your life in one word, what would it be?
If you'd like to see more pictures of Cynthia in action at work and with her family, click here for an extended photo gallery.