Q&A with current GC students
On November 5th, 2020, the CAGC hosted a webinar for prospective students titled Genetic Counselling Training Programs in Canada: Q&A with prospective students. The 2020 CAGC student representative Marie-Jacqueline Thomas, was joined by five current GC students, Amy Ho (UBC), Cassie McDonald (U of Manitoba), Celine Gill (U of Toronto), Michaela Bercovitch Sadinsky (McGill) and Chloé Hudon (U de Montréal) to provide general information about the profession, to share their experiences in applying to genetic counselling programs and to discuss life as a genetic counselling student. The recording is available below.
Any questions about the recording can be directed to the current CAGC student representative.
Frequently asked questions (click on a question below or scroll to see all responses):
NB: Please refer to the website of your genetic counselling program of interest for information about required or recommended courses, grades, or experiences.
Are there any further questions that you would like to be addressed here? We invite you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Student FAQ”. Please be mindful that responses to inquiries submitted might be slow.
McGill - Ideally, I wanted to stay close to home, but I recognized that applying to multiple programs would increase my chances of getting accepted into a program. I knew that I wanted to work in Canada eventually, so I focused on Canadian programs. I did, however, apply to one school in the United States (which did not require writing the GRE at the time). At the application phase I didn’t compare the programs too much in terms of program size, tuition, program structure, availability of specialty clinics, etc. I figured that I would learn more about the programs while interviewing and could compare them in more detail if I ended up being offered a spot at more than one school.
UdeM - First of all, I’m French-Canadian so I had a slight preference for University of Montreal’s program. I was also tempted to try applying to Marseille because I had lived in France before and it would have been a fun experience. McGill was also an option for me because I knew it was a great program and I wasn’t far from home. I really didn’t have any trouble deciding where to apply; it was a really easy process for me. I ended up applying only at UdeM and the second time was the charm.
UBC - My ultimate goal was to become a genetic counsellor, so I was open to going almost anywhere that helped me achieve this. When considering where I should apply I decided that since it was my first year I would only apply to the Canadian schools. Since the application process has a fee and preferably I would stay in Canada if I had the option to, applying at only the Canadian schools for my first time seemed like the reasonable choice. If I hadn’t been accepted on my first application round I would have written my GRE and applied at schools in the US as well as re-apply at the Canadian schools. My choice in US schools would probably be ones that are closer to home, however finances would also be a factor in my consideration of schools.
UofMan - I was willing to go to whichever school I was accepted to in order to become a genetic counsellor. I chose to only apply to Canadian schools in my first round of applications, although I was aware that there were many more spots available in the US because of their number of programs and larger class sizes. When I applied for the second time, I still only applied to Canadian schools because of the cost of applications, interviewing, and tuition for US programs. I found all of the Canadian schools to be comparable in many aspects. I used the interview process to learn about the subtle differences and assess which program felt right for me.
UofT - When I wrote my applications I focused not only on trying to show how my unique experience would make me an excellent candidate for the program, but why my experiences had motivated me and made me so passionate about becoming a genetic counsellor. When I had finished writing my applications I asked family and colleagues to review them and give me constructive feedback. This helped me improve my applications and ensure that my true self was shining through.
McGill - When describing my experiences, I made sure to highlight a diverse range of skills and attributes that I felt were relevant to genetic counselling. After completing the first draft of my statement of purpose, I asked a few close friends/relatives to read it to see if my passion and determination came across the way I had intended (and also to catch any spelling/grammatical errors of course!).
UdeM - When I was putting my application together I wanted to show them how motivated I was. I was dreaming of that program for so long, I made sure they could see my motivation through every single document I had to provide. I also made sure that the evaluators could see how I always worked toward the genetic counselling program and how all my previous experiences helped me be a better candidate for the program. Since I was enrolled part-time in UdeM’s microprogram (genetic counselling based courses), I also wanted to make sure my application would stand out from other microprogram students. A few friends who had gone through a similar application also helped me proofreading and improving my personal statement.
UBC - When putting together my application I wanted to make sure that mine was unique. My ultimate goal was to stand out in my application. Since the directors who would read my applications had no idea who I was I wanted to make sure my application was strong in showing my strengths and personality. I had friends, family and various mentors read over my personal statements and give me constructive feedback, which helped in strengthening my application.
UofMan - When I put together my application, I wanted to highlight my personality and commitment to learning this profession. I used my personal statement to describe how my experiences have developed skills that are transferrable to genetic counselling. I had family, friends, and mentors review my application to give me constructive feedback. After being waitlisted in my first round of applications, I spoke with the program directors to receive their feedback. In my second round of applications, I kept their suggestions in mind and focused on how I had developed in those areas.
UofT - During my first year of applications I focused on only the Canadian schools (UBC, McGill and UofT at that time) as I was completing my undergraduate degree and did not feel that I had enough time to dedicate to the GREs. When I applied for the second time I was determined to become a genetic counsellor and would accept an offer at any school that would help me reach this goal. I decided to cast a broader net and applied to schools in the US and Canada. Other than considering tuition and costs of living associated with the different US schools, I decided to wait to compare the programs in detail after the interview process. I hoped that this way I wouldn't feel any bias towards a certain program and could see which program really stood out as a good fit in the event that I received multiple offers.
McGill - “Be yourself.” It’s a cliché but it worked for me. Don’t get too caught up trying to think about what they want to hear, or what the ‘right’ answer is. The interviewers want to get to know you, see how you think and how you interact with others. Bonus tip: I recently had a job interview and while I was waiting for it to start I listened to a pre-interview guided meditation (available on YouTube). My pre-interview jitters quickly dissipated and I went in feeling relaxed and confident.
UdeM - “Be yourself” and “ask questions”. Personally, I always liked interviews. It’s the best part of an application because you get to met the evaluators and let them see what you told them in your application. They do want to get to know you and even with all the stress it might bring, I think it’s possible to enjoy it if you let your personality show. Also, I always try to prepare a few questions in advance because I don’t want to think about them only after the interview. I think that asking questions shows motivation but also that we are proactive. Usually, you have time for questions at the end of the interview so you are less tense because you know all the big questions are over and it’s another way to interact with the evaluators in a more relaxed way.
UBC - In preparation for my interview two pieces of advice stood out: “prepare but do not over-prepare” and “emphasize uniqueness.” The first piece of advice meant that it is beneficial to prepare in advance of an interview but not so much so as to come across as “scripted” in your interview. I brainstormed questions I anticipated I might be asked as well as reviewed common interview questions. I read some interesting journal articles and a general book about “acing” an interview. The second piece of advice meant that I should emphasize my personal experiences that are unique to me and shaped my as the person that wants to be a genetic counsellor.
UofMan - Don’t compare yourself to other applicants. During my first round of interviews, I was still finishing undergrad. When you meet the other interviewees, it’s easy to psyche yourself out after hearing about all of their experiences or graduate degrees. I found it beneficial to remind myself that I had worked hard to get there and that I just needed to be myself in my interview. In my interview, I took time after they asked a question to allow myself to breathe and think of an honest answer. That strategy gave me the time I needed to collect myself and allow my true personality to come though in my answer. In my second round of interviews, I anticipated the questions they may ask. This preparation helped me to feel more confident without being rehearsed. I also discussed how I had improved since my application.
UofT - "Breathe". It is so easy to start comparing yourself to the other applicants and feeling as though your accomplishments don't measure up. It is important to take time to breathe and relax during interview day and remember that you were asked to come to these interviews for a reason!
McGill - Although I had volunteered in genetic counselling clinics before, I never fully appreciated the amount of paperwork (ex. test requisitions, chart notes) that genetic counsellors do.
UdeM - I had worked in a genetics clinic before but I am always amazed by the variety of cases genetic counsellors see. The field of genetics is always dynamic, so there is no way you will get bored being a genetic counsellor.
UBC - I was most surprised about the wide range of job opportunities of a genetic counsellor. I had previously volunteered in a genetics clinic and only saw genetic counsellors in the role as a clinical GC. Throughout my training I have been introduced to a wide range of roles that genetic counsellors fill and succeed in including, but not limited to, laboratory GCs and policy development.
UofMan - I had worked in a genetics clinic for a year prior to entering the program so I was very familiar with the responsibilities of the profession. I was surprised to learn about how the extent of a genetic counsellors role varies based on the dynamic of the clinic and interaction with the clinical geneticists or other physicians.
UofT - I had worked in a genetics clinic for two years before entering the program so I was familiar with the many different responsibilities and roles that GCs play within a hospital setting. Since I have started my MSc I have been surprised by how diverse the role of GCs can be outside of a hospital AND how GCs can advocate for and create their own roles in non-genetics clinics.
McGill - The most helpful thing for me was volunteering in a genetic counselling clinic. I developed a better understanding of how genetic counselling sessions are structured, different ways that information can be presented to patients (ex. diagrams, analogies, etc.) various psychosocial issues (ex. patient guilt, anxiety, etc.) and ethical concepts (ex. informed consent, genetic testing in children, etc.).
UdeM - What helped me the most was working alongside a geneticist. I learned how to draw pedigrees and what information the referring physician needed to know. Practice is the key so too much is never a bad thing.
UBC - The most helpful thing for me was being a volunteer at the genetics clinic. I learned basic skills that helped me from day one of being in the program. As a volunteer I was responsible for drawing pedigrees from family history questionnaires and completing laboratory send outs for genetic testing. This allowed me to explore through patient charts and learn more about various conditions. I also had a good understanding of the standardized pedigree guidelines and had lots of practice drawing them.
UofMan - I was extremely fortunate to volunteer in a genetics clinic which turned into an employment opportunity as a Genetic Counsellor Assistant. This role allowed me to sit in on genetic counselling cases and ask questions to the clinical staff. Observing cases provided me with insight into the psychosocial experience of patients as well as taught me about various genetic conditions. It also helped me to learn the layout of a genetic counselling session. My other responsibilities included drawing pedigrees and interviewing patients for their family histories. Ultimately, this role made me familiar with many of the behind the scenes responsibilities of a genetic counsellor, including the patient work-up and other paper work.
UofT - I found working within a genetics clinic prepared me the most for this program as I was familiar with the work flow, paperwork, and structure of appointments. Finding a clinic with a paid or even a volunteer role can be very difficult though. I think it is important to remember that having experience in a genetics clinic is not a requirement of any program and that the experience you gain through volunteer work in different counselling settings can be equally valuable.
McGill - It can be challenging figuring out how to balance classes, clinical rotations, our independent studies project, having a social life, etc. An agenda is an absolute necessity!
UdeM - Balancing your life is a huge challenge. It’s impossible to be perfect in every aspect of your life, but it’s possible to choose a few things that matter to you and to stick to it. Constant adaptation is important, but so is listening to your feelings.
UBC - It’s an adjustment to balance all of the tasks that we have. We start clinical rotations from day one so right away you need to learn how to balance your clinical cases and your course work as well as extra-curricular activities and self-care. The program is very dynamic so I find myself constantly adjusting.
UofMan - Balance and time management is key! There are many responsibilities between the classes, clinical rotations, and a full thesis (with defense). Self-care and working as a team are great strategies for coping with all of these demands.
UofT - The thing that I have found to be most challenging, especially as I approach graduation, is the feeling of "impostor syndrome". After wanting to be in this field for such a long time it is sometimes hard to believe that I have made it. I have found it helpful to remind myself that I am qualified to be helping patients and that even if I feel nervous before a session that "I can do this!".
McGill - The most rewarding thing for me has been the feeling that I’ve found my calling. It’s cheesy, but it’s true! I can’t see myself doing anything else.
UdeM - Knowing that the career of my dream is at my reach. After all the hard work, it’s not just a dream anymore, it’s real.
UBC - What I have found most rewarding is finally being in the program that will lead me to a career of my dreams. School has become more motivating than before because I am training for my future profession.
UofMan - The most rewarding feeling is knowing that I’m living my dream that I’ve worked so hard to achieve, all the while making a positive impact in the lives of others.
UofT - I cannot describe how good it feels to already see the positive impact I have made in the lives of patients.
McGill - I finished my BSc in Molecular Biology & Genetics in 2014. Subsequently, I worked on improving my genetic counselling program application. I volunteered in a gastrointestinal cancer clinic and an autism research clinic for one year. The experience I gained during this time really helped to ensure a smooth transition to the MSc in genetic counselling program.
UdeM - I did a BSc in Microbiology at University of Sherbrooke (UdeS) and then I was involved in graduate research in health science, also at UdeS. To have worked in research before helped me understand the amount of work that was needed in a master and, I think, made the transition easier than if I had just finished my BSc.
UBC - Before starting my MSc in genetic counselling I had previously completed a Bachelor of Science in biology at the University of Calgary. After I graduated from my undergrad I decided to take a year off to gain experience in order to apply to the MSc in genetic counselling. During this year off I worked as a research assistant and research coordinator in various studies including a genetics study. I also volunteered at a distress centre and a genetics clinic as well as took a couple online courses to strengthen my application. My transition from my gap year to my MSc was difficult because it went from working full-time to being in school full-time and having no income besides student loans. Even in my undergrad I had time to work part-time but that is not a reasonable option in my MSc. The most difficult transition however was transitioning from living in my hometown (Calgary), to moving away from my friends and family to a new city. Luckily my classmates are a very supportive group and have made the transition easier.
UofMan - I completed an Honours Bachelor of Science degree specializing in Biology at University of Toronto. Throughout undergrad, I was highly involved on campus and residence as a facilitator for peer based learning and seminars. I was also a research assistant in a laboratory studying neurogenetics in Drosophila. Additionally, I volunteered with a distress centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters for several years. To seek out more experience in clinical genetics, I volunteered at a local genetics clinic for several full days a week on an ongoing basis. After being waitlisted in my first round of applications, I was fortunate to be hired in the genetics clinic as an assistant to the genetic counsellors and clinical geneticists. My experiences during that year were invaluable to a smooth transition to the MSc Genetic Counselling program.
UofT - After I completed my BSc in Molecular Biology and Genetics in 2015 at the University of Guelph I started working at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. I worked at the hospital for two years as a Clinical Coordinator for the Care4Rare program and Clinical Assistant in the Genetics Clinic. The experience I gained in these roles made my transition to my MSc program very smooth. The positions provided me with a great deal of insight into how clinical genetics is practiced and the various roles that genetic counsellors can have and allowed me to start interacting with patients. During this time I also volunteered with Victim Services Ontario which really helped build my counselling skills and made me feel prepared to enter the program.
McGill - Speaking French is not mandatory, however, many genetic counselling sessions are done in French. Here is my experience with French at McGill: I was in French Immersion throughout most of elementary and high school but before starting at McGill my French was very rusty and I was not very confident. I hired a French tutor over the summer to help refresh my memory and build my confidence. At McGill, my supervisors were so supportive and really encouraged me to keep practicing. I can now do full counselling sessions in French. I’d say that roughly ⅓ to ½ of my sessions are in French.
New to the application process this year, applicants must register online to participate in the Match. Only registered applicants can have their applications reviewed by participating programs, submit a Rank Order List, and be ranked by programs.
To register, or for more information on this process, see the official National Matching Services website.
For a video demonstrating how the matching algorithm works, click here
Disclosures: The thoughts and opinions expressed are our own and do not represent the post-secondary institutions or teaching hospitals that we attend. The opinions expressed have no direct influence on program selection decisions, nor does it guarantee admission into a genetic counselling program. For fairness, we will not answer specific questions about the application or interview process.
Pamela Adjei, CAGC Student Representative 2017, McGill University, Genetic Counselling Trainee 2016-2018
I am excited to be able to connect prospective genetic counselling students with current students and recent graduates. We hope that you have found this page helpful!
Stephanie Chieffo, University of British Columbia, Genetic Counselling Trainee 2016-2018
Genetics has interested me since I was first introduced to it. While fascinated by the science behind genetic mutations and inheritance, I was also interested in how genetic disorders affect individuals and their families not only physically but also psychologically. This led to me pursuing a career in genetic counselling. I first became hooked on genetics when my dad taught me inheritance using his hands and fingers - a technique I use today in my sessions with patients.
Marjorie Bezeau, University of Montreal, Genetic Counselling Trainee 2016-2018
It’s my love for teaching and my desire to help that led me to study genetic counselling. This, paired with my passion for genetics, made the perfect job I could ever dream of. I love the variability of cases that we can see but I can’t hide that I have a slight preference for adults specialty.
Breanne Dale, McGill University, Genetic Counselling Trainee 2015-2017
I feel so fortunate to be part of the genetic counselling community. It’s everything I dreamed of and more. I look forward to growing as a genetic counsellor and giving back to the community.
Rachelle Dinchong, University of Manitoba, Genetic Counselling Trainee 2017-2019
I am extremely grateful and excited to begin my career in this exciting field! I have received so much guidance from mentors throughout my journey and I’m happy to be able to share my experiences to help prospective students.
Meredith Gillespie, University of Toronto, Genetic Counselling Trainee 2017-2019
I stumbled across genetic counselling during my final year of high school and from the first time I read about the profession I was hooked. I am so grateful to be entering such an interesting and dynamic field, and to have the opportunity to help future students.