Friday, February 23, 2018

Investigating the Etiology of Treatment-Refractory Depression

Treatment-refractory depression is depression that has not
responded to at least two courses of antidepressants.
In addition to my classwork and rotations, I work as a research assistant with Dr. Lisa Pan in the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Pan’s research has investigated the etiology of treatment-refractory depression – depression that has not responded to at least two courses of antidepressants. A number

of individuals with treatment-refractory depression have significant family histories of mental health issues. Some of Dr. Pan’s recent work has evaluated patients’ cerebrospinal fluid for molecules involved in the metabolism of neurotransmitters. Discovery of deficiencies in patients has allowed for supplementation of missing metabolites, which has been remarkably successful in improving their depression symptoms. Researchers associated with the study are now performing genetic analyses to determine whether genetic variations are associated with patients’ symptoms. My work with Dr. Pan involves documenting patient pedigrees, investigating genetic analysis findings, writing a case study, and preparing to deliver results to a patient.

Working in research has reinforced how quickly things evolve in genetics. New findings occur every day, and treatments are developed to improve the health of patients. Seeing this aspect of genetics gives me a new appreciation of how the information and treatments we provide patients in clinic were developed. Accepted treatments were once experimental approaches. As additional knowledge about the genetics underlying psychiatric diseases emerges, new therapeutic approaches may emerge.

Connecting genetic factors to treatment-refractory depression
and other psychiatric disorders may help scientists find new
treatments for these illnesses by unlocking another piece of
the puzzle.
Genetic counseling related to psychiatric disorders is a new and growing field. Since psychiatric disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and autism, are complex, strong genetic associations have been difficult to identify; however, significant strides have been made in determining genetic and environmental contributions to mental health. Family history of psychiatric disorders can increase the likelihood of an individual developing a mental health condition. Certain genes have been found to be associated with some psychiatric disorders. With knowledge about psychiatric disorders and genetics increasing rapidly, development of guidelines about genetic counseling in relation to mental health is important. At the 2017 NSGC conference, I had the opportunity to join a meeting of the Psychiatric Special Interest Group, with other genetic counselors interested in advancing the field of psychiatric genetic counseling. We discussed ways to address family and personal histories of mental illness that come up during genetic counseling sessions as well as specialized clinics for psychiatric genetic counseling.

Being able to work with research finding new connections between depression and genetics and seeing these connections directly applied to help patients find relief has given me insight into current and future needs in the genetic counseling field, and I hope to use this perspective and knowledge to help my future patients!
-- Kaitlin Sullivan

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