By Mercedes Zoeteman and Margaret Hill
Woohoo, first semester is off the list! Our fall semester began in the second week of August and ended in the first week of December (hello month long winter break). Within these past 4 months, I can say that I have grown so much both professionally and personally.
The first semester had a great mix of classes to ease us into grad school and genetic counseling. I appreciated that our first semester focused on learning about genetic counseling as a whole, as opposed to going right into the molecular details of genetic conditions. One notable class in the first semester is our “Genetic Counseling in the Community” class.
For assignments, we did a lot of field work (volunteering and shadowing), had book discussions about how genetic disorders impacts the family unit, we were paired with a family who were affected by a genetic disorder and we were able to bond with them and ask questions, we volunteered for SibShops and the Down Syndrome Buddy walk.
All in all, this was such a fun class! Incorporated were opportunities to reflect on our experiences and talk about it impacts us as genetic counselors in the future which is so important. We had a Teratology and Embryology course, taught by a very enthusiastic developmental biologist at UNCG.
His life advice during class time was also an added bonus. Who knew putting a piece of tape on a bug bite would stop the itchiness? This class had a very developmental biology spin on human embryology so that provided a unique perspective for us throughout the semester. Other classes we have include Journal Club, and psychosocial seminar, both seminar/discussion courses.
I appreciated Journal Club because we had the opportunity to pick our own papers to present to the class, which was great because everyone has their own interests in the class. Lastly, we had Principles of Genetic Counseling, which really walked us through the ins and outs of the genetic counseling process. We were asked to read primary and secondary literature to give us a grasp about the foundations of genetic counseling. This class also had a significant amount of role playing involved, including practicing empathy skills, summarizing, pedigree taking, and so forth.
Overall, this first semester was a tough one personally. Adjusting to grad school life (on top of moving to new country!) was significant. I can say that there were a few angry tears shed during first semester, and there definitely some low moments, understandably so in my opinion.
Moving is stressful, finding your place in a new country is overwhelmingly difficult, and learning how to manage the demands of grad school was a steep learning curve. On the bright side, I can say that I had time to go to the UNCG Recreation and Wellness center (which is 10/10 awesome, looking at you group fitness classes), and even had some time to work and read if I was on top of my school work.
That’s not to say that there weren’t busy times, but it’s reasonable considering we are in grad school. On top of the coursework, I feel like the support that I have here is so important to mention! Lauren, Randi have had such an impact on me throughout the semester!
They believe in each one of their students, and have supported me specifically through this adjustment process, and for that I am so thankful that they are here. Also, huge shout-out to my classmates who put up with my endless random stories and make fun of my Canadian-ness. It’s been a slice, cheers to another one!
I cannot believe it is already the spring semester. Where has the time gone?! The fall was definitely an adjustment for me, but I am in the swing of things now. My time was jampacked with classes, homework, traveling for shadowing and “experiences,” and flying back to New York at least once a month. Our coursework was definitely manageable–I was able to travel quite a few weekends, and I never felt like I had to sacrifice my sleep schedule. That said though, I was busy every weekday and night and the other weekends I was still in Greensboro.
We learned a lot last semester particularly pertaining to prenatal genetic counseling (conditions, guidelines, tests, technologies, etc.) and whole exome sequencing (WES). We get many guest lectures from experts in various fields, which I feel adds a lot to our program. Who better to ask questions to than the people pioneering a field? My favorite learning experience had to be the WES workshop at UNC Chapel Hill, which is where we learn about WES and variant interpretation over the course of three days. There’s something special about learning from others who are truly excited about what they’re discussing, and hearing about their current research endeavors. (I was geeking out on the inside for most of it.)
If I had to choose the most difficult thing about last semester, I would say it was getting acclimated to a new place, away from my family. I am a Western New York girl, and I do not think I realized how much I love New York until I left (Wegmans?!?!). I have also had some family circumstances recently that made it especially difficult to live far away from everyone. These struggles though showed me some of the strengths of our program: I received great support, from the leadership to my classmates. It feels as though there is always someone available to talk to or someone checking in to see how you are doing and wanting to help if you need it. That goes for everything–from adjusting to a new state, to handling the coursework, to figuring out which grocery store to go to!
I am excited for this semester to see the progress we all make, both professionally and personally. Clinic rotations are less than 5 months away!