Category Archives: second career

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.  🙂

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  • “Initially I was on the pre-veterinary medicine track at my undergrad when I decided that wasn’t 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’t want to do anything involving infectious disease!”
  • “I always thought I’d 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’d 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’d 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 – I had no clue what it even was, so I researched it and it was exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for… 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’t 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’s office. I knew I didn’t want to “look under a microscope” 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’t want to stay in clinic.”
  • “I always loved science and genetics in school, but didn’t 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.”
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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?

Absolutely!

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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