Further In the Journey: Current GC Student Experiences

Hello again! No news again this week. I had been expecting news from Oklahoma University, but their notifications have been delayed to early March. There should be some things happening with other schools in the next week or so, so hang tight!

This week I’m excited to share the experiences of four current GC school students. They answered questions from current applicants, and gave some insight into their daily lives in grad school.

The Panel:

Natasha: 1st Year Student at BayPath University. Before beginning her MSGC, Natasha worked for a few years as a medical technologist in a clinical toxicology lab. Before that, she worked in an environmental lab for two years testing private drinking water.
Catelyn: 1st Year Student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science. Before grad school, Catelyn worked as an associate client services manager at a national home health care agency, and then in a grossing lab.

 

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Amanda: 1st year student at the University of Minnesota. Before grad school, Amanda worked in education as a teacher and behavior technician, and volunteered at a suicide hotline.

 

and finally, Hallie, our expert 2nd year panelist from UCI! She spent a year as an undergraduate doing molecular biology research in a wet lab. As a GC intern, she shadowed appointments and managed the mammogram screening referral program for ~6 months. She also was a doula who spent a lot of time getting to know clients’ desires and helping them navigate different procedures and choices according to their own values.

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These 4 students are here to show us what it’s like further down the journey, and hopefully spark some excitement and insight for what’s to come. Let’s jump right in.

What was it like to get in to your MSGC program?

Natasha: In May 2017, so I started putting out feelers to various programs in-regards to their expectations and what they want to see in a candidate. I decided that realistically, Bay Path was the only feasible option for me this year, both logistically with it being online, and financially. I volunteered with Crisis Text Line for my advocacy experience and began studying for the GRE. I [shadowed GCs] within my company. I wrote my personal statement and sent it to my best friend to edit. I didn’t think I would get in, but I was matched to my top choice and the only school I applied to in my first cycle of applications.

Catelyn: I was a 2nd year applicant. I was not expecting to get into my program. I applied on a whim, but “trust the process” for Match is so true! I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. I was happy and sad when I found out. I was laying in bed and it was 7am (west coast perks!) when I read the match email. I didn’t get into my first or second choice, which I was a little shocked about, but I was so happy to match and get started on my journey that I was excited too! It was a lot of disbelief and didn’t hit me that I was “in” for a good part of the day.

Hallie: I’m a second year student so my application predates the match system. I applied to 8 schools, interviewed at 4, and waitlisted at 3 (one was an outright rejection). I cried with joy and relief when the program director [at UCI] called me to offer me a spot; I was thrilled to be going to grad school and not have to repeat the application process for another cycle. I wish it was a match year, because match would have saved me that day and a half of anxiety and angst when I was in waitlist limbo.

Amanda: I was ecstatic. I went to work that day, and could not focus. I really wanted to get into this program because I really enjoyed my interview and everything they told me about the program. My parents and family were hoping I would get into a program near family, but this program (Minnesota) truly felt like the best fit. 

What’s life like in your program?

Advantages/Disadvantages, Schedule, Ability to Work

Natasha: Because my program is online, I am able to work full time, 42 hours a week. I work four 10.5-hour days, Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sun every week. I am able to listen to lectures and listen to any movies or videos we are assigned to watch while at work. I will usually listen to each recording 3-5 times depending on how heavy the material is. I listen to the next weeks material the week before. Weeks begin Monday and assignments are due Sunday. Mon, Tue and Wed are for school (making weekly gameplan, watching lectures, completing assignments, meeting to study with another BayPath student in the area). My schedule is rigorous, so when I start to feel burn out coming on or I’m feeling extra stressed I take some time for self-care, no matter how much I have to do. If I am too stressed or burnt out I won’t accomplish anything.

Catelyn: Even in an established program, we have regular unplanned changes to our schedules. This took a bit of getting used too, so you’d need to be a flexible person to really succeed in my program. My school has a clinical skills lab in which we get to counsel patient actors. This has been extremely beneficial to me in refining my counseling skills and gaining confidence before ever speaking to a real patient! Another thing I like if that we have all of our classes connected via video systems (think Skype or Zoom) in which we get to connect with our classmates in other cities/professors in other states. So even though we aren’t all in the same location, we still get to interact and learn alongside our whole cohort. We have A/B weeks with different classes throughout the week and typically in clinic to observe once a week around class time. I [also] work a part-time on campus job in the Office of Interprofessional Education (an extra learning component that is a graduation requirement for all UAMS students).

Hallie: I love that we spend a lot of time in clinic and have a lot of different clinical instructors; my current rotation is in cancer genetic and I’ve worked with 7 different genetic counselors just in cancer. It’s helpful to see the different ways different GCs approach the same topics.  I also just really like our program director. She gets me. What’s been hardest for me is the thesis requirement. UCI has a somewhat self directed approach to thesis writing. I’ve set my own timeline, and if I miss deadlines, no one really notices or checks in, so I feel perpetually behind. But I won the student research scholarship from NSGC in December so at least my topic is good, I guess. I have other responsibilities; my class is splits the duty of calling out negative NIPT results, answering the intern desk phone where patients call with questions, and doing various other administrative things as the “Intern Of The Day.” When I don’t have class or clinic, I work on thesis stuff, prepare for clinic and write clinical notes, and work on class projects. I don’t have a job. I prioritize spending time with my kids and my husband when I have free time.

Amanda: [We have a] good balance of science and psychosocial. We have strong science and lab courses as well as courses that are very psychosocial based. Instructors and guest instructors that are very knowledgeable in all the unique sub-fields of genetic counseling. Our directors are very supportive. If you need advice or have questions, they are always available. You can tell they really care about you. Our program also has a lot of structure. This really helps us keep on top of things. This does not mean that they are not flexible. They talk to us to see how we are doing and will take that into account when determining when assignments are due. The program is also located in a great city. The Twin Cities is a very diverse place to live and commute. The public transportation is very good. There is always free stuff happening, and its very easy to get to these events with public transportation. [With regard to employment], I am a TA for an introductory biology course. We have 2 sections, 1 meeting with other TAs to prepare for the lab, and 1 office hours.

How is your social life in grad school?

Natasha: My social life is almost non-existent. I meet up with my classmate 1-2 times a week to study together and I eat with my boyfriend almost every night. I have a lot of work friends, and we have fun and gossip at work, so it breaks up my time nicely. I would say that the only thing I dislike about my program is that I don’t get to see my classmates as often as I would like. We have a google hangouts chat going and we keep in touch pretty regularly.

Catelyn: My social life kind of sucks, I’m not even going to lie. I live with my boyfriend and that’s the only reason I get to see him/spend time with him as much as I do (spend time includes me doing thesis research while he places FIFA on the couch next to me). I haven’t been able to explore the city as much as I had wanted to either. My cohort and I try to hang out outside of class every other week or so. We’ll grab dinner or have a game night at someone’s apartment. I am slowly starting to make friends outside of my cohort, but it is challenging with my schedule and finances. I see these girls once every other week or less. I am a part of the College of Health Professions Student Council and my sorority’s local alumnae association.

Hallie: My social life here is mainly my husband and kids, extended family (my dad, stepmom, step brother and his partner, and step sister and her kids all live in the area and we see them a lot) and the other women in my program. My cohort tries to all get together for game night or something about once a month, but we hang out in smaller groups more often. My husband and I sometimes hang out with other families from our kids’ schools, but I wouldn’t call them close friends. I have one friend I made unrelated to my program or my kids, but we’re often too busy to hang out much; he’s a private practice lawyer so mostly we meet up at a coffee shop and work on our laptops in proximity to each other. I’m not really a club/org person.

Amanda: My cohort sees each other everyday during classes. We have get together often (drinks to celebrate exams, board game nights, sports events), and sometimes just a few of us will get together to do stuff outside of class especially because half of us live on the St. Paul side of campus, and the other half live on the Minneapolis side. I have a friend who lives here as well, and I will meet up with her and her friends to explore the city as well. It’s sometimes nice to not talk about genetic counseling even though you get really close with your cohort. A few of my classmates have roommates that are grad students in other departments that they will go out with as well.

Ways Your Perspective Has Changed in Grad School / Wish You Would Have Known

Hallie: Since starting grad school I have become more aware of the varied roles for genetic counselors and that different clinical settings give counselors different amounts of autonomy in their role. There are some GC whose jobs feature a lot of admin work for the doctors they work with and not a ton of genetic counseling and that’s not a role I would want. Some GCs are scheduled to only spend 20 minutes with patients per appointment – I don’t know if I’d have become interested in the field if I my shadowing was with a GC with such packed schedule.

Amanda: A lot of genetic counseling students feel self doubt about getting in. Be prideful about who you are and the unique experiences you have. So what if you’re not the strongest in science, or didn’t shadow 10 genetic counselors, or are 20 or 40 years old. Everyone in the program are really great people, and have these rich experiences that contribute to their identity as a genetic counselor. Our cohort is really diverse, and I know a couple of my classmates wondered if the program did not mean to pick them, myself included. This is not true. The Match system works pretty great.

*****

I really want to thank these amazing women for their contributions. They shared so much, much more than I could fit in one post. I had to condense– a lot!!

Overall, we see that their schedules are packed and that they’re working so hard to fit in school, clinicals, thesis research, paid jobs, family, and relationships. They’ve shown me how important it is to develop time management skills to prepare for grad school.

Additionally, everyone shared many things they enjoy about their program and the people in it, regardless if it was a 1st choice or not. Whether they got in the first round or not. Once we all find our places in our time, we’ll be pleased with how things turned out.

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To conclude: a pic of me after visiting the dreaded MALL to buy not-from-the-thrift-store clothes for once in my life. Yay interview attire!

Less than one month until my first interview! I’m hopeful that maybe I can get some more scheduled soon.

‘Til next time, stay GENE-rally sane through this process.

-Laura Cooper-Hastings

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