Tag Archives: prospective GC students

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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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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