Interview Day

By: Sarah Pass

In previous posts we’ve given you tips on how to prepare for your interview, but you’re probably wondering what the day is actually going to be like. While I can’t tell you exactly how your day is going to go (because there are too many variables) but I can try to give you an idea of things I’ve learned through the many interviews I’ve been through at Emory and other places. I know interview days can be scary. The days are long and most people are nervous. It’s difficult to try to make sure you say everything you want to in a short period of time while simultaneously asking as many questions as possible. These interviews are a time for the program to get to know you better and for you to make sure that the program is the right feel for you. The day usually starts with an information session of some nature. This is a great time to learn specifics about the program and a great place to take notes on things you like, want to know more about and anything that makes the program unique. Notes like these will help you down the line as you’re trying to figure out which programs you like the best and are the best fit for what you want out of grad school. I was personally playing the ‘I’m just going to wait and hope I get into 1 program’ game. However, when I got into multiple schools I was very glad to have these notes. Throughout the day you’ll have one-on-one interviews with people who are integral in the program. I was honestly terrified of these. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to answer the questions they wanted and be thrown out for consideration into the program because I said one wrong word. But really, these one-on-one interactions are more like conversations and if you approach them that way they will go much more smoothly. I was always terrified of asking “stupid questions” to these very important and well known names in the genetic counseling world. But, as everyone says, there are no stupid questions, just unasked ones. I remember asking what I thought was a really silly question in one of my interviews and being devastated that I wouldn’t be accepted into my top school because of it. However, here I sit today, as part of a great GC program. Again, they really just want to get to know more about you and make sure that you really are passionate about becoming a genetic counselor. I also suggest having a lot of questions prepared for the interview. At the end of each meeting, they’re going to ask if you have any questions and I always felt awful when I said I didn’t have anymore questions. You’ll go through more questions that you think you will, so it always helps to have way more questions than you’ll think you’ll be able to get through. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification of something that was previously discussed. They know you’re getting a lot of information in a short time, and you’re not going to be able to remember everything. At Emory and at some other schools, there will be a group interview. The whole point is to see how you interact with other people. Part of how well the program runs is how well the students interact with each other. There is usually a small number of people in each class and how the personalities fit together is really important. While I sometimes felt pitted against my fellow interviewees, at Emory, I felt like this session was much calmer. I felt like it was more of a a chance to meet more of the faculty that I would be working with if I came to Emory. It was also an opportunity to show I could discuss my opinion about genetics news and trivia (at the time Myriad losing it’s BRCA 1/2 patent was still fresh). Throughout the day you’ll also have a change to meet with many of the students. Don’t be shy to ask them questions. We love to talk about the program and answer any questions we can. We love Emory and we like to share what we do. From the other GC students that I’ve talked to, they love to talk about their schools as well. Basically, we’re here to give you the student perspective of the program. I would also recommend going to the dinners the night before the interview. I know not all schools have them and depending on travel you may not be able to participate, but these are a great way to ask questions and get to know the students with no pressure. I wasn’t always able to go to them because of my flights, but all the dinners I went to were great experiences. They were a lot of fun and took my mind off of the impending interview. This is also a great time to see where the students live if the dinner is at one of their apartments. Hopefully something in this helps make your interviews go more smoothly or takes some of the pressure off. I know these day are long and often grueling. But remember, this is your chance to interview the program as well so take advantage of as much as you can while you’re in the area and at the school.

10,000 Ways Not to Make a Light Bulb

By: Amanda Hodgkins

I thought I’d write a little about what it’s like being in clinic during our first year of the program. Unlike some programs, at Emory we start observations in July and our first 8-week rotation (10-12 hours/week) in October of our first year. The thought of jumping right into clinic might sound incredibly intimidating, and when you first start you may not feel prepared or qualified at all. But that’s the point. Learning as you go! I know right now you’re probably only thinking and preparing for your interviews, but take some time to seriously think about what it’s going to be like in graduate school, in clinic. Start to prepare yourself, because after all pretty soon you will be in clinic learning how to be a genetic counselor.

The first time I took a family history in clinic, I asked questions awkwardly. We had practiced taking a family history in class, but to ask the questions of a patient was a completely different experience for me. I am a naturally shy and reserved person, so I knew my shyness was going to be a hurdle I was going to have to jump at some point. But I’ll be honest, during my first rotation I didn’t push myself. I took a back seat, and that will always be something I wish I could go back in time and re-do. Yes I was nervous that I would do something or say something wrong, but to quote one of my supervisors, “you can’t break them”.

The reason I titled this 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb is because in clinic you will learn a lot about how to and how not to take a family history, explain DNA and chromosomes, etc. Your supervisors will tell you all about things you are doing wrong, as well as how you can do better. You will fail at trying to do things better, and trying not to do things wrong. And it will be frustrating. But always remember that every time you say something wrong, you are being molded into the genetic counselor that you will become in two years. Experience will lead you to figure out the best way for you yourself to explain DNA and chromosomes, and when that happens it is a wonderful feeling.

In the mean time, remember you are not perfect and your supervisors don’t expect you to be. They don’t expect you as a first year to come to them all ready to start doing whole sessions on the first day. They will let you learn a little bit at a time, and push you to do a little more than you may feel comfortable with. But I want to encourage you to push yourself more than they do. There will be things you just aren’t ready to do at first, but go beyond your comfort zone and learn all that you can. I know that I wish I had. Now, at my second rotation, I’m not taking a back seat. I was lucky to get such amazing supervisors who take time to teach me in depth about everything having to do with prenatal counseling and giving me the chance to practice my counseling on them. Even though I’m not even half way through my rotation, I know that this will have some pretty significant impacts on my future as a genetic counselor. But as much time and instruction as they give me, it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t push myself to do more and more of the counseling session. If I don’t spend the time and energy trying to meet their expectations, I won’t grow as much as I could potentially grow through this rotation.

So I say all this to encourage you to not be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone. Also remember that your supervisors are there to answer any questions you have and to help mold you into an amazing genetic counselor. If you’re a naturally shy person like me, that’s ok too! But don’t let your shyness or your introverted-ness get in the way of you growing as a genetic counselor. If you are one of the lucky ones who becomes a part of Emory’s class of 2017, take advantage of the incredible opportunity we have to be in clinic so early in our education and be the best you that you can be. After all, this is what you want to do with the rest of your life, right?

Surviving Graduate School: Finding Time for Yourself

By: Heather Wiles

So, here I am, staring a pile of books, articles, research papers, and presentations that are quickly accumulating on my “to do” list and thinking to myself that there is no possible way I will get all of this done on time. There goes another two hours of sleep every night or maybe I’ll just only shower once every three days. Yea, that could work. My hair is pretty dry anyway….ugh what have I gotten myself into!? This is what I wanted…. isn’t it?

Of course it is! This is my dream; this is my future career. I’ve wanted nothing more than to be a Genetic Counselor since I was in high school! Let me tell you, being a graduate student isn’t easy, but honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way! These past 6 months has been the happiest and most exciting time of my life. I thrive on productivity and I’m motivated by a tight schedule. I feel like I was born for this type of program. With this being said, I think it’s important to point out that I am not a robot or machine. I can’t work 24/7 and not burn out. Want to know my secret? The key to not drowning in the tsunami wave that is work is to find time for myself.

During grad school you will learn a lot about yourself, your personal limits, and your own successful coping mechanisms. I think it’s good to reflect upon these before entering school so that you have a baseline for your own burn out point. Here are some things that work well for me.

Take joy in the little things: Self- care

You may not have a few hours every week to go to the spa and indulge, but you can take some time here and there to achieve similar effects at home. I never knew the simple joys of a hot shower on tense muscles until this year. Likewise, a warm bubble bath and some soothing music does wonders for my worries. Even things like painting my nails or giving myself a facial are extremely satisfying. Self-care isn’t just about looking good though. It consists of a health balance between the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of who I am. It seems obvious, but even going to the gym and working out is a type of self-care. Likewise, taking the time to practice my spiritual beliefs helps soothe my anxieties. Unfortunately self-care tends to be the first thing to go when my schedule gets crazy. I’ve learned that for my peace of mind I have to make it a priority. All of these things help me feel better about myself and ultimately perform better in classes and clinic!

Keep Doing the Things You Love

Whether it’s running, painting, going to concerts, taking dance lessons, or going to plays, don’t give up the things you love just because you are in grad school. Sure, you may not be able to do them as often as you used to, but looking forward to a craft day or a concert that is in a few months can be phenomenal motivational tools.

Explore the City

No matter where life takes you, it’s always a good idea to open your eyes to all the city as to offer. Here in Atlanta, I’ve found that one of the best parts of the week is brunch! Along with other classmates, I take the time to explore all the little neighborhoods for the best brunch spots. I have yet to meet a pancake, omelet, or cup of coffee that I didn’t like. Each area of the city has its own vibe and energy that need to be felt and explored. Another passion of mine is music and there definitely isn’t a shortage of that in Atlanta. Whether it’s at Piedmont Park, the Fox Theater, or a random dive bar, you can always find amazing artists and a great atmosphere. Don’t like being cooped up inside? Go to one of the many parks in the city, go hiking at Stone Mountain, tubing on the river, or even go camping at one of the dozens of sites surrounding the city. There is a little of something for everyone!

It’s really all about finding what you love and taking a break from the hectic world to do it. This can be difficult to do as you try to find the delicate balance between schoolwork, sleep, and sanity. Just remember, this is a very exciting time in life! You’re embarking on a whole new pathway on the journey of life. If you haven’t ever thought about it before, take a moment to just think about all the things you do that help keep you happy, calm, and successful; you might just be surprised by what you learn!