Tag Archives: graduate school

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.

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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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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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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!

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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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Getting Into A GC Program: A Follow Up ((By Melissa))

Maps & Genes received a personal email from a prospective GC applicant in response to the latest post of “Getting Into A GC Program:  10 Things TO DO!” by Sarah.  The prospective student was currently an undergraduate in her sophomore year.  Her main question was “how hard is it to get into a GC program?” with her concerns centered around GPA/GRE weighting and shadowing/gaining experience related to an acceptance rate that did not seem too favorable.  Another concern she addressed was where to find a site that ranked the genetic counseling programs.  As she is definitely not the only one to have these questions, we wanted to make our response available for all to read.

First, I’d like to start off by thanking you so much for your interest in the blog… you are our target audience!  It’s even better to hear your thoughts and questions that come to mind as you are considering genetic counseling.
In terms of your main question of “how hard is it to get into a program?”…it seems as though you have been doing great research on programs.  It sounds as though genetic counseling is something you are strongly considering, and I would encourage you to continue in this pursuit.  Although we cannot give you exact answers or know exactly what programs will be looking for during admissions, we can give you advice on how to best prepare yourself to be a good candidate!  Our latest blog post talks about it in detail, but I wanted to address your comments and tailor the advice specifically to your concerns!
I think that the fact that you are just a sophomore gives you a great advantage and a jump start on getting involved.  It is true that the GPA and GRE averages are not ridiculous, but they are competitive enough to let the program know that you are capable of performing well academically.  With the vast number of applications received, it seems as though these concrete values are factored into the “weeding out” process.  What is refreshing to see and what sort of embodies the role of a future genetic counselor would be involvement in extracurriculars related to the field while still maintaining a good academic standing.
The reason I use the word “extracurriculars” is because there are students in genetic counseling programs who never got the opportunity to shadow a genetic counselor prior to applying.  The importance of this aspect just lies within the fact that you know what it means to be a genetic counselor and what it entails.  One of the only guarantees I can tell you is that during the interview process you will have to answer the question “why do you want to be a genetic counselor?”. Should you choose to pursue volunteering at a crisis center or somewhere else, you can take the opportunity to demonstrate how you will use your experiences and apply them in the genetic counseling session.
Lastly, there is no site that ranks genetic counseling programs.  All programs are excellent training and education opportunities for future genetic counselors, and the programs differ more so on geographic location and character than X being better than Y.  When choosing where to apply, it is a very personal decision and you should determine what factors are the most important to you, whether it be staying close to home, finances, curriculum focus, etc.
Sorry for the length, but I hope this gave you some of the answers you were looking for!  Again, you are young in your undergrad and it is great to see that genetic counseling is an interest of yours, so please do not be discouraged by this “low” acceptance rate…just make some contacts to get involved and keep up your grades!  Please let us know if you have any more questions!
And thanks for reading 🙂
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Getting into a GC Program: 10 things TO DO! ((by Sarah))

Prospective GC students, this one is for you! It is getting to be that time of year again… application season.  We hope this may help! Also note—this is just from the prospective of a current GC student!

1. If you have not shadowed a genetic counselor yet… DO IT soon.  The more shadowing the better.  Also, shadowing in several different specialty areas is always a great idea if you can find counselors that have time to spare!  If you do not know where to start to gain this experience… you can use the find a genetic counselor tool on the NSGC website.  You can search by your zip code, and each counselor should have indicated on his or her listing if they welcome student contact or not.  When I went through this process, I cold-emailed about 10-15 genetic counselors.

2. IF YOU CANNOT SHADOW… do an informational interview.  I had two informational interviews that were really helpful on my road to becoming a GC.  Programs need to see that you tried to get familiar with the field and that you understand as best as possible what it is that a GC does.  That way, when asked, “so how did you know a career as a genetic counselor was a good fit for you?” you will have specific reasons why you are passionate about this field.

Truth be told… prior to graduate school I had never seen a genetic counseling session (gasp).  This is rather unusual though, as I looked around at all other applicants and my current fellow classmates.   While I did get asked about this in every interview, just having informational interviews does not make it impossible to get in.  However, you should have strengths in a lot of other areas to make up for this!  

3. STUDY for and take your GRE… soon!  Likely many of you reading this have already taken the GRE.  Make sure you actually studied and are happy with your scores.  If you are wondering how you measure up… average GRE scores of people admitted to GC programs can be found on the NSGC website.  My scores we somewhat below average ((Math is not my strong suit)), but my GPA was strong.  If you have a weak GPA, getting good to excellent GRE scores will be important.  You need to demonstrate that you are ready and able to do rigorous academic work!

4.  Advocacy experience.  This is something very important to add to your resume if you have not already done so.  Work on a crisis hotline, volunteer you time in a shelter for battered or at risk women, or spend time with people who have special needs.  Variety can be good, so try spending time assisting with a few different advocacy groups.  I spent time working with children living in a home for women at risk or who were previously the victim of domestic abuse.  Then, I spent several days a week working at a free health care clinic filing medical records and scheduling patients.

5.  LABWORK…. yes, I understand many of us try were trying to get away from the traditional “lab” but the experience is still a great one.  Particularly if you can work on anything related to genetics or with people who have special needs.  Try biology, psychology, and neuroscience labs.  This also can show that you have additional strengths academically.

6.  Prioritize you resume.  The coolest or most genetic counseling relevant things should be the first topics a reader comes to.   Shadowing first, then informational interviews, advocacy work or research experience, etc.  Showcase any skills you feel will make you a great genetic counselor.  Also, be sure to highlight any academic achievements.  Show off your smarts, so to say.  I listed “relevant coursework” at the bottom of my resume to highlight my excellent performance in key classes like genetics, developmental biology, and organic chemistry.  This may be something to consider.  DO NOT list all classes you got an A in, but focus on the key courses.  Not sure what courses are “relevant?”  You may want to look on each of the GC programs’ websites or on the NSGC website at the coursework that is required or recommended for prospective students.

Try thinking, “what would a program like to see?” when prioritizing that resume or CV of yours.  This is a time to be both formal and professional.  For example, even though being in a sorority was a great experience, it does not prove that you can perform and excel academically, so putting it first may not be in your best interest.  I had a great sorority experience myself, but I needed to highlight “Sarah: smart, academic, and professional,” so I listed it on the second page of my résumé under leadership experience.  Also—keep it to two pages in length!  I recommend meeting with career services on your campus to review your resume or CV.  (Many also do mock interview sessions!) While you are doing this, gather up transcripts from all colleges that you have attended as well, even if it was just for one class.

7.  That excel spreadsheet is your new BFF.  Make an excel spreadsheet of the programs you are applying to, the deadlines for each, the requirements, contact information, etc.  Over time, this sheet will evolve into more of a pros and cons list.  They have a template excel spreadsheet you can use on the NSGC website.  This will be vital.  Keep it up to date as well… because you may think you will remember each program but it is hard to remember everything.  For me, I remember ranking my schools by which ones I thought I would want to go to most.  After my interviews, it was fascinating how much my list changed.

8.  A word document is your other BFF.  Make a document listing the programs you are applying to and key information on each.  I complied my list from the website of each program.  That way, you are ready when interview time comes around to ask some excellent questions.

9.  Write that personal statement already.  It may seem odd to write about yourself, but this can play a critical role in getting you an interview slot.  Be creative and unique.  Space is limited for interviews (and the number interviewed depends on the school), so make your statement!

10. Packets.  This was something I did that my professors loved.  I went to Wal-Mart and got 3 snap-closure plastic envelopes.  I made one for each professor I asked to write letters of recommendation.  In this packet, I wrote them a personal letter explaining why I chose them, what I learned from them, and why I was passionate about genetic counseling.  Then, I added my résumé’ as well as a list of schools I was applying to with the details on where to send the letter for each.  If it was to be sent by mail, I included an addressed and stamped envelope.

BONUS:  That question everyone asks…. How many schools should I apply to?  Well, it depends on where you want to go.  I would say around 6?  I applied to 8 and interviewed at 4, other people I know have applied anywhere from 2-4 to 10 schools! So it really depends on where you want to be and how much money you want to spend on applications, interviews, etc.  Don’t overwhelm yourself but at the same time some schools may surprise you!  I never expected to be living where I am today but I am loving every minute of it!  (Well, until test time rolls around again anyway…)

Best of luck! & Please feel free to comment or email us with any questions!

& The video version from Canada!

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And just when you thought it was almost over… ((by austin))

Hi everyone! I’ve been brainstorming what to tackle for my first blog post, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my mantra this year has thus far been: And just when you thought it was over…

From what I had heard from previous students, your second year was much easier than the first. Now don’t get me wrong – they’re totally right (although this is, of course, subjective). I think I may have just taken more than a little liberty into interpreting what ‘easier’ meant, which is perhaps my expectations for this year were so off the mark.

The first year of the program (our program anyway) is very coursework-heavy. Lots of presentations, tests, studying until the wee hours of the morning, all that fun stuff. I personally found it to be quite challenging, but am continually surprised at how much one can actually learn in nine short months. I went into my second year with (perhaps unreasonable) expectations that it was smooth sailing until May. I hate to tell ya folks, but it ain’t happenin.

Group projects and 3 hour tests have morphed into research for clinical rotations and a thesis project (gasp!). It has been a good change of pace, and it really is a much more manageable workload. I would just make sure not to subscribe to the procrastinator’s club (like I seem to have unwittingly done at some point during the summer).

From my perspective, this shift has been a helpful progression into the final stretch of our training. Being able to be more focused on clinic rotations, where we’re getting more of the (in my opinion) most valuable part of the training, has really helped to visualize what it is going to be like traversing the waters of genetic counseling as an actual genetic counselor rather than an overly eager student. You also get to take part in more of the nitty gritty things (chart notes, following up on tests, etc.) that you don’t usually see that much in the first year, which is helpful to get a full picture of what a potential job may look like.

The thesis project is daunting, mostly because of its vast nature. You get to spend about a year working very closely on a topic you pick and are (hopefully) passionate about. With that comes the very real chance to be able to contribute something outstanding to the profession at such an early stage of one’s career, which is an amazing opportunity. Just choose your topic wisely, because you’ll be spending more time with it than your friends and family combined.

Despite how this post started, I feel I should clarify that I’m not upset and I shouldn’t be surprised. The fact that I was shocked by how busy the second year is was based more on my wishful interpretation that in the second year all you had to do is go to clinic. Again, nobody told me that – I just seemed to have worked it out in my head that way (blatant continual misinterpretation – it’s a gift!). The pace and the work this year has been a much-needed reprieve from the intensity of the first year, but it’s still challenging. Just in a much different way. And two years of pushing yourself to take the most that you can away from this experience is hopefully what we all signed up for.

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To the next two years…and BEYOND! ((by melissa))

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After almost completing the first week of my official Genetic Counseling education, I can’t stop myself from thinking about all the accomplishments to be had in the next two years of life.   This may be nerd status, but, regardless of all the readings, presentations, exams, quizzes, (insert more school-related “to-do” items), the overwhelming feelings I am experiencing are from pure excitement.  (If everything goes according to plan) I will become a Genetic Counselor in two years.  My pursuit of the profession is HOT.

Which also brings me to the question of…”why am I in pursuit of this profession?”  We recently had a class discussion of, likely, the most difficult question we have been asked…”What is a Genetic Counselor?” (or any other version of the sort.)  Most of us want to respond with…”well, do you have a few minutes?”  To us, a brief description does not serve enough justice for something we are all striving to become.

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Since Genetic Counseling is a multi-faceted profession, I believe there are different aspects that attracted each of us.  Personally, I am attracted to the magical blend of psychosocial support and transfer of medical knowledge, or more essentially communicating and delivering important information without neglecting that the receiving end of this information is a human and has a perception of feelings.  With this, it is difficult to refer to the role of the counselor in terms of one stoic job.  Each individual is unique and quite literally the only version of themselves (as evidenced at the DNA level!) and their feelings and reactions are far from being predicted.  In counseling sessions of two seemingly identical cases, the counselor role can range from support system to fact deliverer.

It is this vast role of a Genetic Counselor that adds to the difficulty of producing a sufficient answer to what we are.  I advise that if you were to Google this question, please delve deeper than just the surface display of responses given (I’m sorry, “web defintion”, but we are much more than “guidance for prospective parents on the likelihood of genetic disorders in their future children” – we tackle pediatrics and adult specialties as well!)   Although I’m partial to NSGC, or National Society of Genetic Counselors, their website provides an excellent description of the profession and beyond here.  Take time and check out the rest of the website, as well, because there are more great things to observe (like press releases under the “Media” tab – nerd status again!)

Are you in pursuit of a Genetic Counseling degree or considering the profession?  What is it that has caught your interest?  We love hearing about other individuals’ passions, no matter what they are (even if they aren’t centered around Genetic Counseling!)

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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’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.  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’s not for everyone and you will “feel that out” 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.

 

dress

Sarah’s 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 – 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 “hit it off” 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!

-Sarah

 

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