August 2011

What do you want to do after school?

So I contacted a genetics professor at my university and committed to a year-long thesis project using yeast to perform a genomic survey. Although I enjoyed certain aspects of research, I discovered that I preferred working with people and that the laboratory environment did not mesh well with my personality. However, as I continued educating myself about genetic counseling, I learned that genetic counselors do have opportunities to participate in various research projects, which was comforting in case I ever wanted to have a research focus.

Making the goal a realization

chromosomesNow that I was feeling more confident about my career path as a genetic counselor, I had the task of attaining that goal. I knew graduate school would be a requirement, so I researched the programs available. When I began the process of selecting a graduate program, there were approximately 25 genetic counseling programs nationwide, and each admitted, on average, five to 10 students a year. Despite the competitive nature of the programs, I was determined to reach my goal.

Most genetic counseling programs strongly encourage students to gain experience working with a practicing genetic counselor prior to the application process, so I shadowed a local genetic counselor. I was fortunate to observe her daily clinic responsibilities, including her interactions with patients, and I used these observations to further my understanding of genetic counseling. This was an invaluable experience.

Also, to strengthen my application, I gained advocacy experience. I learned that past applicants had volunteered with crisis hotlines, pregnancy centers and domestic violence shelters. As a result, I committed to a volunteer position at a local women's clinic. This allowed me to assist with basic administrative tasks in a medical setting and offered exposure to different medical terms and clinical scenarios.

Once I confirmed that I had fulfilled all the requirements, I submitted my applications and waited. At last, several graduate programs informed me that I had been selected to continue on to the interview stage. Though this news thrilled me, I knew that the process was far from over. I had to face the next hurdle in my journey to becoming a genetic counselor: the interview.

I spent the next few months preparing for and participating in multiple graduate program interviews. The process let me gain a more detailed picture of each program I was considering by visiting and conversing with faculty and current students. I also was able to evaluate each program's geographic location, which was an important part of considering my options, because I would need to relocate.

Once the interviews were completed, another period of waiting began. This waiting period, however, was different from the last one. This time I was waiting for a specific day to come: match day. I learned that match day was the day when final acceptance decisions were disclosed to each applicant. On that day I would learn if I was accepted, waitlisted or rejected from the programs to which I had applied. The suspense surrounding the date was high, and I tried to keep myself busy by focusing on coursework and clearing my schedule for match day. I wanted be available to receive the news from each program as it came in.

When match day finally arrived, I learned that I had either been accepted or waitlisted at several programs. Everything began to fall into place. I completed my undergraduate degree, and, with the wheels now in motion, I began making preparations to relocate for graduate school.

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