A Ship to Sail

By: Hailey Campbell

My favorite book is “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott (judge me if you want, but I love it). A quote from this book also stands to be one of my favorites. It says, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” This quote has held true for every season of my life, and none truer than navigating life in grad school.

As you may have read in the previous blog posts, adjusting to grad life and learning how to be flexible around all of its frustratingly wonderful and wonderfully frustrating demands can be difficult (especially difficult if you’re stubborn and stuck in your ways like I am). When I started school, I knew that the schoolwork would be hard, and the material would be complex. I was prepared for that. What I was not prepared for was the amount of personal growth that grad school also required of me. In more ways than one, graduate school and the people that have become part of this season of my life have encouraged self-reflection and growth right alongside my classwork and clinical experiences.

Yes, the schoolwork has been difficult, time consuming, and so worthwhile. My clinic experiences have ranged from mildly interesting to profoundly impactful. My classmates have played many different roles in my life including study buddy, co-adventurer, ear-lender, counselor, and friend. My professors and supervisors have set high expectations for me and pushed me to be the best I can be. Through all of this, I have realized that grad school, especially genetic counseling school, is not just about academic learning and professional development. For me, as well as for my classmates, it has been about learning more about ourselves, defining just what kind of genetic counselor we all want to be, and discovering what impact we want to leave on patients, colleagues, and the field of genetics once we venture on to begin our careers.

I will gladly admit that for the two months after I committed to Emory and before school actually started, I would get overwhelmingly nervous just thinking about what the next two years would bring. This feeling was not because I did not want to go to school, but because I wanted it so badly and had for so long. I would get anxious thinking about it because I worked to get to this moment for 6 years and my dream was finally tangible. At this time, I thought that the limits of my dream were confined within the title of “genetic counselor” and it’s cookie-cutter definition. What I have come to learn over the past 18 months is that my dream is so much more defined, and it has significantly broadened. I now recognize that I want to be a genetic counselor in a pediatric or prenatal setting. I want to use the skills I have acquired through my training to teach others about genetic counseling and foster an interest in genetics among other medical professionals. I also want to guide future genetic counselors to discover how they want their title as “genetic counselor” to be defined.

As I approach my last semester of grad school and dream new dreams for the future of my career, I take confidence in knowing that I am more prepared for my first job as a genetic counselor than I was for graduate school. I know that being a genetic counselor is a profession that encourages constant self-growth. It is one that allows you to progress your interests and dreams as rapidly as the field of genetics is progressing. I also recognize that this chapter in my life is one that will stay with me for the entirety of my career. Of course, the training that I received is what allows me to be a qualified genetic counselor. However, I believe the experiences and the revelations that I have encounted here will have a much greater impact on my career.

For anyone preparing for interviews, considering genetic counseling school, or even just wanting to learn more about it, I believe it is important to keep an open mind. It is necessary to realize that the title of “genetic counselor” holds much more than one definition. Each genetic counselor has the opportunity to mold that definition to encompass each one of his/her dreams and goals. Regardless of how your interest in genetic counseling began, what expectations you have for your future career, or even how scary the prospect of grad school (and post-grad life) may seem, make sure you enjoy the journey. You are in good company and after all, we are all just learning how to sail our ships.

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