Author Archives: Sarah Brandenberger

The 2017 Edition: Want to be a Genetic Counselor? ((By Brynna))

Hello readers!

The crew from M&G would love to welcome our first guest post of 2017! This amazing list of resources are from prospective GC student, Brynna. Deciding if the GC profession is right for you? Just cannot find enough information out there regarding Genetic Counseling? Well, friends, this one is for you!

For basic/general information on what a genetic counselor is:

  • As most of you know, the National Society of Genetic Counselors has a fantastic website which details the job responsibilities of genetic counselors, provides the latest news on genetics, and a GC database. It has also been recently updated – yay, user friendly! If you are unsure as to what a genetic counselor does or are looking to read up on genetics literature, this is the place to go. However, some of the features on the website (publications, job connection tool, etc.) are accessible only through NSGC membership.
  • This is definitely one of my favorite websites! This website breaks down the job responsibilities of genetic counseling and various job environments. It also provides information on how to prepare for a career in the field, how to pick a program, and how to pay for school. This website is for those who are just starting to learn about the field, as well as those who want to learn more to become a competitive applicant.
  • Explorehealthcareers is a great website to dip your toes in the world of genetic counseling, but also to gain exposure to other health career options. This helpful site lists a general overview (including average salary and job outlook), outlines working conditions and academic requirements, and additional resources for further information. Genetic counseling is a great field, but it is not a field for everyone. Use this website to explore different health careers that will best suit you.
  • This website is for all of those statistic junkies out there! The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects, analyzes, and distributes economic information that reflects labor market activity and working conditions in the economy. Their website provides information on occupations within the U.S. including the education required, work environment, job outlook, and how to attain that career goal. The website also includes data regarding employment change, job outlook, and occupations employment statistics based on state and city.
  • Truity is a website for those who wish to explore various careers through a personality standpoint. The site considers personality scores based on the Briggs Myers 16 personality types. The Myer-Briggs type indicator is a questionnaire developed by psychologists Briggs and Myers to evaluate an individual’s perception of the world and the criteria on which someone bases their decisions. Information is available on the diverse personality types regarding careers, relationships, core motivations, and values. If you do not know your personality type, you can take this free tests to find out!

So, you have decided to be a genetic counselor? Great! Below are more resources on the next steps.

Steps to getting there:

  • “How to Become a Genetic Counselor” by Jason Flanagan (NSGC): Jason provides information on how to determine if the profession is a good fit and quick tips on boosting your resume for graduate school. It also provides a general overview of things to keep in mind while beginning a GC career.
  • Read the biographies of current students on GC graduate program websites: This tip will sound familiar if you are familiar with M&G. Camille gave this advice in her March post and I cannot emphasize enough how helpful this was for me. If you are interested in a specific program, it is helpful to see the types of experiences that current grad students add onto their resumes. The majority of GC graduate programs have a website and the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) provides a list of all of the GC graduate programs United States and Canada (
  • Contact program directors: While this may sound crazy, program directors are approachable people that want you to succeed! Therefore, reach out to program directors near you to schedule an informational interview or meeting to discuss your strengths and weaknesses as an applicant. If you do not have a program nearby, emailing directors is a great way to seek application advice and get your name out there! I have spoken with several genetic counselors who contacted program directors before their acceptance into grad programs.

How can you still be sure that this is the right career for you? Shadow a GC!

Contacting a Genetic Counselor:

  • NSGC Find a Genetic Counselor: On the NSGC web page, there is a handy “Find a GC” tool. You can search for GCs in your area based on institution or specialty and reach out to them for shadowing opportunities. In contacting a GC, you will be learning more information about the field and a recount of what it is like to be a GC firsthand.
  • University of Cincinnati Meet-a-Graduate ( Finding a genetic counselor may be the easy step, but finding shadow time with a GC is definitely more challenging. For those who live in areas where GCs are scarce, the University of Cincinnati offers a great opportunity to get in touch with alumni. The meeting may also provide the Admissions Committee at UC with additional information regarding a prospective student’s application.
  • Email EVERYWHERE – Try sending an email to reach GCs in specific settings: hospitals, clinics, fertility centers, universities, or biotechnology companies. Genetic counselors can be found everywhere and all it takes is a quick search on the internet!

Miscellaneous Information:

  • Open forums: For me, I was not satisfied with the amount of information I gathered about genetic counseling. I was able to learn about the application processes and the graduate programs, but I wanted to know about the experiences of prospective students. Enter open forums. Open forums are essentially online discussion boards. A few that I like to read are from Grad Café, Reddit (r/clinicalgenetics and r/science), and There is also a great AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit by NSGC genetic counselors. In these forums, you will find current graduate students discussing their experiences, prospective students describing their resumes and where they received interviews and acceptance, and current GCs answering genetics questions from the public. Downside? The information on these forums may NOT be accurate.
  • NSGC blog: NSGC maintains a blog that focuses on providing information about current events in genetic testing relating to cancer screening, mental health, and other topics. This is a great website to go to regarding all things genetics!

We hope that you were able to find some new resources that will help you on your path to becoming a genetic counselor!

Is your favorite resource not on this list? We would love to hear what sources you find helpful in the comments below!

We need to hear from YOU.

Dearest readers, we want to hear from you!

We are looking to release a video blog series on the topics of MOST interest to you.  Thus, we want to know what topics are of utmost importance.  What voids or questions do you still have in regards to genetics, graduate school, genetic counseling program interviews, etc?  What topics can you not get enough of?   Would you enjoy a video blog?

Please comment below or email us!

It is NEVER too late to become a GC.

Hello dear readers.  All of us here at Maps & Genes are very excited to bring you this fantastic post– I hope you enjoy the inspiration from our esteemded colleague panel as much as we did!

1. How did you decide to make a career move?

Genetic counseling was my career choice when I was an undergrad student over 30 years ago, however my life went in a different direction.  Instead, I worked in research and academia.  Additionally, for 10 years I was a “stay at home mom”.  As my children got older, I began reconsidering my career.

I have always considered myself a lifelong learner. The first step in my decision to change careers was realizing that although I had many years before retirement, there were no further growth or leadership opportunities on my current path. The second step involved a long reflective period in which I inventoried my dreams, skill set, strengths, challenges and barriers.  The dream of becoming a genetic counselor resurfaced during this period.  I researched the career and decided it was a perfect fit.  The third step was addressing the challenges and barriers, namely cost and being decades removed from a higher education environment (not to mention the field changed dramatically in that time period).  I established a plan to pay for tuition and enrolled in classes to update my knowledge. The final step was the hardest:  taking a deep breath and jumping away from the comfort zone.

I had always had an interest in human anatomy, biology and medicine and intended for a career in this area when I first went to college. But, I lost my way and stumbled out of my major in biology into other majors. I also fell into a different career, which was exciting in my younger years, but I knew it wouldn’t remain a stable career so I began to think about going back to school for my original interest.

My story is a bit complicated. I completed a B.S. in Biology and M.A. in Biology, after which I taught middle/high school and community college biology courses for several years. I then made my first career switch and worked as a financial planner for almost five years. I found that to be unfulfilling and decided to go to graduate school to pursue a PhD in Genetics, with the intention of pursuing an academic career. When I learned more about genetic counseling, I felt that it would be a better fit for me, since it would allow me to spend more time working directly with patients. Rather than spending most of my time behind the scenes doing basic research and teaching undergraduates, I decided I wanted to apply my research and teaching skills in a different way. The fact that genetic counselors have the opportunity to pursue a variety of different types of positions is also very intriguing to me.

2. How did it feel being a GC student?

  It was exciting, terrifying and exhausting! I literally got goosebumps while sitting in lectures and hearing about the advancements in this field. However, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to doubting myself occasionally. In those moments, I remembered the mantra of a famous, blue fish, “Just keep swimming”.

There are days where it feels weird sometimes because I am one of the oldest students amongst several young women. But then there are also days where I do not feel the age difference at all, but instead just see fellow classmates that I am on this journey together. There is also a humbling effect of being in school again after having a previous career.

I am really enjoying being a GC student because there is so much interesting information to learn!  I am especially enjoying my rotations, particularly my interactions with established genetic counselors, who have all been wonderful teachers.

3. What are your tips for the GC program interview process?

I sincerely believe your age and life experiences are assets, don’t downplay them.  However, you will also have your own unique challenges.  Know what they are.  Determine how you will or have addressed them. Finally, GC training programs are very competitive. If you are not accepted the first time you apply, don’t give up.  Apply again.

Be presentable, dress appropriately, maintain professional composure, take notes, and do not ask the current students questions about other schools’ interview process.

I would say that you should emphasize what draws you to the field of genetic counseling and why you believe you would be a good GC. Everyone who is being interviewed has already shown that they have the qualifications on paper, so you don’t need to prove that you have those. Show the programs that are interviewing you that you are passionate, professional, and willing to put in the work.

4. Do you have any Grad school survival recommendations?

Be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.  Take one day at a time. Decide to learn from your younger classmates, they have a lot to teach you. Take care of yourself.  Embrace the experience and remember you are living a dream.

Be proactive and do not wait until the last minute. Be detail oriented, responsible and mature.

Lean on your classmates for support. They will be an invaluable resources in helping you get through your program. Even if you are at different stages in your life, you will find that you have more in common than you think. Make sure you stay organized and try to keep up with the work.

5. Would you do it all over again?


Yes! Completing the GC training program was the biggest metaphorical mountain I’ve climbed.  I had a great group of classmates who helped me reach the top. It is a challenge worth taking

Definitely — deciding to apply to a genetic counseling program has been a wonderful decision so far.

6. What advice would you give a person who is just thinking about a second career as a GC?

Making this change is undoubtedly one of the bigger decisions in your life.  It will affect you and your family. You may consider waiting until the timing is better, until you are more prepared, etc. However, there likely will not be a time when all the circumstances are perfect.  I think the final analysis boils down to your willingness and ability to be move away from what is known and comfortable. Growth lies outside the comfort zone.

Conduct an informational interview with a practicing GC. Do the research, get as much exposure as you can before you make the decision. You have to make sure you are fully informed of what you are getting yourself into.

I think it is very important to think about your motivations and why you are changing careers. What are you looking to get out of the career? Do the requirements of the job match your personality? Will genetic counseling provide you with what your old career did not? For me, this was a great decision, but for you, things might be different. A graduate program is an investment, and a career change is a major decision, so I would recommend putting a lot of thought into it and speaking with at least one working genetic counselor to see if you think the job might be right for you.

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Before You Say “Yes” to Your First Job ((by Sarah))

Dear second year GC students, this one is for you!

You get your first job offer.  Or with the way the genetic counseling profession is going, you get multiple job offers.  You are ecstatic.  You landed the dream job and are using your degrees.   Success.  A stressful week or more of deliberations and debates. [take your time, ball is in your court!]  You accept.  This time is much like a new relationship.  Rose colored glasses are on and you are are being wooed.

Several months into the relationship, much of the excitement wears off.  And you are left with what you negotiated.  For many it all works out well, which it did for me and my GC friends.  But there are a few things I wish I would have known.

  • ALWAYS negotiate.  It does not hurt to ask.  Have a plan, or very specific things you want to ask for.  Have concrete reasons why your employer should include the things you ask for in your offer.  (i.e. Asking for a higher starting salary because you already have experience working with cancer patients before and during graduate school, and have developed a unique skill set)   If you have not read it yet, try the book Lean InKeep in mind that the ball is in your court.  You have the job offer.  They are not (likely) going to suddenly take that away, they already have decided they want you.

My biggest job negotiation surprise:  I had a plan (like most of my fellow OCD… or should I say “detail oriented” GCs).  I knew the salary range I wanted.  I knew the benefits I wanted.  But when it came down to it, I didn’t know what to say.  I had done a lot of reading and I knew it was key to always ask for a bit more, just to see.  I knew that it was also key to start at a salary that was a good level, because all future raises, etc would be based off this starting amount.  I have had two jobs since graduation.  For each, I asked for a bit more above base salary offer.  I was told “This is the level we start all newly hired genetic counselors at.  We are unable to negotiate this.”  Each time, it was a surprise.  This is not something they seem to warn you about in job hunting books or blogs. For job two, I even sent my sweet HR lady to double check- just to be sure this was their final answer-  I did have additional career experience now.  In the end, the answer was still a no.  But hey… still never hurt to ask!   

  • Get it in WRITING.  This is what I (almost) learned that hard way.  And what one of my dear friends did learn the hard way.  This is where the rose-colored glasses came in for me.  You think you did a great job.  You love the salary.  You were able to negotiate a signing bonus.  Benefits look good.  Your new employer will cover the cost of the boards review course, board certification exams (pending you pass), per-approved CEU’s, and one conference per year with travel costs.  But do you have the proof?

Fast forward about one year into job number two.  I find a conference I am dying to attend.  ((For cancer GC’s or students with a love of cancer genetic counseling, the buzz in GC world is that this is an amazing, one of a kind opportunity.))  Well, several exciting leadership changes and one boss change later, I hear the dreaded words, “well, we will see if it is approved.  I am not sure, budgets are really tight.”  In my head, I nearly implode.  No.  I negotiated this.  This is my one conference.  I really need to attend and learn.  Hello, I mostly see breast cancer patients and its all about BRCA!  Outwardly, I calmly inform my delightful new boss that I had negotiated one conference of my choice per year.  Doing her job, she let me know: “Well, we will see if I can find that in your contract, but I do not recall it being there.”  Turns out, many contracts are very generic.  I had my salary, insurance, retirement, and the other common job benefits clearly documented.  But all the other, more genetic counselor specific things were not.  Myself and my former boss had talked though all the special GC benefits in person and via phone.  I did not even have one single email about conferences, boards, or CEU’s.  In the end, my old boss came through.  I am fortunate to have/have had wonderful bosses.  Canada here I come, but lesson learned!

  • Taxes Suck.  While this is not a surprise, for some reason I did not think about this when negotiating my signing/relocation bonus.   Myself and my now-husband had a big move and we were still going to be paying rent on our apartment that we left before our lease was over.  So, I (clearly not thinking), asked for a specific amount that would help ease the transition.  When the check arrived, it was much less than anticipated.   Taxes took away a good chunk.  I quickly realized I would have asked for just a bit more if I had to do it all over again.
  • The PSS is the Negotiating Bible.  If you are not even sure where to start, the PSS is for you.  The PSS or professional satisfaction survey is amazing, and genetic counseling specific.  It is put out for NSGC members.  Before you go to your job interviews, get familiar with this.  Know average benefits people have.  Know what kinds of salary to expect from your geographic region and for your experience level.  Keep in mind that salary varies greatly state to state, or even city to city.  If you are not tied to a specific geographic region, you may want to keep this in mind if student loans are large.

Happy job hunting!

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Job Shadowing: The Do’s and Don’ts ((by Sarah))


Take notes.

Tip:  Please come with notepad and pen ready.

Come with questions.

Tip: Multiple questions, prepared in advance.

Wear business casual attire.

Tip: When it doubt, keep it professional.  Or better yet, ask what attire is preferred.

Handwritten thank you cards.

Tip: Thank you cards are not a dying art, rather an art form.  Your effort will be duly noted.  No matter how terrible your scribbling may be, handwritten always adds that personal touch.   

Pro Tip: Get a business card from the GC.  That way, you have a mailing address.  Keep it in a safe place, as you never know when you may need it!  (Sometimes, it may not be until after graduate school!)

Keep in contact.  

Pro Tip: If you do not go the thank-you card route, try a thank-you email.  Then, send a follow email again once you are accepted to a program (this is always appreciated).  Then, if you want to be a super-duper star, you can even consider sending an even later follow up email once you are halfway through your program or accepted a job.  Who knows, someday you could be coworkers! 

Be highly courteous to those at the front desk.

Tip: Treat the lady (or gentleman) at the front desk the same as you would the genetic counselor.  Introduce yourself.  Thank them for their time too!




Arrive late.

Fix: Hospitals are a challenge to navigate.  Be prepared for it to take longer than anticipated to arrive at your destination.  If you arrive over 20 minutes early, stall and get some coffee.  There is such a thing as being too early as well!

Ask to shadow last minute.

Fix: Ask at least a week in advance.

Write informally in emails.

Fix: Do not use contractions. Keep it professional.  Try using “control find (f)” for the words “like” and “very”.  These are typically fluff and can be eliminated with ease. Keep things short and to the point.     

Surprise the genetic counselors with guests.

Fix:  Even if your best friend or your mother would LOVE to see what a genetic counselor does, this does not mean that you should bring them with you.  You will someday be an independent adult, and shadowing is the first step.  You must do this solo.  Feel free to later call your mom and BFF to dish (without breaking HIPAA, of course).

Interrupt during patient sessions. 

Tip: Remember that you are truly a discreet fly on the wall.  Unless a patient speaks to you specifically, do not talk in the session.  If the genetic counselor leaves the room, follow them like a shadow (pardon the pun).  Feel free to jot some notes so that you can ask all of your questions afterwards.

Shadowing should not be used as a free genetic counseling session.

Tip: If your passion for the genetic counseling profession was sparked by your siblings diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, that is perfectly fine to share.  However, do not use your valuable time face to face with a GC to try to determine if your mother is a risk for hereditary breast cancer or early onset Alzheimer disease.  This is not the place to ask for a risk assessment, stay focused on your future career aspirations.

Getting anxious when a genetic counselor does not remember you.

Tip:  GC’s have TONS of students shadowing them.  If they do not remember you, this does not mean that you did a bad job.  In fact, it likely means that you met or even exceeded expectations.  Many genetic counselors will admit that they only remember the students who left a negative impression.  Conveniently, we have made this list so you do not end up being “bad email girl” or “the guy who brought his mom.”   


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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!

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.

View original post 460 more words

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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!

3 things professional 20 somethings should be doing ((by Sarah)).

For all you new or prospective GCs out there… Here are a few tidbits I am ((slowly)) learning about professional life…

My Must Haves:

1. A well-curated LinkedIn.

From professional networking to finding future jobs– you should get a LinkedIn stat if you do not currently have one.  And– keep it up to date! You never know who may see it! ((I have had several companies email me about potential jobs via LinkedIn too!))

2. A proper email AND twitter.

A proper email may seem obvious– but is important to note.  By proper email– think a professional email account free of any hobbies/interests/etc ((ie. “cheer_girl_fo_life@” or “girl_crazy_soccer_stud@” require an upgrad)).  Likely stick with some form of your name.

Now a professional twitter is something I have been thoroughly enjoying//had not thought about much before.  I now have GC friends who I primarily if not exclusively know via twitter.  It is an amazing way to keep up with new occurrences in your field as well.  ((Always be thinking about networking!))

3. Keep that CV updated. ((And references list!))

Whenever you do something new– update that CV right away so you are never caught unprepared.  This also goes for those young professionals who are already employed– you never know when someone may ask for a copy!  ((Thanks to my NSGC mentor for this tip!))

When thinking professional references– build a diverse list of 3-5 complete with emails, phone numbers, and work addresses.

Best of luck!

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