Category Archives: job hunting

Laboratory Genetic Counselor Q+A ((By Jade M.))

mad-science

A day in the lab.

I wanted to write a post about life as a lab counselor, but I wasn’t making much progress.  Luckily, Sarah posed some questions to help get the wheels spinning!

A little background: I work remotely as a report writer for cardiology testing and have been in this position for about 8 months.
Would you make the transition again?

Yes! However, I was always drawn to a laboratory position.
During graduate school, we had a laboratory counselor speak to us about her job – I loved the idea of flexibility in your work schedule along with the option to work remotely. Apart from these perks, I was always academically fascinated by the molecular aspect of genetic counseling and how the gene/protein level corresponded to the outward phenotype.  Combine this with a love for writing and research – and lab counseling was a perfect fit for me.
Is it more stressful or less stressful?

Much less stressful. However, I came from a busy clinic where we were short a genetic counselor for 50% of my employment. Furthermore, I had to navigate the stickiness of insurance authorization for commercial and medicaid providers – I do not miss that.

Do you spend more hours working or fewer?

Fewer.  But I was working a lot at my previous job.  Like, a lot. The whole crew was, so it’s not like I over-carried the burden.  But if I didn’t start working fewer hours, I would have all gray hair by now.

If you were to give advice to a senior GC student, would you recommend first taking a clinical position or do you wish you would have gone straight into working for a lab?
I would absolutely recommend working in a clinic first.  My thought is that if you want to be a great lab counselor, you need to put your brain through GC training camp.  You need to work out your clinical muscles and tone up your patient-centered thinking.  You need to do some heavy lifting in clinical note-writing and strengthen your core in clinical diagnoses.  You need to bench-press empathy and take a long, slow run through family histories.  Are you nervous that this explanation is becoming way too cross-fitty?
In other words: when you work in a laboratory, you tend to switch your brain to the molecular side of things.  But I am far better at variant interpretation when I call upon my clinical skills – for instance (1) how to read physician notes (2) how syndromes/conditions are identified clinically (3) how a variant call will affect a person/family (4) bearing in mind the “fight” the GC undertook for insurance authorization or the burden the family incurs for paying more than they can afford (5) recognizing the impact of turnaround times (6) feeling confident that I can speak to GCs/doctors who call with question from the clinic, because, hey, I’ve been there.

Best perk of the job?

No more “Sunday night blues.”  My Sundays are full, happy, beautiful days.  As opposed to the previous 3pm anxiety onset when you realize you have to do yet another workweek.
Also, I don’t have to run into people on the elevator who say stupid things like “Happy Humpday.”
Least favorite job duty?

I love reading scientific articles and digging deep into literature.  But sometimes, ugh.
Did anything surprise you about your new lab position?

I am surprised how transparent we are.  For instance, I assumed laboratories hid their classification calls and supporting evidence.  It’s quite the opposite – we upload all of our calls to ClinVar and make an effort to root out any inconsistencies with other labs.  This is excellent for patient care.

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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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