“A Day in the Life of a Genetic Counselor” Webinar on 11/19/17

Are you interested in a career in genetic counseling? Are you preparing to apply to genetic counseling programs? Curious to learn what different roles a genetic counselor may have day-to-day?

Check out our webinar sponsored by the Student/New Member Special Interest Group of National Society of Genetic Counselors to learn more about this fast-growing profession! This hour-long webinar will feature two practicing genetic counselors and one genetic counseling student sharing their journey to genetic counseling and current day-to-day roles.

When? Sunday, November 19th, 2017 at 6pm CST

Register here: https://goo.gl/forms/LXSn1aPkyCuyStIr2



U of Manitoba MSc Open House

The University of Manitoba is hosting an open house for prospective genetic counselling students (counselling spelled with two L’s for our Canadian friends!)

PDF w/ details: UM-GC Open House

U Manitoba

When: November 7, 2017, 5:30pm
Where: Basic Medical Sciences Building, Room 341, 745 Bannatyne Avenue, Winnipeg, MB

RSVP: bmgadmin@umanitoba.ca by Nov 3, 2017

Prospectives in Genetic Counseling: Transitioning into the role of genetic counseling student

The following is a publication from the Prospective Students Task Force, part of the NSGC Student/New Member Special Interest Group (SIG). If you’re not familiar with SIGs, keep reading!

You’ll also find:

  • Information on transitioning to graduate school
  • Reflections from a re-applicant
  • Resources and information on NSGC

Publication: Prospectives Newsletter_June2017

Grad Student

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:

  • NSGC.org: 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.
  • Becomeageneticcounselor.org: 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.org: 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.
  • BLS.gov: 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.com: 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! http://www.truity.com/test/type-finder-research-edition

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 (http://gceducation.org/pages/accredited-programs.aspx).
  • 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 (http://www.geneticcounseling4u.org/prospective_students/mag.html): 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 forums.studentdoctor.net. 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!

The Interview Process: What to Expect and How to Make Your Mark ((Camille))

Interview season is upon us. For those of you booking flights and frantically scheduling visits to graduate programs here are a few pointers to boost your confidence and send you off to your interviews feeling prepared and ready to make an impression.


First off, what does the interview process for genetic counseling programs really look like?

The night before:

Most graduate programs offer an informal dinner with the current students the night before the interview. This is generally optional but is a great way to learn more about the student experience and get a chance to ask more directly about the relationship with program staff. This is also the time to start keying into the vibe of the program – How do the students interact with one another? Do you see yourself fitting into a similar group? Do the opinions expressed about the program line up with what you hope to gain from your graduate education? Taking advantage of this opportunity to ask questions of the students can also give you some insight into topics you may want to address with your interviewers the following day. While this type of interaction is not meant to be a formal part of your program interview, it is always a good idea to be respectful, engaging and involved in the conversation.

The interview:

Interviews are a blur – long days, meeting a lot of people, being fully engaged in conversation and needing to think on your feet. Generally, programs schedule short 15-30 minute interviews with all available program staff. You should expect to speak directly with the program director as well as the medical director, rotation supervisors, research advisors or other program personnel. Most likely, you will be emailed or given a copy of your interview schedule beforehand. This gives you the opportunity to research the individuals you will be meeting. You might consider looking into their research interests, their role within the program or their professional and teaching experiences. Remember, you may only have 15 minutes with some individuals so prioritize your message and your questions. Some programs vary the structure of their interviews and may have short group discussions where they ask the interviewees to review a case or an ethical problem. This gives the program a chance to evaluate your group interactions and your ability to advocate for your own viewpoints while respectfully acknowledging and responding to the viewpoints of others. In my own experience, one of my interviews even included a timed, handwritten response to a given prompt. Keep an open mind – the program wants to get to know you and any seemingly odd experience or question may really be an effort to do just that!

What do you wear to a graduate program interview?

As many interviews include a tour of nearby clinics or hospitals, comfortable shoes are a must. If you choose to go with a higher heel, carrying flats in your bag can be a great compromise. While keeping professionalism in mind, try to show your personality. You should be considering a blazer, tailored dress or a blouse and pants but don’t feel restricted to the color black. Keep jewelry to a minimum or to pieces you know will not be bothersome or need adjusting during an interview. You want to feel confident, not uncomfortable. Carrying a bag is perfectly acceptable and programs will generally make arrangements to store your luggage or other belongings throughout the day. Finally, a portfolio is a great place to store extra copies of your resume and take notes about the program.

What types of questions will I be asked during graduate program interviews?

This is generally more difficult to pin down as different programs may focus on different things. However, most programs will be looking to assess 1) your understanding of the field 2) if you are the same accomplished and hard-working candidate they saw on paper 3) how your experience and interpersonal skills have prepared you for graduate training 4) if you fit with the current program staff and students.

So, what can you do to prepare?

As standard advice: take advantage of mock interview or other preparatory services offered through your current institution. You should also become familiar with what is unique about the programs where you are interviewing. Familiarity with the program website, rotations and program staff shows your level of interest and can allow you to have more meaningful exchanges with interviewers.

Prepare to talk about the experiences listed on your resume. More than a general overview, consider what was most valuable about each experience and think of examples which highlight your skills or ways in which you have grown. In doing this, think how you could use these examples to answer common interview questions (e.g. When is a time you have worked with a team? Tell me about a time you handled a difficult person or situation. When have you managed multiple time commitments at once?). You may want to make a list of these “highlight” experiences and add to it as you prepare for your interviews. Having a strong stockpile of examples to pull from can help you respond to similar interview questions with fresh insights.

Back up your weaknesses with examples of growth. It is safe to assume that during your interviews you may encounter a question about your weaknesses. It is okay to be honest and upfront when answering this question but make sure you can provide examples of how you have addressed your shortcomings and how you continue to grow and learn from your past experience.

Prioritize your message. In genetic counseling, we often talk about “take-home messages.” I think this concept applies quite nicely to interviews. Consider what it is you want most to communicate about yourself as a program candidate. Are you driven? Curious? Ambitious? Preparing your “take-home message” will make it easier to build upon these themes in your responses to interview questions and give you a quick go-to when offering your final thoughts.

Questions! Don’t forget this is your opportunity to evaluate the program. Think about what is most important to you in a graduate school experience and prepare some standard questions to help you evaluate programs in these areas. Open-ended questions generally get you better responses. These are questions that start with “Tell me about…” or “What do you think about…” or “What is important for…”, etc. As an additional point, don’t run out of questions! The more you ask, the more interested you appear. You can guarantee each interview will end with the question, “What questions do you have for me?”, so come prepared! And finally, don’t be afraid to get to know the person sitting across from you – questions do not have to be restricted to information about the program.

Be genuine. I’m sure you have read this advice elsewhere but it is worth the emphasis. You do not want to come across as anything other than yourself. This might mean feeling free to joke a bit with your interviewer or really answering questions honestly without a rehearsed feeling. Of course, be cognizant of the tone the interviewer sets, but don’t be so afraid of saying “the wrong thing” that you censor yourself. The people who get involved with training programs are generally very nice people. So, try your best not to let nerves get in the way of your authentic self.

You may find lists of interview questions specifically for genetic counseling posted online. I would say that some of these lists have useful information but I would not use an online list as your sole means of interview preparation. You are likely going to get more questions directed at you and your experiences. The interview is about getting to know who you are and that means questions about things you should have complete confidence in answering. Some programs choose to ask questions that might take an interviewee off-guard or might get at their opinion regarding an ethical or contemporary issue in the field. Again, this is likely meant to gauge your response and how you handle a little bit of pressure or unease as opposed to if you can give the exact “right answer.” In this situation, it is okay to feel a little bit flustered or to ask for a second to think through things. Take a breath and remember to be honest and diplomatic in your response.

Is there interview etiquette for genetic counseling programs that I should follow?

Yes. First off, do not try and gather information about questions from students or other interviewees. Beyond being inappropriate, this really defeats the purpose of the interview which is to evaluate your honest responses to questions. Second, play nice with everyone. Programs are small and one bad interaction with the front desk staff might get back to the admissions committee. I assume any person applying to a genetic counseling program is both mature and kind-hearted but it doesn’t hurt to remember that any interaction (big or small) can be a part of your evaluation. This also applies to email. Third, stay off of your cell phone. Obvious – just don’t do it; you have only a day or two to get to know the people and the program, so spend that time engaged and being respectful of others by giving your full attention. Finally, send “Thank you” notes to the programs who invited you to interview. Scheduling interviews can be a difficult process from the program’s perspective so showing your appreciation is a very nice touch. Additionally, it provides you one last opportunity to include a thoughtful detail or remind your interviewers of an enjoyable interaction you shared.

Best of luck on interviews from all of us at Maps & Genes! Have other questions? Just ask!

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How to Win Friends and Influence People … in the World of Genetic Counseling

Do you want to sound smart when you talk about genetics? Do you have graduate school interviews coming up and need to impress the director? Do you want to deep-dive into the world of genetic counseling to understand if this career is for you? (Is your cat making too much noise?)

If you nodded yes to one or more of the above questions, look no further. We’ve got you covered. Check out the below resources to stay on top of this crazy world of deoxyribonucleic acid.


1. Genome Magazine

  • This magazine is cool…and FREE (but jump on the bandwagon before they start charging!). You can also read online.
  • It’s the opposite of reading dense medical journals – it’s interesting and broadly appeals to anyone who enjoys genetics. As an example, I save my copies and read them on airplanes, right along with my celebrity gossip magazines. That way, if anyone gives me the side-eye for catching up on the Kardashians, I just whip out my genetics magazine to uphold my integrity.
  • Use this magazine to think critically about relevant issues and widen your scope  on the community perspective regarding genetics


2. The DNA Exchange Blog

  • This is where experienced GCs go to weigh-in on their field
  • I have yet to meet a genetic counselor who has not heard of this blog
  • Check out the side-panel to see additional relevant blogs (*cough* m+g is on there!)


3. Reddit – DNA Day Series | National Society of Genetic Counselors

  • NSGC hosted a few of these, so you may want to Google “NSGC Reddit” to find the rest (here’s another)
  • Peruse all those curiously fun questions about artificial intelligence, CRISPR, and ugh…MTHFR…
  • Questions are answered by genetic counselors and PhDs

BONUS: Follow @gcprobs on Instagram.  I don’t know who made this Instagram account, but whoever you are (all of you?), I’d like to congratulate you on being hilarious. Feel free to contact us to share your wit on maps and genes.

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!  mapsandgenes@gmail.com

OPPORTUNITY: GeneDx’s Prospective GC Day | November 15, 2016

We are doing our best over here to keep you up to date on opportunities and experiences for prospective students looking to learn more about the field.  We even added a new tab to our site and aim to improve this over time.

For now, GeneDx is offering its fall Prospective GC Day with opportunities to join in remotely.

DETAILS:  http://www.genedx.com/whats-new/prospectivegcday2016/

Date: November 15, 2016
Time: 9am-2pm EST
Location: GeneDx 207 Perry Parkway Gaithersburg, MD 20877
RSVP: Meg Bradbury, MS, CGC, MSHS (mbradbury@genedx.com) by November 15, 2016

If you are not in the Maryland area please join us remotely by video conference! For further information please contact Mbradbury@genedx.com to RSVP and request a login to join us online.  Please pass on to anyone that might be interested.



Debunking Myths in Genetic Counseling

The following is a guest post by Anna Essendrup, M.S., CGC and Thuy-mi (Mimi) Nguyen, M.S.. 




Dear Readers,

Our names are Anna and Mimi, both graduates of the same GC program in Colorado.  We now work together as lab genetic counselors at Mayo Clinic. We are really excited about this blog and are enthusiastic about sharing our experiences with non-traditional roles of genetic counseling.  We are here to bust a few common myths about non-traditional roles.

 “Do not begin your genetic counseling career in a laboratory unless you want to stay in laboratory forever”/”Once you transition to lab, you cannot transition back to clinic”

One of the BIGGEST myths regarding laboratory genetic counseling is that it is a “dead-end” in the genetic counseling field.  You might think that once you have left the patient care arena and stepped into a laboratory role, you will lose your patient care skills and wouldn’t be considered for a role in that area today.  This could not be further from the truth.  Both laboratory and clinical genetic counselors use the same skills and knowledge base to interpret results, communicate genetic information, and develop a professional relationship with the client/patient.

For example, laboratory counselors may call results out to an ordering physician while clinical counselors call out results to the patient.  Both calls require establishing rapport between counselor and client.  Once that rapport is established, results need to be communicated at a level that is appropriate for the individual at the other end of the call.  Genetic counselors have a keen ability to monitor the level of understanding that the client/patient may have and adjust the level of detail/explanation accordingly to ensure that each person fully understands the results presented to him or her.  Genetic counselors also have training in non-directive counseling, allowing the clients to make their own decisions based on what is right for them or their patient.

Genetic counselors use a variety of skills throughout their practice, regardless of the setting.  All settings for genetic counseling are critical for the quality care of patients awaiting a potential genetic diagnosis. We are able to educate and empower all healthcare team members to ensure that their patients received the best quality of care possible.

“Genetic counseling is all about stem cell therapy and genetic manipulation”

Genetics is a quickly growing field with many new developments that are highlighted in the media.  Some developments can be overstated and dramatized by news outlets or other sources to make them more attractive to the general population.  Buzzwords like “stem cell therapy” and “genetic manipulation” can take a dramatic spotlight; however, the majority of stem cell therapy and genetic manipulation has not progressed past the research phase. In actuality, and unfortunately, there are only a handful of clinically-available treatments which may be indicated based on results of genetic testing.  Fortunately, many genetic counselors may have the opportunity to work in research.  Research involves many aspects of genetics and counseling and can includes areas of gene-specific activity and expression, database compilation and review, best practices in selecting genetic testing, communicating genetic information, and supporting patients with and without a diagnosis.

The genetic counseling skill set is highly applicable to research.  It is now evident that informed patient consent is not only ideal but critical to the research process.  Genetic counselors are trained to have a wide understanding of scientific methods and concepts and, most importantly, are highly trained in translating complicated medical information at a level which can be understood by a variety of audiences.  Because of this training, genetic counselors become an important point person for communication between all involved research team members and research participants.  Genetic counselors are also able to bridge the gap between research and bedside to inform patients of research study options and increase access to these opportunities.

“A Geneticist is the same as a Genetic Counselor”

While geneticists and genetic counselors have a similar knowledge base and often work very closely with each other, our disciplines are unique and require different skill sets to become a master in the field.

Both MD and PhD geneticists train through at least 4 years of medical school and at least 2 years of residency.  This includes extensive training in overall medicine, including diagnostics, physical examination of patients, and dysmorphology (the study of different body structures/features/birth defects). Genetic counselors require a 2 year master’s degree.  This includes some diagnostics as well as counseling and education skills.  Both specialists must pass board exams put forth by their respective professional organizations: Genetic Counselors take the American Board of Genetic Counseling exam, while the Geneticists take the American College of Medical Genetics exam.

Within the clinic and laboratory, geneticists and genetic counselors often work as a team, but with specific roles assigned to each.  These roles may vary greatly based on setting but generally, geneticists are the individuals who are responsible for the interpretation of genetic testing and assigning diagnostics based on physical exam, clinical history or laboratory results.  Genetic counselors are typically in the role of providing education regarding genetic concepts, including test results, and counseling the patient through decision making and adapting to a diagnosis (or non-diagnosis).

“Genetic counselors sit in isolation and do Punnett squares all day”

We like to think of genetic counseling as more of a skill set that can be applied to many medical and scientific situations, as opposed to a specific activity or role. That being said, genetic counseling involves a wide variety of disciplines and interaction with individuals in many different fields. On a day to day basis, genetic counselors also work as part of a diagnostic team which may include physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, medical assistants and administrative staff. Genetic counselors are involved in education, research, counseling and many other settings. In the lab specifically, genetic counselors are not only involved in education, but also in a wide variety of additional tasks, such as coordinating receipt/sending of specimens, troubleshooting issues with testing, ensuring the correct test is performed for the patient, helping develop new tests/technologies and many more. Punnett squares are used as an education tool or as a part of risk assessment. They are ONE among MANY tools that genetic counselors use to complete their daily tasks, but certainly not all that we do. Punnett squares are simply one way to teach genetic concepts.

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