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Career Profile: Genetic Counselor

Career Profile: Genetic Counselor

Barbara Biesecker, Genetic Counselor, Associate Investigator and Director, Johns Hopkins University/National Human Genome Research Institute Genetic Counseling Graduate Program, Social and Behavioral Research Branch, National Human Genome Research Institu

National Institutes of Health: Office of Science Education

I chose this career because…

I chose to become a genetic counselor because I loved genetics and wanted a career combining the life and social sciences. My interest in the natural sciences began in high school when I had an excellent teacher. My initial interest in genetics began in my advanced biology class as I worked on an extended project in drosophila genetics. However, it was a couple of key college professors who guided me into genetic counseling.

College Education and Certification
• Bachelor of Arts, Biology and Psychology, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota
• Master of Science, Human Genetics with an emphasis on Counseling, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
• Currently enrolled in Doctoral Program, Health Psychology, King’s College London, London, England, United Kingdom
• Certified Genetic Counselor, American Board of Genetic Counseling

My typical workday involves…

My typical workday is hard to describe because no two workdays are the same. The diversity is something I like very much about my work. Depending on the work that is necessary for the day, my tasks may include:

• Teaching – On a day that is primarily dedicated to teaching, I may supervise clinical students by listening to audiotapes of their sessions, and then teach a couple of courses in genetic counseling.

• Researching – On a research day, I may be working with collaborators to decide the best way to design a study, or to collect data from a survey we have developed. Once data has been collected, it has to be analyzed. If the data analysis is complete, I may be writing the results for publication.

• Speaking – I give many talks to other professionals in the field, as well as, talks to local community groups about the implications of genetic testing.

• Consulting – I see clients on occasion, either through a research study I am conducting, or as a genetics consultant.

What I like best/least about my work…

What I like best about my work is the diversity of my day and the challenging nature of the work. Genetics and its clinical translation is growing at a rapid pace. It is important to keep updated on the science and what it means for people. Even while you have an expertise, you are constantly learning. The best part of my job is teaching, mentoring and supervising graduate students. When you work with emerging professionals, you are constantly challenged to justify what you are doing or why. It keeps you humble and stimulated at the same time.

What I like least about my work is the meetings and administration that are needed to hold the infrastructure together. Though necessary, they are time consuming and don’t always address interesting or important issues. I also do not like adversity in personnel issues but am fortunate to be working with a fabulous group of students, colleagues and mentors so this is not a routine part of my job. It’s very nice to like not only what you do, but also who you do it with.

My career goals are…

My career goals are to complete my doctoral degree and continue my work. My initial career goals were to direct a graduate program and conduct research, and I am doing both. I suppose once I complete my doctoral degree there will be new options to consider. Most likely, I will continue to conduct research with interesting collaborators and mentees, but hopefully with a renewed and more robust effort.

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