Tag Archives: master’s degree

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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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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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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