Friday, July 21, 2017

Advice to Soon-To-Be GC Students

Starting a genetic counseling program can seem a little scary, but it's also a new opportunity to grow and make new friends. The Class of 2018 has some advice for incoming first years:

There’s a lot of stuff going on in graduate school between class, rotations, writing your thesis and taking care of yourself. I would definitely say invest in a good planner to keep yourself organized during the hectic times that will inevitably pop up. - Meg Hager

Don't forget to set aside time to relax.
I recommend setting some time aside each week for grocery shopping and meal prepping to ensure you’re well fed, even on the weeks when you have exams, assignments due for rotations, or deadlines at work. Eating right is an important part of self care! - Emily Spoth

Take out your phone right now and download the apps Transit and Busgazer to help you track the buses in Pittsburgh. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Graduate school is hard. It’s supposed to be. But it’s also rewarding and, on occasion, fun. - Emily Mazzei

Don’t forget to enjoy the process! Graduate school, especially genetic counseling programs, can be hectic and busy at times, but it’s also an amazing time to connect with 11 other people who are experiencing some of exact same things that you are. Take a little bit of time off to explore Pittsburgh, try new restaurants or just nerd-out with your classmates on all things science! - Joya Petersen

Buy an umbrella you can keep in your bag at all times!  You will be glad you have it. - Seth Lascurain

The best thing I was told when I was going into my first year is that grad school is what you make of it. There are plenty of opportunities out there, but it is up to you to take advantage of them, so don’t be afraid to get involved and explore areas that excite you. - Julia Stone
Keeping yourself organized can be helpful during grad school.
Feel out your professors before you pass this on, but remember that your grades matter much less than what you are getting out of the experience to become a successful and thriving genetic counselor (and person overall). If you focus on doing things that help with that end goal, prioritizing can become a bit easier as not every assignment or test is going to carry the same weight. You also can’t possibly give 100% of yourself to every class, every assignment, every extracurricular opportunity, every job responsibility, and every social outing. It’s okay, and often necessary and encouraged, to say no at reasonable times! - Jenni Peck

Take advantage of Robin and Andrea’s open door policy- they really are such a wonderful resource throughout your time in the program (as well as after you graduate)! - Claire Leifeste

It is very helpful to make a schedule and to try to stick to it, but don’t beat yourself up or panic if you fall behind. Everything gets finished eventually! Also, taking breaks to allow yourself to regroup is an absolute necessity! You always think more clearly and interact more effectively with patients if you give your brain the break that it needs. - Jackie Amurgis

Have a space you go to regularly, whether it’s a room in your apartment, a friend’s place, a coffee shop, anywhere, where you do absolutely nothing school-related. Being able to have a place you can totally remove yourself from school, work, or rotations helps with making everything less overwhelming and keeps it exciting. - Julia Verbiar

-- The Class of 2018

Friday, July 7, 2017

Biting into Research: Research Experience with Craniofacial and Dental Genetics

Like some of the genetic counseling students from years past, I am a graduate student worker at the Center for Craniofacial and DentalGenetics (CCDG), part of the School of Dental Medicine here at Pitt. My first experience with the CCDG was through the Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics, when I was able to work with data from the first cohort study of the Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia (COHRA1). Currently, I am a research assistant for the second cohort of the study, Factors Contributing to Oral Health Disparities in Appalachia(COHRA2). The goal of these studies is to examine the genetic, environmental, behavioral, and microbial components of the disproportionately increasing rate of dental caries, or cavities, in children in Appalachia, a region in the eastern United States spanning from western New York to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. We are looking specifically at children in Northern Appalachia, from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as they demonstrate a high level of poor oral health with elevated rates of caries early in life.
A map depicting the Appalachian region of the United States.

My job involves working with a team of other research assistants and dental hygienists to perform study visits and maintain contact with the research participants. Collaborators at West Virginia University also carry out these visits, with West Virginia being the only state entirely within the Appalachian region. Female participants were able to enroll when they were in their first or second trimester of pregnancy and we are now following the mother and baby pairs up to the baby’s 6th birthday, with visits at specific times throughout the years.  The visits involve collecting saliva and other oral samples from the mothers and babies enrolled in the study for DNA and microbial environment analysis. We also document the child’s growth and survey behavioral, environmental, psychosocial, and socioeconomic factors of the mothers, both at the visits and with short and long phone interviews at other times of the year. Other aspects of my position involve helping with general office duties and processing the samples received at both sites for subsequent analysis.

Center for Craniofacial & Dental Genetics logo.
A significant benefit of my position is the wealth and breadth of data available from which I can develop my thesis project, which is allowing me to make it a project I really enjoy. I have a strong interest in cardiovascular health, so I am currently looking into developing a thesis project that examines the possible genetic link between heart disease, hypertension, and periodontitis. Research has shown that there may be a similar underlying inflammation process in these diseases and, through CCDG-lead studies and collaborations throughout the years, there is extensive data I can use to further study this connection.

Although I was not sure how relevant it would be when I began, this position has helped me cultivate my genetic counseling skills. Conducting the study visits has facilitated my comfort with patient interaction and adapting to changing situations, as patients and sessions can be unpredictable, just like the toddlers we see. Through the phone interviews we conduct with the mothers to track the diets and general health of their babies, I have also developed my ability to go through series of seemingly random questions in a targeted manner to stay on topic, like is necessary when collecting personal and family medical histories.

For these reasons, and many more, I have really appreciated the experiences and opportunities I have had while at the CCDG and am excited to continue working here through the rest of my time at Pitt!

-- Julia Verbiar, Class of 2018