From PhD to MS: A step forward, not backward
Margaret Hill, PhD, MS
My love of genetics began in the sixth grade, when my classmates and I were assigned a research paper on any topic. While some of my friends delved into how the heart functions or plunged into the disappointing history of the Buffalo Bills, I stumbled across something amazing: the Human Genome Project. I will not claim that at twelve years old I understood the minute details or what it really meant for the future of science and medicine, but I was spellbound that just four letters, A-T-G-C, defined me. The code could explain many of my similarities and differences from other people. I went on to complete my B.S. in Molecular Genetics from the University of Rochester. During my time as an undergraduate, I lost two family members to lung cancer within a year of each other, and this propelled me into cancer genetics research. Directly after graduation, I began the PhD program in genetics here at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), where I studied the genetics of cholangiocarcinoma.
I had many great opportunities during my time at URMC. I was able to present my research at the Annual Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. My mentor encouraged me to think creatively and forge my own path. And it was exciting — all of — the late nights on the confocal microscope, the high-pressure presentations, the failures, and the successes. The closer I came to deciding I was ready to defend my thesis, however, the more I realized something was missing. I started the process wanting to help those affected by cancer, but it took my PhD training to make me realize that I wanted to help these patients in a more tangible way. Thus, began my search for a career where I could directly interact with patients and their families.
That is when I came across genetic counseling. The more I learned about the field, the more I was certain this was the career for me, but it requires a two-year Masters. Who completes their PhD just to go back to school for a “lesser” degree? What would people say? Can I really go back to school?!
After much soul-searching, I jumped in headfirst. At the time it didn’t feel courageous—it hardly ever works that way. It’s only after you’ve taken the leap and you look back do you realize how far you could have fallen. I have just graduated from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro’s Genetic Counseling Program. During my time there, I completed clinical rotations at the University of Rochester, Duke Hospital, UNC Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and Moses Cone in Greensboro, NC. Sometimes I do get asked why I would pursue a master’s degree after a PhD (“isn’t that a step backward?”). I normally answer graciously and welcome further discussion, but it hardly ever gets to that point. The fact of the matter is this master’s degree pushed me in ways no other training ever has, I have grown tremendously as a person, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. It was not an easy path and I struggled throughout the process, but I succeeded and have happily accepted the job of my dreams.
Come join me Wednesday, May 15 11 am -12 pm in the Anderson Conference Room (G-8534) in URMC to hear more about some of my past experiences and what my dream job looks like. There will be pizza!
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