Friday, February 9, 2018

Interview Advice from the class of 2019

Congratulations on having an interview! My advice to you is to be yourself, have questions, and also interview the school. Remember, you already proved yourself on paper, now programs want to know your personality and style to see if you’d be a good fit for the program. You will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions, so be sure to have them prepared for your interviewers, faculty, and students. Finally, ask yourself if you could see yourself at this program – do you like the city, the school, the students, the rotations, the class set-up,  extracurriculars, etc? Good luck!
-Megan Hoenig

Congratulations on your interview! Amongst all the excitement and jitters you’re probably feeling, don’t forget to take a deep breath and be yourself! Take advantage of different opportunities to interact with faculty and current students. These moments will be a great chance to ask more questions and get to know the dynamic of the program to see if it’s the right fit for you. Good luck!
-Alyssa Azevedo

Take a second to pat yourself on the back, you got an interview!!! Now the hardest part is out of the way, and they already think you’re pretty great, so now is the time for you to figure out if it’s the place for you.  I recommend coming up with a list of questions and taking notes after each interview so it is easier for you to look back on. I had friends (even those outside of science) who helped me practice for interviews. I found being forced to say some of my answers out loud was very helpful, and I found my best interviews were after I’d had a chance to practice.  Wear something that makes you feel great about yourself!
Good luck!
-Natasha Robin Berman

Congratulations! Take pride in the fact that you got an interview because it is quite an accomplishment. Remember that you are interviewing Pitt as much as they are interviewing you. Explore the area if you get the opportunity, and talk to as many students and faculty as possible. Just stay calm because everyone is genuine and wants to get to know you! Good luck!
-Rebecca Clark

Congratulations on getting an interview, you are one step closer to becoming a future genetic counselor!  My advice would be to write down questions beforehand, it is so easy to forget questions in the moment.  This will also allow you to go back and look at what you asked and what some of the answers to those questions were.  Also, don’t be afraid to interact with the faculty and current students—remember these could be your future classmates, professors, and colleagues.  Lastly, (try to) relax and be yourself!  Best of luck!
-Rachel Sutton

How exciting! We look forward to welcoming you during your interview. Interviewing is great, because it is one of a few times in life that you get to really show off how impressive you are in person, with a confidence-inspiring backdrop of how impressive you already looked on paper! My advice is to take some quality time to explore and understand your unique priorities and motivations, personally, professionally, and academically. If you have done this before your interviews, it is much easier to come up with critically important questions to ask about what life is like as a student in the program; specific questions that can really help you find out if it is a good fit for you. In my interview experience, I found that each program had unique vibes, strengths, and focuses- make sure you explore and feel these aspects out, then write them down so you remember how you felt about the people, school, and area/city. Cheers!
-Charlotte Skinner

Woo! Way to go- you’re halfway there! I cannot really say more than any of my classmates above have so beautifully articulated. Just be yourself, do your best, and really try to have fun! Wherever you choose, you’ll be spending the next 2 years there so try your best to get a sense of not only the school and faculty but the city as well. Take lots of notes right after your interview, what you thought of everything you heard and saw that day- it will really help you when it’s ranking time. I wish you all the best of luck, I’m sure you’ll do great!
-Samantha Afonso

Congrats! You've done the hard work. Now, give yourself the best chance to show everyone how amazing of a classmate and future colleague you will be! Don’t underestimate the importance of the little things: Make sure you feel comfortable in your clothes (heels and snow were a no go for this Californian), have eaten something and gotten plenty of sleep, and maybe listen to a few good pump-up tunes. Give yourself plenty of time to find the interview, too. Campuses can be confusing, and buses delayed. These all may sound minor, but they’ll help keep your mind (relatively) relaxed and focused on the important parts of the day. The weeks before, I also practiced saying out loud why this is a career I feel so passionate pursuing. It was all there in my head, but verbalizing it the first few times was definitely a bit awkward. Have fun!
-Caitlin Russell

Congratulations!  You’ve worked very hard and now you’re one step closer to your goal.  My advice is to take a deep breath and try to relax.  Everyone is warm, welcoming and kind, so it’s not hard to feel at ease with them.  Smile, ask questions, and remember that this is your opportunity to talk about all of the amazing things you’ve done so far, especially the things that may not have fit well on your résumé!
-Meghan Cunningham

You are clearly impressive enough to secure an interview, so the next step is seeing if you and the program are a good fit.  On paper, you’ve met the requirements, so now is the time to stop stressing about that low(er) organic chemistry grade and really focus on why you want to be a genetic counselor and how that aligns with the program’s values.  Being able to communicate your unique motivation for pursuing a master’s in genetic counseling is vital to any interview. Being able to speak to how your personal and career goals align with the vision of the program will set you apart from other applicants.  UPitt stresses the importance of making sure the program is a fit for you-- this is not a line.  All programs are demanding in their own way and asking questions to ensure that you can commit to their standards will save you from choosing an experience that won’t serve you or the program.  In the same vein, answer questions honestly.  Just like any other interview, giving an answer you think you are expected to give will often come across as disingenuous.  (Remember these are counselors who can pick up those subtle cues!)  Maybe less obvious, but enjoy getting to know the other applicants.  You may see them at other interviews; and I know that several women in our class actually forged friendships during the whole interview process.  If nothing else it can help calm the nerves seeing that other people are in the same boat as you!
-Kelsey Bohnert

It is important to make sure that you are not only prepared for your interview, but also that you are prepared to get your own questions answered and investigate the campus and city!  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, being prepared for case simulation questions, and being able to explain how you know you want to be a genetic counselor are all important components of arriving prepared.  I would also suggest that you look into opportunities specific to the University of Pittsburgh so that you can ask for more details when speaking with faculty and students.  This both gives you a better understanding of the program and shows your interest to those with whom you speak.  Explore the city if you have the time--it will help you envision being here.  Definitely try to enjoy the experience!

-Sarah Brunker

Class of 2019

Friday, January 26, 2018

Deciding on the Dual Degree

While preparing for my genetic counseling graduate work, one of my favorite experiences was working with a local organization, Jewish Young Professionals, to set up a night that focused on genetics. We arranged for a certified genetic counselor to speak with a group of approximately 20 individuals aged 20-40, about a variety of genetic issues that might be important for them to know at different stages of life. Activities like this, while not always an everyday part of a genetic counselor's professional life, are important to providing basic education to the community and can be valuable in increasing awareness of relevant genetic issues. While I love individual interactions, and look forward to clinical genetic counseling, I also feel that it is important to think about the impact of genetics on population health (for example, what population screening measures are appropriate and why). Given this perspective, the addition of the MPH degree in Public Health Genetics just made sense.

        I didn't always know I wanted to be a genetic counselor. I didn't even know what genetic counseling was until a few years ago but experiences like the aforementioned one helped solidify my interest in getting involved in healthcare, specifically genetic counseling. I started the process of applying to genetic counseling training programs and continued to be passionate about people and their health. When I got into the genetic counseling program of my dreams, the option of entering the dual degree program (MS in Genetic Counseling/MPH in Public Health Genetics) seemed intriguing. I started to ask a number of questions: Was it right for me? I already had a different graduate degree, in a field I wasn't in, so what could the addition of an MPH do for me?  

        When considering the dual degree, I knew that I could see the benefit, but was it enough when weighed against the cost and time commitment? To be honest, I spent a good deal of time pondering practical issues.  I thought about what the addition of another degree could provide.  Maybe it could help me when I apply for jobs.  Maybe it would give me a bargaining chip for a slightly better salary.  While this information is important to keep in mind, it missed the larger picture of the relevancy of a dual degree to genetic counseling education and practice.  I had great conversations with the program directors as well as the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh, who helped focus my internal reflections.  I also had an informative discussion with an alumnus who graduated from the dual degree program and an alumnus who did not get the dual degree but who has recently started an educational program in public health.  They both shared with me how their clinical practice has been influenced by their public health education.

University of Pittsburgh Public Health
As a result of all these conversations and considerations, when I thought of my future as a genetic counselor, it became clear that I wanted the education as a public health professional to inform my work as a genetics professional within the larger context of our current healthcare system.
Much of genetic counseling work is intertwined with public health, and at times, it can be hard to separate the two. Some experience in public health is intrinsic to the University of Pittsburgh genetic counseling experience, but it became clear that the addition of the dual degree would help me better understand and reframe some of the debates we are currently having about genetics in a new and helpful way. The increased depth and breadth of experience provided by the MPH would also help me improve my ability to communicate with and care for patients in the clinical setting. For these reasons, I started my first dual degree class this semester.

-Natasha Robin Berman
Class of 2019

Friday, January 12, 2018

Winter Activities in Pittsburgh

Our winter break coincided with a bit of a cold snap, but that can’t stop the fun here in Pittsburgh. It has something for everyone over the winter:

Phipps Conservatory likes to decorated with brightly colored
lights during the winter months.
-        Looking to burn some calories? Hike in Frick Park (sure its cold but that didn’t stop us!).  Frick is the largest of the historic parks and covers 644 acres and provides individuals with the ability to use sustainable recreational trails in the middle of the city of Pittsburgh.  Those interested in birding have been able to identify over 100 different bird species, and those interested in learning about nature can check out the new Environmental Center.

-        Looking for a light display? Phipps Conservatory has a fantastic winter flower and light show from the end of November through the first week of January. The displays include both indoor and outdoor experiences, with a little bit of education for those amateur botanists.

-        Want to plan an indoor group activity? Check out the Arsenal Bowling Alley, which offers old school vibes and lots of fun bowling at a reasonable price. Or, if you’re in a more adventurous mood, you can try axe throwing at LumberJaxes.

A view onto the winter streets of Pitt's campus from inside a
Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
-        Want to kick back and relax? Take in a movie at Squirrel Hill’s Manor Theatre.  Manor Theatre is one of the oldest theaters in Pittsburgh, this landmark has been entertaining locals for 90 years.

-        Like old churches? St. Anthony’s Chapel is a Catholic church that was established in 1880 by Fr. Suitbert Mollinger. This chapel houses the largest collection of religious relics outside of the Vatican, coming in at a grand total of 5,000 relics!

-        Maybe the many trails of Frick Park have been discovered and you’re looking for a new outdoor adventure?  Try the Schenley Park, which has 456 acres and holds the Phipps Conservatory. It also can accommodate those who have been inspired by the winter games and want to work on their ice skating.

Pitt faculty and students on a Heinz History Museum tour.
-        In the mood to see some cute penguins? The penguins are on parade at the Pittsburgh Zoo throughout the winter months. Visitors can come watch the penguins play in the snow and run around just outside of the PPG aquarium! It will be sure to brighten anyone’s day.

-        Love the outdoors and fireworks?  Every year Pittsburgh celebrates Light Up Night which includes a tree lighting and fireworks.

-        Ready to learn something new or see something incredible? On those frostbite-inducing days, you can still get out of the house and go to one of the many museums located throughout Pittsburgh. Some attractions include the many Carnegie museums, the Heinz History Center, Randyland, and the Andy Warhol Museum. There’s also the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum, which only opens during the winter season.

-        Haven’t made it to the Cathedral yet? The Cathedral of Learning is dressed up for the holidays, making it the perfect time to go see the Nationality Rooms.  Thirty different classrooms represent different groups that all settled in Allegheny county. Not to mention, you can still get a great view from the top!
Some of the artwork displayed at Randyland.

-        Want the enjoyment of seeing others on the ice? Check out a Pittsburgh Penguins game! Pittsburgh is proud to be home of the 2016 & 2017 Stanley Cup winners!

-        Want an athletic event, not on ice? A Steelers game might be up your alley.

-        Just looking for a place to warm up? There are many tea and coffee houses more than happy to support a student just looking for somewhere to read. Or check out Pittsburgh Glass Center, a teaching and art gallery that has live demonstrations of artists creating amazing glass works. The fires keep you both warm and entertained. They even offer classes from beginner to expert so you can make your own glass creation!