So anyway…we checked our m&g email account recently *insert embarrassment emoji*…
Yowzers, apparently we have not responded to email messages in over a year. And some of you posed some really good, important questions. We sincerely apologize for our oversight. Your questions did not deserve the cyber snub treatment.
After reviewing about 50 emails, some common themes emerged. This is great because it means we can draw some statistically significant FAQs (thesis much?) that can be addressed on this larger platform.
So thank you for your questions! Without further ado:
How did you choose which programs to apply to?
To answer this, you have to (1) consider and (2) pick your priorities. Go ahead: seriously brainstorm all the factors that appertain to graduate shool-ing. Here are some ideas to get you started: location, number of students accepted, where the rotations occur, cost of program, when you start clinical rotations, whether classes intermix with medical students, option to pursue a concurrent public health degree, whether there are housing options for rotations, public/private university, etc., etc., etc.
After you brainstorm, step 2 is to prioritize which ones are most meaningful to you. Of course, there is no right answer, and this necessitates some soul-searching on your part.
A couple pointers….
Before you begin, I would recommend spending time perusing all the program websites and getting a feel for each.
Here they are (US and Canada): http://gceducation.org/pages/accredited-programs.aspx
Do not be afraid to write down notes. Or type up notes. Or create crazy excel sheets like a super weirdo (you’ll eventually find out that you’re not that weird and everyone does it).
Another trick is to just start applying. The application process is distinct for each school and therefore grueling. You will probably subconsciously start with your favorites. After the process wears you down, and you’re wondering whether you should apply to that last school, any motivation mustered will reflect your true interest in the program.
What happens if I do not get in the first time?
If you do not get in the first time, eat an entire carton of fro-yo, cry/journal/jog, then pick yourself up, and apply again. Because I promise you that this scenario is not that uncommon. I don’t have any numbers, but anecdotally, it is just not that uncommon to to not get in the first time. Ouch, double-negative. Plain English: Many people do not get into a program on the first round.
The important thing here is to ensure that the “not getting in” does not drastically harm your sense of self-worth. You are a smart, good person and this does not mean you shouldn’t be a genetic counselor! Maybe you had an “off” day of interviewing. Maybe you had an awful semester and did poorly in a class. Maybe you need some more experience. This is all OK. Roll with the punches. Take a year off. You’ll be fine.
More practical advice: Sometimes lack of acceptance is a matter of gaining more solid volunteer/shadow/work experience. Check out our resources page, but some good ideas include shadowing a GC (find one here: http://nsgc.org/p/cm/ld/fid=164), working for a crisis center, volunteering for a center for individuals with disabilities, working for a laboratory (if qualified), finding a position as a genetic counselor assistant, taking a relevant research positions, and so on.
Chin up and continue to chase your dream. I promise that a one-year delay is irrelevant in the grand scheme.
I’m confused about the job description of a Genetic Counselor vs. Geneticist…
Ah. yes. OK.
Genetic Counselor and Geneticist are distinct professions. Different but definitely collaborative. Let’s begin with training. GCs hold 2-year masters degrees. Geneticists are MDs and therefore attend 4 years of medical school, followed by residency and then a fellowship in genetics (often more than one fellowship). If we use pediatrics as an example, both specialties often work directly with patients to make a diagnosis. While not always true, GCs tend to do more of the counseling and psychosocial component of the diagnostic process. MDs are qualified to perform physical exams, treat, and order tests (GCs that are licensed can also order tests). Sometimes GCs work very closely with Geneticists (like in pediatrics), other times they work separately. Each can hold non-traditional (non-clinical) roles if that is what is desired.
As I type this out, I realize it is difficult to paint a really good picture of our different and overlapping roles due to contingency on specialty/facility/location. So I would recommend two things: (1) Go ‘head and Google your heart out for more specifics (you know, like internet homework) and (2) Spend time shadowing both geneticists and genetic counselors (you know, like real life homework). That will give you the best sense for each!
How easy is it to spread out your time over different fields of genetic counseling? AKA – are you pigeon-holed or what?
This is a wonderful question. Because I’m proud to say that No, you’re certainly not pigeon-holed. It is very possible to make a career out of multiple subspecialties. Not everyone does this, but there are many GCs who fill their career with focuses in prenatal, pediatrics, cancer, cardiology, laboratory, public health, newborn screening, inborn errors of metabolism, sales/marketing, research, etc. etc. etc. Many people will hold a job that combines two or three specialties at once. Others prefer to spend an entire career in one niche area.
Once you achieve board certification, you’re technically qualified to do it all. Naturally, work experience plays into this. If you work 30 years as a prenatal counselor and want to make the switch to cancer, you can. However, you’ll likely have to do major catch-up learning and potentially compete against applicants who have more experience in the cancer realm. Alternatively, if you work 30 years as a prenatal counselor and then want to take a position for a laboratory that performs research on prenatal testing technology…well, congratulations, you’re hired!
I’m in middle school/high school. I totally have my act together and know without a doubt that I want to be a genetic counselor. What’s next?
Ummmmm. Why you gotta make the rest of us look like our 16-year-old selves were just infants in disarray? But, hey, you go Glen Coco.
Honestly though, it is stellar that you have an ideal career path before you even enter college, and you’re certainly a step ahead of the game. I encourage you to both (1) chase this goal and (2) give yourself some wiggle room if you find that perhaps a different career suits you better – you’re so far ahead that it’s even OK if you change your mind. I grant you that magical permission.
At this point, one thing you may want to consider is your major in college/university. Here’s the fun part: You can major in anything under the sun, as long as you fulfill prerequisites for graduate school.
Prerequisite classes = The bare minimum classes that you must take before eligible to apply for GC graduate school.
Each program may have just ever-so-slightly different prerequisites, but for the most part, they are aligned. You will have to visit each program’s website to know for certain what you need and whether you’re eligible. But, basically, if you enroll in the following classes, that will get you where you need to go:
- One year of general biology
- One year of general chemistry
- One semester of biochemistry
- One semester of genetics
- One semester of statistics
Additional courses may include: Developmental Biology, Counseling Psychology, Developmental Psychology … but don’t beat yourself up if your school does not offer these.
Now, it is certainly easier to fulfill these courses if you are a science major. I have met many GCs who majored in Biology or Genetics or Psychology….or perhaps double-majored. Alternatively, you could do a Public Health, Anthropology, or Kinesiology major, or any subspecialities of Psychology that your school offers. These are just ideas. All are good. You can major in Underwater Basket Weaving as long as you fill your prerequisites….and uh, are able to defend your choice of major when asked during interviews.
Here are links to graduate programs: http://gceducation.org/Pages/Accredited-Programs.aspx
I think I sound like a broken record with this suggestion, but you’ll also want to shadow a genetic counselor(s). Some potential students get anxious about the AMOUNT/TYPE of shadowing that is advisable! This is not one-size-fits-all. If you live in a city that has no opportunities to shadow a genetic counselor, well, hey, it is a little more difficult for you and also out of your hands. You may have to think outside the box a little: try contacting genetic counselors and asking to interview them by phone. In general, strive to obtain at least a few weeks of shadowing, spread across different facilities and subspecialties. Find opportunities to shadow for a few days over school breaks.
Other resources that you may find helpful:
NSGC for prospective students:
Day in the Life:
Robin Bennett MS Interview:
Vignettes from US News & World Report:
My grades right now are not so hot (mostly Bs), will that hinder my acceptance into a program?
Probably not! It is apparent that so many of you are your own worst frenemies. You’re stressing me out, so I can only imagine how stressed you all must feel!
Remember, you are a whole human, composed of more than just your grades. You are not a report card. You are a person with experiences, extracurricular activities, time spent volunteering or coaching or mentoring; you are a person with a compassionate personality and a passion for the field; you are a person that has something to offer that someone else may not; and you also have some grades sprinkled on top. You are a bolstered applicant. Again, you are more than just your grades.
What’s that – You want a more concrete answer? This is what I think: A grades are super fantastic! A/Bs are really great too! If you get a C, can you justify why that is the case? Did you take 20 credits that semester? Did you have something going on in your personal life that dampened you academically? If the grade is really nagging you, do you have the option to retake the course?
It is worth mentioning: One of the most compelling questions I was asked during a graduate school interview was “How do you practice self-care when you’re stressed/anxious/worn down?”
Let me ask you: How do you practice self-care?
Think hard about this. Journal your answer, or write a little memo on your phone. Return to your answer when you’re in need. Ensure you’re taking care of yourself. If you’re stressed now, can you handle the continued and concentrated burden of graduate school? I am positive that you can, but you need a plan, man!
Have a plan for self-preservation so that you can enjoy the journey.
I am a last-semester senior OR I have already graduated…and I just decided I want to be a genetic counselor! Help! Am I too unconventional to apply to GC programs? Does it look bad if I go back now and take prerequisite courses?
I love this question! Congratulations on deciding you want to be a genetic counselor!
NO, you are not unconventional. In fact, you may even be the norm. And No, you will not look bad – you will look like a person that puts in the extra work/time/money to enter a career you care about.
This “non-traditional” path includes myself. I graduated from college and then spent a year taking chemistry, biochemistry, and genetics at a local college. I totally moved back in with my parents and worked part-time at Target as a coupon-passer-outter while having awkward run-ins with former high school classmates (ahh, the glamor of working towards a goal, am I right?). I felt lonely and behind the eight ball as I watched friends enter professional careers or graduate programs. But here I am, years later, working as a GC and smiling fondly to myself when I shop in Target.
As I said above, I sincerely promise that a one or two year delay in “getting where you want to go” is completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
Use the resources above and on our resource page to make yourself the most bomb.com applicant you can be, and go get ‘em! BOOM SHAKALAKA