2 Years Out ((By Jade C.))

Jade C. here.  Checking-in after checking-out after graduation.  Olivia and I began this blog with the intention of being student-focused.  This became problematic after we were no longer students – Have we become the Van Wilders of a graduate student blog? For shame.

Jade and Olivia

Luckily, there is value-added in providing perspective After Graduation.

So what happened After Graduation? – I have been employed by a pediatric specialty clinic in Florida for the past 2 years.  Here are some thoughts…

Boards. – I opted to take boards 1 year after graduation.  Naturally, there are pros and cons to this.  The pros include indulging in a study-mental-vacation after (seemingly) a lifetime in school.  Further, you have time to hone and ingrain some textbook skills in the real world.  But, with regard to cons, the struggle is real.  Learning proficiency at a new job and studying after work is not fun.  It’s awful.  It’s downright awful.  I thought.  Plus, you really drag out the pain of getting to the end of the road (if the end of the road has a sign that reads MS CGC).  Thus, my advice – bite the bullet and take boards sooner rather than later, while the student mentality is still hot.

Difficulties. – I encountered a number of unanticipated difficulties right out of the gates.  For one, I wanted to physically fight the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) every. single. day.  We were enemies.  Why wouldn’t it route my messages?  Where did my documentation go?  Why do I have so many open telephone encounters? At this point, I am more collaborative with the EMR, though I use it as my grandparents use the internet (very cautiously and at surface-level).  And, a second difficulty – insurance authorization.  Specifically, insurance authorization in the state of Florida without a state laboratory.  It’s been a tough path to hoe – telling patients that a test exists, and we would recommend it, but there is no way to pay for it. So……

Excellencies. – Well, let’s be honest – earning a paycheck and weekends off is nice.  But, on a higher level,  it has been rewarding to see myself grow.  I can mentally compare earlier counseling skills with later counseling skills, and understand the growth.  I also start to recognize patterns in medicine: differential diagnoses, recommended tests, and the right questions to ask have become more apparent.  Ordering the right tests has become easier (bar insurance authorizations).  And, providing care over time has been powerfully rewarding (the babies are now walking and talking!).

Mid-Interview Soul Searching ((by Olivia))

By now, interview season for genetic counseling programs is in full swing.   Many of you have likely have one interview under your belt (if not, then it’s coming up shortly; as if you needed reminding!). This time of year can give a new meaning to “March Madness,” so here are some tips from myself and the other M&G bloggers to help you stay sane and on your game:

Pre-Interview Prep

GC program interview questions can cover a wide range of topics, including general genetics, the genetic counseling profession, legal and ethical dilemmas in genetics/genetic counseling, current events in genetics, as well as some of the more typical questions that help interviewers learn about you and your personality.  Each program puts their own unique twist on the interview process, so anticipate that there may be surprises both in type of questions as well as the way interviews are conducted.  Thinking on your feet is good practice for being a real genetic counselor!

So how do you prepare?

1. Practice, practice, practice. As Jade C. puts it “professionals practice for interviews.” And she is SO right.  In no way is it nerdy, lame, or overkill to work through your answers to interview questions, even if that means writing out word-for-word responses.  Have a friend ask you random questions or talk to yourself in the mirror; this type of “out loud” practice can help ensure clarity when you respond, with less distracting “um’s” and “likes.” Having solid responses to common questions will also help calm your nerves when the big day arrives, because you’ll feel ready and confident.

2. Know how to share your story – concisely. The “elevator speech” is a 1 minute spiel that everyone should have up their sleeve as a way to introduce themselves and break the ice on interview day. Carla suggests working in your hometown, educational background, relevant experience, accomplishments, and finish with hobbies or personal interests.  Think about what drew you into the genetic counseling career and find a unique way to answer this question that will almost certainly be asked. Side note: I still use the 1 liner I developed for my GC interviews to answer patients who ask me how I got interested in genetic counseling.

3. Own your strengths & your weaknesses. While it’s important to play up your strongest assets and proudest moments on your resume, programs will also be on the look out for areas of past difficulty.  Everyone has a few skeletons in the transcript closet, and I think it’s reasonable to anticipate questions about why those areas were challenging and how you have worked to improve. Keep your answer short and end on a high note: explain how the experience has helped you succeed in a future endeavor. This will show that you understand failure happens, you are mature enough to reflect on the situation, and brave enough to try again!

4. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself to your favorite things during this time of stress and vulnerability. As the week of/night before your interview approaches, make sure you are doing lots of things that allows your mind to clear and makes your soul smile.  A few suggestions: get good sleep, buy some great music, Jade T. suggests deep breathing or yoga- whatever works for you! On the day of the interview, strike up a conversation with the other interviewees; they are probably just as nervous as you are.  Who knows, you might even make friends (that’s how Jade C. and I met all those years ago)!

Post-Interview Wrap Up

The hard part of the interview process may end once you answer your last question and head back home, but assessing each program is equally important as them assessing you!  It’s best to do this soon after your visit, while the details are still fresh in your memory. How this program mesh with you as an individual and as a student?  Sometimes developing a visual aid to compare and contrast is useful.  You could also develop your own ranking system and make a spreadsheet to keep track. NSGC has a spreadsheet here to get you started (scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page). Carla recommends creating a short list of questions that would influence your decision and pose them to each program during your interview day.

Points to consider:

  • What’s most important to you in a program? Emotional support, innovation, reputation, sense of closeness between faculty and students?
  • Do you have any long-term career goals (work in a university, start a company? specialize?) How does this program fit into that goal?
  • What financial pros/cons are there about this program? What financial aid exists for GC grad students (like scholarships)?
  • Which program did you like best overall and why?
  • Still have final questions? Most programs have a current students or alumni that you can ask about day-to-day campus life and area living.  Send the program an email to ask; it will show your interest and give you a chance to thank them after your interview.
  • Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut instinct!

Take home Message: it’s important to make the effort to prepare before your interview, organize your thoughts and emotions after,  and to take time for yourself in between so you can continue to be your most confident, happy self during the interview mania.  Good luck!

Good luck with interviews! ((By Hannah))

At this time last year, I was an eager candidate checking my email daily for any new interview invitations and updates on my visits. I was organizing my trips while simultaneously attempting to keep up with my school work and find willing individuals to substitute the classes I was teaching. It was stressful and terrifying and wonderful all at the same time.

When I began my program, my expectation for these two years was simply to get a degree in genetic counseling. Now being a quarter of the way to my goal, I realize that being a part of this program is so much more than just grabbing a degree and moving on. We are immersed in the world of genetics and pushed every day to try something new. In just one semester I have observed and participated in a wide range of sessions across multiple clinics. I have learned more in the classroom about genetic disorders and counseling that I knew possible. I have attended conferences and lectures by some of the leading individuals in the field of genetics. I have gotten to know a new city and I have met some wonderful people along the way.

With the realization that interview time is a few weeks away, I am especially excited for the next wave of students to join our program. I encourage all of the current applicants that are planning their interview visits to take advantage of the current students as a resource. Reach out to us with your questions and help us to get to know you. We are happy to do whatever we can to take some of the stress and anxiety off of your big day just as the previous students did for us.

I wish you all good luck during this exciting time!!

New Year, New Contributors! ((by Jade T))


Happy New Year!

I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday season and is ready to take on the new year. I’m sure those of you applying to GC graduate programs this year had applications on your mind, as many them are due shortly before or after the holidays. Here at Maps & Genes, we are welcoming a few new contributors. We have a mix of current GC students and GCs who have recently graduated and are on the job! Here are some short introductions:

Current GC Students

Carla is a second year genetic counseling student at the UT Houston Genetic Counseling program. She obtained her bachelors from the University of Texas at Arlington and is originally from Dallas, TX. Carla is a first generation college student and is passionate about helping other first generation students navigate the undergradudate experience. She loves musical theater, poetry, yoga and running.

Dena is a second year student at UC Irvine in Southern California. She is originally from Libertyville, IL, and received her BS in Integrative Biology at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dena has her own blog where she creates comic strips about genetic counseling at DenaDNA.com. She also has a background in acting and filmmaking and hopes to produce a genetics TV show one day. She has a sister with a rare genetic disorder (Ring 18) which lead her to the field. Her professional interests include Chromosome 18 abnormalities, Jewish genetic disorders. sibling studies, autism, rare disease, and science communication.

Hannah is currently a first year Genetic Counseling student. She received her BS in Biology from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio and her MS in Biology from the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. Her professional interests include education and research in genetics.

Former GC Students

Jade is a laboratory genetic counselor in southern California. She graduated with an MS in Genetic Counseling from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT in 2012. Prior to attending graduate school, Jade graduated with a BS in Animal Behavior from Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. She is now a laboratory reporting genetic counselor at Ambry Genetics in southern California. She loves talking about the career of genetic counseling and spreading the word about this awesome career!

Olivia is a cancer and prenatal genetic counselor on Long Island, NY.  She graduated from the Human Genetics Program at Sarah Lawrence College in 2013. Olivia was one of the founding contributors to the Maps & Genes blog and has since rejoined the blogging world after obtaining the GC right-of-passage: board certification. Her professional interests include mentoring, educational outreach, international genetic counseling, hereditary cancer syndromes, and the application of new technology within the field of genetics.

Sarah is a clinical genetic counselor working at Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She divides her time between prenatal, cancer, and cardiovascular genetic counseling. She obtained her bachelors from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and her Master of Science in Genetic Counseling from the University of South Carolina. Her passion is inspiring others to pursue a career as a GC!

2 Things to Improve on Before Interview Season. ((by Sarah))

There are two MAJOR interview don’ts you can start working on NOW.  This way, but the time interview season rolls around they start feeling “old hat” to you.  ((aka you are comfortable!))  ((I wish I would have known more about #2 pre-interview!))

1. Stop with the LIKE.  This one is huge and can be hard to improve on.  However, for experienced professionals (such as your interviewers) this can be a huge distraction.  Were they listening to the wonderful response you gave to a question or counting the number of times you said “like” in one sentence?

Overcoming this:  Get your friends, relatives, significant others, etc involved with helping you end the “likes.”  I had my friends and mother point out when I would overuse like.  At first for me, this involved slowing down my speech.  The main thing is to practice, practice, practice.  Find a career center and do some mock interviews as well.

2. Do not play with jewelry, watches, hair, etc.  Beware of these common interview faux pas.  This applies to you men out there as well.  Playing with class rings, watches, or ties– bangles, rings or even shirt sleeves can distract an interviewer from the one and only thing they should be focusing on– YOU!  Hair twirlers and nail/cuticle biters this one is for you.

Overcoming this:  Often times– you may not know you do this.  Or it may only emerge in high stress situations.  Asks friends/family to kindly point out your nervous tics or habits.  It is best to recognize these now so that they can be minimized come interview season.  For example, I opted to eliminate jewelry and spurge for a gel/shellac manicure pre-interview.  I knew I would be all too tempted to pick at my nail polish under stress.   For some this can even be nervous yawns or clearing of the throat.  (I am guilty of both!)


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Guest Post: How to Get Into (and Thrive in) Genetic Counseling Graduate Programs ((By Sarah))


{Repost} Sharing our “most read” post again! Readers– Please look out for fresh blog posts coming your way soon! And some exciting new contributing writers!

Originally posted on maps & genes:

The following is a guest post by a First-Year in my (Jade) program.  We’re glad to hear from you, Sarah —  take it away:

Graduate School.  Sounded intimidating.  Sounded like something that would be impossible to get into and that would then consume my life.

Well, that is what I thought when I was going through the application process anyway.  After numerous applications (I applied to 8 schools) and interviews (I chose to interview at 4), I remember feeling like I would never get accepted.  And, after reading the student biographies some schools posted (including my own) I was CONVINCED I would not get in.   However, I made it, and I am so glad that I did.

So, how do you get in?  That is the question I am sure every student applying would love to have answered.  Here are 3 tips you might find helpful:

  1. Be Genuine.

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Today is the day!

Today marks the start of the decision period for Genetic Counseling programs and GC applicants.  We all wish you the best of luck today and throughout the remainder of the week!

Hope things are going smoothly– or at the very least you are taking steps to stay sane through this process.  Here are three last words of wisdom for you all:

1. Do not give up on your dreams.

Will get in

2. Take time from your day to do something fun.  Take a break– go to dinner– get some ice cream– anything to take your mind off a crazy day ((or to CELEBRATE a crazy day)).

3. Make the best decision for YOU.  Only you know how you truly feel– follow your gut instincts.

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D-Day: Smooth Sailing vs. Turbulent Waters ((by Sarah)).

Like my fine fellow-bloggers… D-Day was such a pivotal time in my life.  It was the most important big decision I had to make for ME thus far.  Just keep in mind that:

1. No matter what program…. you get to the same final product, or degree.  You will be a trained genetic counselor, even if there are an array of methodologies to get you there.

2. You really could try just about anything//live just about anywhere for two years.  Do what is best for you.  What will make you the happiest?

For some… it is smooth sailing.


For me, D-Day was VERY much on the turbulent side.  I was wait listed for 3…. yes 3… days at 4 programs awaiting my fate.  Lots of phone calls and WAITING. ((with little sleep)) Eventually, I was accepted to the number one program on my list.  But only after some tears and a LOT of pizza, cookies, and disney movies with my friends.  Regardless of the outcome, you will survive!

Do not give up on your dream.  Try not to stress– that does not get you anywhere but sick to your stomach– and I know the feeling.  Try to think which program would be lucky enough to have you in it.  Do not loose that confidence in yourself or that cool, processional vibe.  You got this.

Like my fellow bloggers — I agree that it is of utmost importance to have some sort of idea which programs you want and to have them ranked when the day rolls around.  Which program is the best fit for you personally? Follow you instincts–or when in doubt, a pros and cons list.

And remember– if you do not get in the first time interviewing– it does not mean you should not be a GC.  I know of a few amazing counselors who got into a program the second year they applied.   You would never know it now.  One of my own amazing classmates who was accepted the second time around– is now deciding between several different, excellent job offers.  Persistence pays off.  You gain experience and maturity with time.  One student I met even said she was told it was unusual to get in on the first round.  While I would not go so far as to say that it is completely unusual, this is a competitive field!  But most of all– Try to stay positive!    ,

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If things do not go ideally, set up a plan.

1. Talk with directors of the programs you applied to, in order to see what you can do better for the future/make yourself a better applicant

2. Gain experience is various GC specialty areas

3. Work with children who have special needs and their families, since these are ultimately the people you will serve as a genetic counselor.  Gain a better understanding of how you can help in the future.  (therapy, intervention centers, etc.)

4. Research, hopefully something related to development or genetics

5. Apply again as a strong candidate with fresh experiences and new skills > show GROWTH.

Best Wishes!

D-Day…Be Vain ((by Melissa))

Are you in your last semester of undergraduate classes? Working hard for the money? Doing whatever you can to pass the time until decision day? You are not alone. You are all waiting to hear back from your respective schools that you have interviewed at. Whether you interview at one or twenty-one programs, a tough decision still rests in your hands: which program will be so lucky as to have you for the next two years?


The four of us have been in your position. We are here to shed some light on things that helped us find our perfect Genetic Counseling program match.

But let me emphasize this point…THIS IS ALL ABOUT YOU. While it is true that a program has to extend you an offer to join them, you also have a powerful choice to either accept or respectfully decline that offer. How are you going to make such a decision?!

As you will quickly learn in your future Genetic Counseling career, each individual is different. What you are looking for in a program can be completely different from what another interviewee is looking for. 

My advice would be to identify what is important to you, and evaluate the schools you interviewed with based on this “checklist”. Items on the checklist are like SNP variants (slight changes in the DNA between individuals), so what I’ve listed here may not be identical to what you’ve had in mind. Which is OK, because I’m not you, and you aren’t me!


Are you looking to be in a specific geographic area? Some interviewees applied to a group of schools in a specific region, while others applied all across the country. Were you comfortable with the surrounding area, and could you see yourself living there for the next two years of your life?


Is money/financial aid an issue for you? If not, teach me your ways. If so, you also have a few things to consider: tuition – are you in-state? Can you get in-state? Are there employment options for you? 


What type of exposures will you get in your training? Where are the rotations? Do you have the opportunities to engage in outside activities that will strengthen this clinical experience?

You are currently the greatest decider of your future, and you were the only one who interviewed with the program directors and faculty. As Austin mentioned it before, listen to your gut instincts! If you had a great experience with a program, remember why that was! Again you want to be as happy as possible with your two year training experience. You will become a great Genetic Counselor no matter where you go!

To touch on a less optimistic subject…there are some individuals who do not get an offer anywhere.  I like to think of rejection of a Genetic Counseling program as temporary. If you did not get an offer and know that Genetic Counseling is what you want to do, DO NOT give up. Speak with the program directors and ask them for advice as to how you could strengthen your application to become a sure candidate for future admission cycles. As Anna and Austin have said, you have the ability to overcome rejection, and that ability is perseverance. Reapplying shows more of your character than I can express, so do not be ashamed and continue to work for what you want.

We hope you aren’t stressing out too much, and can’t wait for another group of passionate Genetic Counselors to come around!

Best of luck!


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