Surviving Graduate School – Tips from Current Students

It is still hot but it is September and the Ohio Genetic Counseling programs are back in full swing! Entering the world of graduate school is often overwhelming so we have asked seasoned students from all of Ohio’s training programs to share their advice with their incoming classmates.

Hannah Banks
Hannah Banks

Hannah Banks (she/her) is a second-year student at the Ohio State University’s genetic counseling graduate program. She is originally from Litchfield, Minnesota. She attended Concordia College, a small liberal arts college in Minnesota and graduated in December 2019. Before attending graduate school she was a full-time genetic counseling assistant, volunteered with the muscular dystrophy association, hospice, and assisted in teaching biology laboratory coursework. In her free time, she loves spending time on the lake, snuggling with her family’s pugs, and thrift shopping.

What advice do you have for handling the workload of graduate level classes? What are your suggestions for balancing class work and the responsibilities of clinical rotations?

Hannah: Graduate school will look different in many ways from your undergraduate training and balancing the workload is also different for everyone. For some, keeping a busy schedule and a routine helps them be more productive. For others, setting aside time for rest and relaxation or fun activities helps maintain school-life balance. The most important thing is to identify the ways that YOU know will be the most beneficial for you and your success in school. The time you devote to different things in graduate training will not be identical to your classmates and their schedules. Knowing yourself and the ways that you do your best work will be critical for maintaining your sanity in school. 

In your clinical experiences, you have to be your own advocate. You will have professional responsibilities that may be new and demanding in different ways than you’ve experienced in the past. If you’re becoming overwhelmed with clinical expectations and it is affecting your class work, it is incredibly important to talk to your school’s clinical placement coordinator and your clinical supervisor. Some weeks will be busier than others; some semesters of your training might be more overwhelming than others. Leaning on your peers and making time for things that bring you joy will help keep you motivated through your clinical and class work. 

You have an opportunity to be immersed in this ~2 year experience- make time for opportunities that allow you to be both a student and also a multifaceted human. Trust in your abilities and be kind and gracious to yourself.

Sydney Bruggeman
Sydney Bruggeman

A second-year genetic counseling student at Case Western Reserve University. She is originally from Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2020 with a BS in Genetics and Genomics. She enjoys spending time with her classmates and trying new restaurants.

What advice do you have for choosing a thesis topic? What are your tips for making sure deadlines are met?

Sydney: You will be working on your thesis project across the entirety of your training program, so my biggest piece of advice is to make sure it is something that truly interests you. Your program may provide topic ideas submitted by local genetic counselors and clinical supervisors. These topics have typically been vetted and are considered feasible projects for a graduate student thesis. I was not drawn to any of the ideas my program provided. I instead decided to pave the way for my own project with a topic that has intrigued me for quite some time. This process took more time to research background literature and formulate a research question, but I felt it was worth it to know I was pursuing something I was genuinely excited to learn more about. I have classmates who were equally as excited about the projects presented by the program, and either option is perfectly okay. As my program directors would say, make sure you rate your chosen thesis topic with two jazz hands.

Setting personal deadlines throughout the research process is key to meeting deadlines for your thesis project, as it can be easy to let it fall to the back burner. The Case program designed our thesis class to help us meet larger deadlines by making smaller internal checkpoints with class and committee meetings. This allowed us to stay on track with our projects and get them submitted and approved in a reasonable amount of time. The best advice we received from day one is at any point if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing related to your thesis, ask! You will get some guidance along the way, but you are the driver of your own project.

Christina Mealwitz
Christina Mealwitz

A second year genetic counseling student at Case Western Reserve University. She is originally from Lagrange, Ohio and attended Heidelberg University for her undergraduate education. While in Cleveland, she has enjoyed concerts, sporting events, new foods and bars, as well as getting to know her classmates better

How do you process and incorporate feedback from your instructors and your clinical supervisors? What are your tips for using feedback effectively?

Christina: Processing and incorporating feedback is essential, in my opinion, as it allows for personal growth and self reflection. Most instructors and clinical supervisors do a very good job of giving balanced feedback to students. We are encouraged to provide them with feedback as well. 

Before receiving feedback, I assess how I think I did before talking with them. This way I am able to better process the feedback they give me. This has helped me contribute to the conversation when speaking with my clinical instructors and my supervisors in the clinical setting. Additionally, I have created a log where I write down any feedback my mentors give me so I can make sure I am focusing on incorporating their feedback throughout the year to improve my performance in the classroom and in the clinic. Processing and incorporating feedback from instructors and supervisors is critical as we are still learning and developing into genetic counselors! 

Nellie Mancl
Nellie Mancl

Originally from Seattle, Washington and currently a second-year student at the University of Cincinnati/Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Genetic Counseling Graduate Program.

Graduate school may be overwhelming to many students. What resources are available for help?

Nellie: Reach out when you are feeling overwhelmed! The program faculty are knowledgeable about many different resources that are available to students when needed. At the University of Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program, one of the resources that has been most helpful to me when managing graduate school is the mentor-mentee program. Each first-year student in the program is matched with a second-year student who is their go-to person for guidance, support, and encouragement. Through the mentor-mentee program there are also social events each month that may provide a way to connect with other students and get space from graduate school stress. 

And now for the fun stuff! 

What is the cannot miss place or activity in your city?

Hannah: If you are an Ohio State student, it’s nearly a requirement to attend an OSU football game! The city revolves around game days in the fall. Otherwise, the North Market is downtown and offers many different vendors – international foods, fresh flowers, local brews, coffee, and live music on the weekends! Columbus is a foodie city so you can’t go wrong exploring all the many restaurants in the area.

Sydney: The West Side Market! Any food you could want, there is most likely a vendor there selling it. It’s the perfect place to go explore with friends or as a solo trip to get some groceries, and also take a walk around the Ohio City neighborhood. It’s near quite a few breweries and restaurants as well, so you can make it a fun day trip into the city.

Christina: The Flats in downtown Cleveland! This is where all the action happens! Whether you want to go get drinks with friends, walk along Lake Erie, grab a bite to eat, or go to a concert, event, or show, this area has it all! It is a beautiful area in the summer with water taxis available to take you across the river and it also stays lively throughout the winter months with comedy shows, parties, and yearlong dining options! If you are ever in Cleveland, this is a must do stop! 

Nellie: Cincinnati has many wonderful city parks! There are a variety of types of parks, all within easy access in the city. I’ve found the city parks to be a great way to get a break from school, while not requiring significant travel time. Some of my favorites include Smale Riverfront Park along the Ohio River and the many hiking trails of Mt. Airy Forest. I also love Eden Park, which houses the Cincinnati Art Museum, a conservatory for plants, and great walking trails.

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