With out-of-state tuition costs swimming through my mind, I quickly accepted that what was once just a “busy” semester might now entirely overwhelm me. In addition to the mounting coursework and clinical rotations, I had decided to squeeze a 20-hour per week teaching assistantship into my already overflowing schedule. A small price to pay, I thought, for complete tuition remission and a monthly stipend. However, as the semester wore on, I soon recognized teaching for the university to be an invaluable part of my graduate education and growth as a genetic counselor.
Founded in communicating complex information with finesse and clarity, genetic counseling is a profession that truly relies upon an ability to educate others. Teaching six discussion sections for an introductory zoology course afforded me countless opportunities to hone these essential skills.
First and foremost, teaching requires you to understand material well enough to explain it to others. To survive as both a teaching assistant and graduate student, you quickly learn how to be efficient in gathering information on a topic. Distinguishing what is and is not essential for you to know is a critical component of quickly acquiring familiarity with a subject. This is a skill similar to what I have observed clinical and laboratory genetic counselors do as they juggle countless patients and side projects. As an individual prone to getting hung up on technical details, learning to focus my efforts and manage my time more efficiently has become an indispensable skill.
In working with students, I have also found a platform to exercise my core counseling abilities. As with patients, students may have variable styles of learning and differences in understanding. To be an effective educator, it is important to first assess how a student may be approaching the material. By discerning an individual’s current level of understanding you are then able to operate within their frame of reference. This is a skill that directly applies to working with patients and their families. Ultimately, teaching has afforded me frequent opportunities to practice effective communication and refine my counseling techniques. This has resulted in greater confidence in my abilities and permitted me to dive into patient interactions with less hesitation.
Additionally, working as a teaching assistant has allowed me to practice my presentation skills almost daily. An asset in any profession, public speaking and presenter skills are best maintained through consistent use. Class and case presentations are no longer quite so nerve-wracking with teaching as a part of my weekly routine. Undoubtedly these skills will continue to serve me as a practicing genetic counselor.
What I once thought would overwhelm me has become instrumental to my training and provided endless opportunities for counseling and professional skill-building. Without the flexibility and support provided by my training program, a teaching assistantship might not have been a possibility during my graduate education. It is with great appreciation for the professional and financial benefits that I look forward to teaching again next semester.