Every GC applicant dreams of the day they’ll write a bio for their program’s website. A smiling headshot will accompany a short paragraph outlining their many achievements. How I see it, writing this bio is the moment that you’ve made it as a GC applicant.
Yet, these bios can be harmful to the rising generation of applicants, and I’m about to tell you why.
This past Friday I was on the Crisis Text Line counseling platform for a few hours outside of my usual shift. We’ve been in high-volume lately, due to a viral copy-and-paste Facebook post encouraging folks to text us. That means my spike captain workload has increased lately and I’m often working different times than usual. Anyway, I was on there for a few hours on Friday afternoon, and that’s how I ended up chatting with a couple of crisis counselors I’ve never met before.
So as I’m online, counseling people, I also hop into the counselor chat and see what everyone is up to. And of course, the other counselors ask what’s going on in my life, and I say that I’m excited to be done with grad school apps, and when asked I say I’m applying to genetic counseling. That statement gets the attention of a few other counselors, who share that genetic counseling was their dream but compared to the accolades of admitted students, they didn’t think they measured up.
Upon further chat I learn everything these amazing counselors are doing that they don’t think is enough. One shared her extensive counseling and advocacy experience, but said she’d counted herself out of GC school due to her grades.
Turns out me and her have the same GPA.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Everybody stop comparing yourselves and go for your dream!
While we didn’t talk specifically about student bios in that chat on the counseling platform, from my interactions with applicants in the past two cycles, I’ve learned that much of this comparison stems from reading bios. We all know my weakness is my GPA, namely my freshman grades. After my first year, there was no way I would be graduating summa cum laude (or magna cum laude, or even regular cum laude). And what do I see when I open up a random student bio at a random GC program? (Because I just did that)
(Student’s name) graduated magna cum laude with honors from (school).
And that’s followed by hoards of other accolades. Poke around some student bios and find: tons of research, amazing internships, former genetic counseling assistants, extensive advocacy experience, leadership, and excellence in extra-curricular activities.
How can I ever believe I’ll make it? How can any of us hope to compare?
Let’s remember for a second the details that these student bios leave out– the bad days, the failures, the reality that their amazing internship might have actually been menial lab work, or at best, a week of shadowing genetic counselors.
I think the best way to illustrate this concept is through my own make-believe future GC school student bio.
I had such a blast writing this. 😅
My future student bio:
Laura Cooper-Hastings (Salt Lake City, UT) graduated from Brigham Young University in 2018, with a BS in Genetics and Biotechnology. She assisted in a drosophila microbiome research lab, developing vector insertion protocols. She learned counseling skills at the Utah Country Crisis Line as a crisis interventionist, and a developed a talent for teaching while working as a writing tutor. In 2017, she spent a summer processing genetic testing samples at Myriad Genetics. Following graduation, Laura worked at Huntsman Cancer Institute as a technician in a lab coordinating all research studies institute-wide. She became a paid crisis counselor leader at Crisis Text Line. She also loved volunteering as a playmate and NICU cuddler at Primary Children’s Hospital. Laura is head author of Journey to Genetic Counseling, a weekly blog covering topics in genetics and genetic counseling. She’s excited to study at (school)!
OK WHO’S READY TO HEAR THE TRUTH
Everything in that bio is true. But what else is true? I took a forced gap year because I didn’t get into grad school the first time. I got a D in calculus, and a C in Gen Chem 2. I retook Molecular Biology. Working at a Huntsman lab for a year-and-a-half was not my first choice of employment. I had to go to actual counseling for my mediocre social skills. Most of all, it’s VERY true that all I did at Myriad was hours upon hours of PAPERWORK.
And also of course I’m head author of this blog. I created this blog on a WordPress Free Plan, and every week I hire myself to do all of the writing, editing, graphic design, AND marketing for this blog! 😂
If you had the chance to write your own history, and you only got 1 paragraph, of course you’d hit the highlights and leave out the rest. Of course you’re going to omit details like “didn’t get into grad school the first time” and “was really far from graduating summa cum laude”. It’s important to remember that these bios only cover the strengths of these student’s applications, and you know all of your weaknesses. If student bios covered both sides of the story, I think these schools would look a lot less intimidating to applicants. Of course, that won’t ever happen, so it’s up to us as applicants to know that all matriculants do have weaknesses, and we shouldn’t let their bios scare us away.
Last cycle I tried to read in to program descriptions and student bios, trying to figure out which ones are “easiest” to get into.
Turns out, they’re all hard. The interviews I got and didn’t get honestly shocked me.
Some receive fewer applications, some receive more, and they all value different things. But truth is student bios can’t accurately tell you what strengths mean a lot to schools or what weaknesses they are willing to accept. And in the end, you want to interview at schools that excite you and are a good fit for you. Applying to schools that you really want will help you write a vibrant personal statement, and interview with curiosity and enthusiasm.
So, any future applicants out there, read program websites, even student bios if you want. But don’t try to guess who’s most likely to let you in. Read those program websites looking for things that excite you or don’t excite you, and let that guide your decision of where to apply. That’s what I did this year, and while I can’t tell you yet how that will work out, it definitely makes me excited to interview at and ultimately attend any of my schools.
If you’re feeling down on yourself this application season, try writing a fake student bio of your own. You might realize you’re right up there with the students you’re feeling inadequate comparing yourself to.
And you guys… two of the schools I’m applying to have apps that close this weekend! Which means interview offer season is coming very soon! Fun fact, I started this blog with the intention of it being mostly a place to share any news I had about interviews and matching, with some travel blog moments when I went out to these new cities to interview. But it’s become so much more! News or no news, I’m excited to keep sharing tips, stories, and investigations into genetics hot topics, throughout the rest of this year and beyond.