Friday, February 17, 2017

Pitt's Genetic Counseling Club off to a Good Start

A passion for science combined with a desire to understand people fosters unique character. It cultivates a person with empathy and strength, focus and balance. This person is a genetic counselor.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a career typically found on a high school aptitude test…

Thus, like many students in their final years of high school, I found myself trying to decide where to go to college with no real understanding of myself or my professional calling. I knew I didn’t want to be submerged in medicine, but also didn’t want a job that focused on working with people without a science component. When I asked my high school biology teacher if any jobs existed somewhere in the middle, he asked:

“Have you ever heard of genetic counseling?”

This question sparked my curiosity and fueled what is now my burning passion. Though my teacher didn’t know much more about this oddly balanced profession, I ventured out on my own to find more information.

In my searches, I realized that genetic counseling was not just something I wanted to do, but a profession that I was made to do. Throughout high school, I was involved in many theater and music programs, but also enjoyed going home to a date night with my biology book. I started looking for colleges, and happily landed at the University of Pittsburgh, where I decided to pursue a Biological Sciences Major and take as many classes focusing on genetics and the human body as possible. In addition, I decided to pursue a Music Minor and an American Sign Language Certificate to balance the scientific and psychosocial aspects of my education. Ultimately, I considered this a stepping stone to a graduate program in genetic counseling.

Throughout my undergraduate career, I found myself having to do a lot of independent research on how to get into a genetic counseling graduate program. I had to research which classes constituted as prerequisites and which activities would help prepare for a career in genetic counseling. The many times I had questions, I didn’t have anyone else to ask or even someone to compare notes with. By no fault of theirs, career offices and professors had limited answers because genetic counseling is such a niche field. Additionally, I didn’t feel comfortable contacting the head of the Pitt program as a young college student, worried that if I applied to Pitt, they would remember me as unknowledgeable!  (Note from program directors at Pitt: This is not the case! We welcome contact from students at any stage in finding out about genetic counseling to contact us!)

Fast forward to my senior year; the Assistant Director of Pitt’s genetic counseling program, Andrea Durst, approached me about starting a genetic counseling club at the undergraduate level. Although I had decided to take a gap year before going on to graduate school, I realized that I wanted to serve as a mentor for those sitting in the same position I had four years ago. My fellow officers and I hope this club will be able to not only serve as support system for those who know they want to become genetic counselors, but also to inspire and educate those who have only heard whispers of this great profession.

Thus far, the club has had two meetings, elected a new Volunteer Coordinator, and gained over 20 members to its roster. We are looking forward to having many students and genetic counselors attend to share their experiences, tips and tricks, and open a line of communication for anybody who wants to learn. If you have any questions, or would like to be added to our email list (you do not have to be an undergrad at Pitt!), please feel free to email 

-Jessica Feldman, President of the Pitt Genetic Counseling Club

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