Category Archives: fun stuff

How to know if genetic counseling is right for you…

Hi Everyone,

We recently did a morale event among my department’s GCs. We asked each other how/why we decided to enter this career. I thought the answers might be helpful for others wondering whether he/she also wants to be a GC.

You’ll notice a few of us say something along the lines of wanting to be a scientist, but one who doesn’t touch people or sit in a lab all day.¬† ūüôā

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  • “Initially I was on the pre-veterinary medicine track at my undergrad when I decided that wasn‚Äôt what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to do something in genetics since those classes and labs were my favorite. However, I hated sitting at a bench doing experiments and trying to come up with hypotheses! I really wanted to incorporate some level of education into my career so my advisor suggested genetic counseling. I did a google search and voila!”
  • “I got into genetic counseling because I enjoyed genetics¬†and psychology and didn‚Äôt want to do anything involving infectious disease!”
  • “I always thought I‚Äôd be a therapist, or a doctor. When I heard about genetic counseling essentially being a combination of both (in a high school textbook), I knew this was for me. I feel very fortunate that I heard about it so early and could prepare myself through college to get to grad school!”
  • “I got into genetic counseling because I wanted a career with both medical and scientific components (sounds like the canned interview response, but it’s true!) and something that would be constantly evolving. I also wanted to know that I‚Äôd be working in a field with good work-life balance so that I could actually see my family!”
  • “I was a psych major in college and knew I‚Äôd end up going to grad school, but did not want to be a psychologist.¬† I took a few career assessments online and genetic counseling kept coming up at the top of list ‚Äď I had no clue what it even was, so I researched it and it was exactly what I didn‚Äôt know I was looking for‚Ķ I applied for a local internship and the rest is history.”
  • “I got into genetic counseling because I wanted to be a scientist, but wasn‚Äôt keen on touching people. I also like the work-life balance part of the career.”
  • “I was as senior Bio major in college and stumbled across a poster about Genetic Counseling outside my professor‚Äôs office. I knew I didn‚Äôt want to ‚Äúlook under a microscope‚ÄĚ as a career, so genetic counseling seemed like a good combination of people contact and science. It was November, so I had 2 months to decide if I wanted to be a GC, and get my applications in by the January deadline! The rest is history.”
  • “I was initially interested in becoming a physician and had planned on doing so up until my sophomore year of college. I really enjoyed the genetics course I took, but after doing some research I realized I did not want to be a geneticist. I decided that I still wanted to work in the field of genetics, so I researched other professions within this field and came to genetic counseling. Although fewer GCs were in roles outside of clinic, I knew the degree would give me a variety of job options should I decide that I didn‚Äôt want to stay in clinic.”
  • “I always loved science and genetics in school, but didn‚Äôt learn about the profession of genetic counseling until my junior year of college. After spending time working in both research and pharmaceutical labs during college, I realized I wanted more interaction with people. I shadowed some local genetic counselors and decided being a genetic counselor would be the perfect combination of science and interpersonal interaction.”

A New Meaning for Pink & Blue ((BY OLIVIA))

Looking for something to do this Sunday? A new documentary called Pink&Blue: Colors of Hereditary Cancer will be showing across the country this weekend. If you are interested in inherited cancer syndromes and the patient experience  you should definitely check this out.  This film aims to redefine inherited breast cancer as a problem that affects women AND men  (a constant soapbox issue for yours truly).  The knowledge that BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations  can affect males by increasing the risk for certain cancers (namely male breast and prostate) is an important counseling point for genetic counselors.  Check out the trailer below and click here to see if there is a movie screening near you this weekend! Hopefully the showings will continue into next year.


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 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!

POLL: What blog topics would interest you?

The mission of our blog is to cater to prospective GC students or those who are passionate about genetic counseling.  So we would love to hear what topics you all are interested in!  After allРit is all about our readers and promoting the rapidly growing genetic counseling field!

Celebrities!!! ((by Austin))

Throughout the last year and a half, whilst attempting to traverse the sometimes rocky terrain of learning about a wide variety of genetic conditions, my classmates and I have found a way to help remember some of the numerous genetic conditions that we need to know. We, like many other people across the country, have a morbid fascination with celebrities. As our time in classes has gone on, people now regularly bring up any celebrity ties to genetic conditions that come up in our discussions.

I thought I’d share some of the ones that I’ve come across, both in class as well as in my internet searches that I have conducted in an effort to delay schoolwork (hey, we all do it right?). Some of these are well-documented, and some are simply rumored. I will definitely do my best to identify which are which in an attempt to not ruffle any celebrity feathers (as I’m sure Maps and Genes has a substantial Hollywood following). I’ll also post links to articles where I found the information, in case you’re interested in reading more about it.

For reals:

Colin Farrell has a son with Angelman‚Äôs syndrome, which is an imprinting disorder that causes seizures, intellectual deficits and frequent laughter or smiling (gracefully dubbed ‚Äėhappy puppet syndrome‚Äô by the medical community). He talks a little about his experience in this article:

Mayim Bialik did got her PhD in Neuroscience and specialized in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome, another imprinting disorder which causes intellectual delay, a ravenous appetite and morbid obesity. She talks briefly about it on her web site:

Gillian Anderson (of X-files fame and more recently seen on TV’s Hannibal) had a brother with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 who passed away at 30 from a brain tumor. One of the main features of NF1 are neurofibromas (tumors) all over the body, which sadly in some cases can be lethal. She discusses this and her work with NF1 charities on her web site:

Missy Elliot, rapper extraordinaire, was diagnosed in 2008 with Grave’s disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes over activity of the thyroid. Some common symptoms of Grave’s disease are anxiety, irritability, goiter (enlarged thyroid gland), and bulging eyes. She talks a little about her experience in this interview:,,20505206,00.html

John F Kennedy, our 35th president, was diagnosed with Addison’s disease following his election and taking office. Some symptoms of Addison’s disease include fatigue, dizziness, weight loss and changes in mood and personality. It doesn’t take a political analyst to figure out why his administration wanted to keep this under wraps. An article in the LA Times talks a little more about this:

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple (and apparent Ashton Kutcher look-alike), had carcinoid tumors, the type of cancer that ultimately lead to his death. Carcinoid tumors are neuroendocrine tumors that can be benign, or can metastasize. Because they are neuroendocrine tumors, they can also secrete hormones, such as serotonin, which can cause other problems throughout the body. Here’s an article that talks more about carcinoid tumors, and references Jobs:

Atticus Shaffer (Brick from the TV show The Middle) was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type IV, which causes brittle bones. Individuals with OI have bones which are prone to fracture, and often leads to short stature, as well as dental issues. Type IV is a more moderate type, but is variable from person to person. Shaffer talks about life with OI Type IV in this article:

Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame was born with achondroplasia, which is a form of short-limb dwarfism. Achondroplasia is one of the more common genetic causes of dwarfism, and occurs more frequently in cases where the dad is older. The technical term for this is advanced paternal age (flattering, right?), and there isn’t a widely agreed-upon age where this kicks in. This page has some quotes from Dinklage talking about his experience growing up with achondroplasia:

Verne Troyer (Mini Me from Austin Powers) was born with Cartilage-Hair Hypoplasia Dwarfism (probably). I‚Äôm putting this one under ‚Äėfor reals‚Äô because Troyer clearly has some type of short stature, and most of the articles I‚Äôve come by listed it as CHHD, although none of them involve interviews with him or a conclusive diagnosis. This article is the *most* reliable one I found:

Venus Williams, American tennis superstar, was diagnosed in 2011 with Sjogren’s disease, an immune-system disorder that causes dry eyes, dry mouth and pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints. Williams talks in this article about how she manages the symptoms, but the illness did eventually lead to her retirement from professional tennis:

Bernie Mac, who was a comedian and had his own TV show, had a condition called Sarcoidosis, which is an immune condition that causes inflammation in various tissues of the body and can predispose to certain types of cancers. Mac struggled with this condition for years and it contributed to his death in 2008. He started a Sarcoidosis foundation with a lot of information here:

Probs for reals, but thus far just speculation:

Tom Cruise was rumored to have been born with holoprosencephaly, a condition that can cause the brain to be unable to divide correctly into two lobes. Speculation began with photos that appeared to show a younger Cruise with a centrally-spaced front incisor, which is a hallmark feature of holoprosencephaly. Some have hypothesized that this could be an explanation for his rumored fertility problems, as well as his sometimes erratic behavior (see: Oprah interview). Here’s the blog post that brought this to my attention; judge for yourself:

Abraham Lincoln has long been rumored to have a genetic condition, largely because of his abnormally tall stature. The most prevailing theory is that Lincoln had Marfan’s syndrome, a genetic condition that causes tall stature, long spider-like fingers, and can predispose to vision or heart problems. Here’s an article that explores the evidence:

Jamie Lee Curtis has long been rumored (and again never been confirmed to have) some sort of gonadal disorder. The most common thing I‚Äôve seen thrown around on articles I‚Äôve looked at is ‚Äėhemaphrodite‚Äô, which is not only an outdated term, but not very accurate. The prevailing theory among celebrity conspiracy theorists is that the actress has Androgen Insensitivity syndrome. Individuals with AIS are chromosomally male (XY), but are phenotypically female. Women with AIS would be infertile (seemingly the majority of the ‚Äėevidence‚Äô that Curtis has this ‚Äď her two children are adopted), and would not menstruate. The Curtis camp has done a pretty good job at keeping a lid on this honey pot, but here‚Äôs an article from, appropriately,, that addresses this:

Ceelo Green allegedly was born with hypochondroplasia, which is a less severe form of achondroplasia (see: Peter Dinklage). Although not confirmed, his height and the proportion of his limbs along with his facial features suggest this less common type of dwarfism. Again, not a super reliable source, but they make a good case:

That’s all for now – Happy Holidays everyone!

3 Things They Don‚Äôt Tell You About Becoming a Genetic Counselor ((by Sarah))

1.  You will never go anywhere… ever again… without thinking multiple people have some sort of genetic condition.  It is sad but so true.  That tall skinny man in front of you in the grocery store undoubtably has Marfan syndrome while the baby you pass in the parking lot clearly is macrocephalic.  (or having a head size two standard deviations above the mean, or average, for his size)


 Even gas stations are not safe.  I drove by this one the other day!  Does this make anyone else think Long QT syndrome?


2.  You get overly excited whenever you discover a new genetics-related website or app.  And no, your significant other/parents do not want to hear how excited you are about your new pregnancy wheel app.    Here are a few of my favorite new discoveries!

– ¬†CyDas ‚Äď A tool for drawing karyograms/ideograms.¬† If there is a patient with multiple duplications, deletions, or translocations and you always wished you knew what it looked like/how big the genetic changes were‚Ķ then this is the site for you!¬† I am a big proponent of visual aids so this was an amazing site for me to utilize. ¬†Great for making visual aids for patients! (Note: With some finesse, you can move the X chromosome down next to the Y)¬† Below is their example.



– ¬†Next Gx Dx ‚Äď We like to call this the Kayak of genetic testing. ¬†It is a user-friendly resource to determine labs offering specific genetic tests along with their costs, specifications, and shipping details.¬† However, we had found a few errors regarding test cost in the past.¬† When in doubt, just be¬†grateful¬†GeneTests is back! ¬†This is always a good place to start if you are unsure where to find genetic testing availability and information.

¬†– ¬†The Pregnancy Wheel App by Duprey Net ‚Äď A must for anyone in the prenatal world.¬† Much to my dismay it is not free.¬† While it only cost a whopping $0.99, I still just hate purchasing apps. This one was worth every cent since it did not lose the “pregnancy wheel” feel.


CFTR2¬†— If you are curious about any kind of Cystic Fibrosis mutation or you have a patient with a mutation that is unusual – This is the place for you to go! ¬†There are over 1,800 different mutations in the CFTR gene known thus far. ¬†Therefore, this is a site to bookmark for future use! ¬†There is also another, similar website out of Canada called the Cystic Fibrosis Mutation Database that has excellent visuals of the CFTR gene and mutation information. ¬†The mutation data from this website has now been combined with the CFTR2 site. ¬†Therefore, if you are looking for a more, “one-stop shopping” experience, CFTR2 is for you!


The DNA Exchange If you are enjoying this blog and want to read more postings from other genetic counselors or genetics professionals, take a look at this blog!  Especially if you are curious and wish to know more about hot topics in the genetic counseling field.

3.¬†¬†¬† You will likely have to explain what your career is over and over again to everyone you come into contact with. ¬†I absolutely love my profession so I don‚Äôt mind this too much.¬† I walk around spreading the word about genetic counseling just about everyday.¬† You will also come up with a few, easy to explain examples to tell people about when they ask ‚Äúexactly what will you do??‚Ä̬† However, the Angelina Jolie Effect definitely created more awareness for our field.¬† ((Even though we all will not be working with women at risk for cancer… Angelina Jolie surely had an impact in the genetics field)).¬† I will admit though, some days having one simple word like ‚Äúnurse‚ÄĚ to describe my career would be easier!

There are also so many misconceptions still out there.¬† No, we are NOT making “designer babies” or telling people how to create a perfect human race.¬† Unfortunately, people who think these things clearly have little understanding of what GCs do and how we work to support patients to make educated, autonomous decisions.¬† Often what people may say sounds a bit more like a mix between a history book from several decades ago and a sci-fi novel than what I will be doing at my 9-5 job.¬† This is just one of those things you will face as you enter the field of genetics from any angle.

This is a new, rapidly changing field that is truly on the cutting edge so it is understandable that not everyone knows what it is that GCs do.¬† More and more, people are starting to know what genetic counselors are, which is both hopeful and exciting.¬† This is ((one of the many reasons)) why the future is looking so bright for GCs! ¬†And to many of our readers… you too could be/will be apart of this exciting field!

Career and Passion

Congratulations to the C/O 2013

I have been very fortunate to have made so many  friends throughout the graduate school experience and to have created connections with students in different programs.  So glad to have met all of you!

It doesn’t take a scientist (although I am one, actually a Master one) to notice all the graduation ceremonies popping up on Facebook. ¬†So while we all ¬†“hood up” and celebrate our accomplishments, Maps & Genes wants to extend a “Congratulations!” to all of us, including the First Years becoming Second Years and the NEW First Years who were recently accepted.

I (Jade) also have ¬†to post a “We Did It!” photo of my classmates and I on Graduation Day!

USC Genetic Counseling C/O 2013

Coming Up: Perhaps some reflection posts (although we might be too tired to reflect, so no promises), and also a “What’s Next for m&g” post!

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Genetic Counseling Thesis: An Interview with Olivia ((Interviewed by Jade))

Tweeted... document from X-Men: Days of Future Past (Copyright: Twitter/@bryansinger)

Tweeted… document from X-Men: Days of Future Past (Copyright: Twitter/@bryansinger)

A whole lotta blood, sweat, and tears goes into graduate school, but, to a certain extent, the workload is relatable.  We have been accustomed to exams for ages now.  We know how to work a library. We are not afraid of extracurricular opportunities, and even PubMed searches are becoming like an old friend.
However, at least for those of us earning our first master’s degree, Thesis is uncharted territory. It is not required by all GC programs, but it is by most, and finished projects range from 50 to well over 100 pages of scientific goodstuff. I decided to interview Olivia to provide some insight into the process, as well as a better understanding of the immense amount of work and re-work that the project demands.
1. Olivia, summarize your thesis in 3 sentences or less.
Fertility technologies such as sperm, oocyte, or embryo cryopreservation have recently been applied to assist cancer patients at risk of infertility due to cancer treatment or for gene positive individuals for whom removal of reproductive organs is indicated (think: BRCA carriers).  Because genetic counselors often see patients who are of reproductive age who may be candidates for these procedures, termed fertility preservation, I surveyed counselors for their interest and education needs regarding this topic. Overall, counselors were open to incorporating this subject into their sessions and wanted to learn more so they can be prepared to help guide an interested patient.
2. Why did this topic interest you?
 I really am intrigued by the application of new technology in the clinical setting. I used to work in a translational lab where the goal was to carry bench science findings into  eventual development as drug therapies for cancer patients and the curiosity has continued!
3. Were your results significant/What was learned?
Oncofertility is entering the realm of treatment and management of cancer care, the oncologist’s zone usually, so I wasn’t sure how open counselors would be to incorporating this discussion into their sessions. However, they were incredibly curious and eager to learn more, especially regarding subtopics that would help them identify who was most at risk and where to find resources. Developing an educational tool for any counselor to access when needed would be the next step in the project but it would also be interesting to hear the patient’s perspectives as well.
4. What part of thesis-writing made you want to pull your hair out?
I think thesis is difficult because it requires that you are aware of not only details (citations, making coherent sentences) but that you don’t lose sight of the big picture (goal of the thesis/hypothesis, take home message). It can be tiring zooming in and out again. Plus, it’s like a marathon. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a project that long, ever.
5. What part of thesis-writing made you think maybe it was worth pulling your hair out?
¬†It felt really great to hear the responses to my survey and to my final paper. I’m a newbie to the field but I really am eager to show that I can contribute in some small way. It was a great introduction to research and to professional issues.¬† I look forward to continuing this project and doing a pilot of an educational tool in the (near) future.
6.  Impart some words of wisdom for future thesis writers.
 Be dedicated and try not to be discouraged. Set a writing schedule and a no-writing schedule (aka time to recharge) and STICK TO IT. Also, get someone who knows stats programs really well and become best friends.
Get more info here and here and, hey, here, here, here.  {These links provide examples of past student works from different programs.}
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Francis Crick Interview (1993)

Thinking in a¬†scientific¬†way is not necessarily a natural way, it just happens to be a very effective way. ¬†It’s not even very effective for one person, it must be groups of people. ¬†Otherwise¬†you get trapped in your own errors…One person is fallible.


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

The following is a guest post by a First-Year in my (Jade) program.¬† We‚Äôre 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.¬† It is important for you to be who you are.¬†¬† And, you will be happier in your program if you are.¬† Every program has its differences and similarities.¬† You want a program that fits who you are.¬† I knew I wanted to be able to relate to people well, so a strong psychosocial aspect was key for me.¬† But it‚Äôs not for everyone and you will ‚Äúfeel that out‚ÄĚ through the interview process.¬† And of course, make sure who you are is reflected in your application.


  1.  Dress the Part.  This may sound less-important, but allow me to explain.  Graduate schools want someone who is serious about being a Genetic Counselor, which is why it is crucial to demonstrate your professionalism through appearance.  First impressions are crucial, and your attire is part of that first impression.  So, dress professionally [blazer/jacket + skirt/dress pants].  Dressing the part makes you look like you really want a place in a program.  Also, I would recommend a portfolio, so you can take notes, or write down questions to review for yourself pre-interview.  This will also help your feel more prepared and organized.



Sarah‚Äôs Interview Picks: Long skirt at least to the knee, shoes with low heels, simple bag and minimal jewelry, shirt with a non-revealing neckline, and a professional blazer.¬† Remember, if you wear a watch, do not keep peering down at it during your interview ‚Äď you do not want to appear bored or uninterested!


3. Prepare a LOT OF QUESTIONS.  Nothing was more difficult than running out of questions to the question: What questions do you have for us?  Particularly since you’re trying not to ask every interviewer the same questions.  You need to get as much information as you can, so prepare a variety of questions that also reflect the specific program.


My favorite question:

How did you get into this profession?


Another helpful tip:

If you meet anyone you love, or really ‚Äúhit it off‚ÄĚ with while at an interview, GET HIS OR HER CONTACT INFO!¬† I am currently roommates with one of the girls I met, only once, at our interview.¬† She was able to remember my name and find me online.¬† And, of course, it is GREAT to know someone when you move 14 hours away from home to a strange place and find yourself having to make friends all over again!


Recommended Undergraduate Experiences: 

  1. Anything in a healthcare setting (including volunteer work!)
  2. Any laboratory experiences ( biology or psychology are very helpful)
  3. If available, consider taking these courses: developmental biology, embryology, any classes related to cancer, cell biology, and an array of psychology courses [in addition to your prerequisites… of course]


Best of luck in your application journey!



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