Amy Margolin is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech and is currently a first year graduate student at Indiana University. Below is her interview:
What led to your interest in genetic counseling?
I feel like I got lucky in my path to genetic counseling. I did not know that this profession even existed until my junior year at Virginia Tech. I was a neuroscience major who had no idea what I wanted to do after undergrad. I viewed my two career options as research and medical school; I had considered both of these, but neither of them encompassed everything I wanted in a profession. This made me nervous as I was approaching graduation! One day I literally Googled “healthcare professionals not doctor” to see what other options I had. This Google search led me to lists of careers, including genetic counseling. As soon as I read the description of genetic counseling, I knew it was perfect for me. It was incredibly serendipitous! My hope is that this alumni spotlight will help someone else uncover an interest in genetic counseling.
What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?
I majored in experimental neuroscience. When I started at Tech, I was in University Studies (undecided) with the intention of studying multimedia journalism. However, I took a psychology course my first semester called Nervous Systems & Behaviors that helped me discover my passion for learning about the brain. The next semester I officially changed my major to neuroscience.
What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for graduate school?
Most of my time outside of classes was spent with the Marching Virginians— Tech’s marching band! While being in band did not directly prepare me for graduate school, it taught me life skills that I was able to bring with me to grad school. I also participated in activities that are more traditionally tied to grad school prep. For example, I did undergraduate research with Dr. Bowers, volunteered with Crisis Text Line, and shadowed genetic counseling appointments. Although it is important to meet any requirements grad schools have, I would encourage students to make time to pursue personal hobbies as well. They can help prevent burnout and also make you more of a unique and interesting applicant.
What are some words of wisdom about the application process? What would you have liked to know ahead of time? What do you wish someone would have told you before you began applying?
The application process for genetic counseling grad school is done through a match system. This process entailed applying to individual schools, waiting to hear which schools offered me an interview, traveling for those interviews, and ranking the schools I was most interested in. Due to the match framework, instead of hearing back from each school I applied to whether I got in or not, I found out on one day if I got into a program, and, if so, which one. This is different than many of the graduate programs my friends were applying to. Due to the nature of the match system, I felt like the process was drawn out and filled with uncertainty. That being said, my biggest piece of advice to applicants is to try and be patient. Be patient with the process and also with your friends and family who might not understand the match process.
What do you enjoy most about genetic counseling?
My favorite thing about genetic counseling is that I get to help people better understand their own health. Genetic counselors act as a sort of liaison between patients, their physicians, and genetic testing laboratories. Genetics can be overwhelming to anyone, and especially to people that are not familiar with biology. One of a genetic counselor’s many roles is to take this complicated information and make it accessible to patients. Seeing patients beginning to understand their genetic health is the most enjoyable part of this profession.
What was your favorite undergraduate class outside of the genetic counseling prerequisite classes?
My last semester at Virginia Tech, I took a class on Broadway musicals! It was a peer-led honors course that met once a week. While I loved my science courses, this easily became one of my favorite classes at Tech. We discussed current events and issues in the musical theater industry and analyzed the scripts of Dear Evan Hansen, Mean Girls, and The Book of Mormon. I would encourage everyone to make the time to take a class outside of their usual course of study. Take a class just for fun—it’s worth it, I promise!
What memory stands out the most from your first few weeks of graduate school?
My cohort went out for tacos and drinks the first Friday night of grad school! It was a great way to celebrate our accomplishment of being accepted and surviving week one of classes. Going out together was also a nice way to get to know each outside of the classroom. This was especially important to me, as I was brand new to Indianapolis and did not know anyone in my new city. Forming friendships outside of school helped me adjust to these big life changes.
Did you have any fears going into genetic counseling?
My biggest fear going into grad school for genetic counseling was that I would be underqualified. Having only taken one genetics course at Tech, I was nervous that I would not know as much or be as good at genetics as my classmates. However, I quickly realized that everyone felt this way. One of my classes during my first semester was a basic human genetics course. The point of this class was to close any gaps that may exist between students and ensure we all had a standardized level of genetics coursework. While some students found this course easier or harder based on their prior knowledge, it was a great way to help us all get to the same level, and my entire cohort was so supportive of each other.