Answering Your Questions About Genetics Careers

Last week, the ASHG Career Development Committee (CDC) hosted a webinar in preparation for the Virtual Career Fair. During the hour-long session, the speakers discussed their experience in preparing for a job in three different career sectors: academia, industry, and biotechnology. They also shared tips on building a network, tailoring a resume, and preparing for an interview or job talk. If you missed it, you can watch the recording.

This topic generated numerous audience questions, not all of which were able to be answered during the live event. Fortunately, our speakers were able to answer some of them after the webinar.

Attendee Question: For the networking aspect, did you find speaking to recruiters helpful?

Dr. McIntyre: Prior to applying for jobs, I did some informational interviews with recruiters who worked for the companies I was interested in (not third-party recruiters) to find out what their companies were looking for and what types of positions they would be hiring for in the next few months. I found this process helpful. However, when applying, I found it easier to apply directly to jobs rather than working with a recruiter.

Dr. Mirceta: I spoke to some recruiters who were looking to fill positions and reached out to me on LinkedIn or to recruiters for jobs I applied to.  I stayed open to opportunities and arranged calls with any of them that contacted me and arranged interviews if available.

Attendee Question: Did you need specific help for writing your resume?

Dr. Mirceta: I took advantage of a couple of resume writing resources offered through U of Toronto/SickKids over the years. I also had my resume reviewed at ASHG 2019 which I found incredibly helpful. I also thought it was very helpful to have colleagues read over your resume to keep helping you focus your descriptions.  Sometimes what you think is absolutely critical to share as a detail (i.e. every oral/poster presentation at X, Y, Z conferences) is actually better if you just summarize it (For example: Presented 5 posters and 2 oral presentations at 7 international conferences). So, it helps to have a couple people review and provide such feedback. 

Attendee Question: Are take-home technical exams typically required for these roles? I’ve seen this less for scientist roles but perhaps more for developer roles. 

Dr. Mirceta: I had to do a writing assignment for the second interview of a medical writing job, but that was it. It depends on the field you’re applying to and, of course, the company.

Attendee Question: Given the current emphasis on remote work, how much does geographic location affect where one would apply for open positions? Are there “very active” areas geographically for comp bio/bioinformatics?

Dr. Mirceta: I can’t speak from a comp bio/bioinformatics perspective, but I would try to sign up for job searches in the areas that the company you are interested in is located (or sign up for job updates directly on their website). Sometimes the job listing does say that remote work is an option. My position as a clinical research scientist is fully remote, but I wouldn’t have really known this without networking and learning that they were open to hiring remote. So, it really does help to learn from others about the company culture through informational interviews.

Attendee Question: What proportion of your time is spent in Lab direction, Research, Teaching, and Service?

Dr. McIntyre: I currently spend approximately 25% in research, 2% teaching, 10% service, and the remaining 68% in clinical work and lab direction combined. It does vary somewhat with periods where I spend a bit more on research or a bit more on teaching. This split is different for each clinical laboratory geneticist—I have colleagues that do 80% research and 20% clinical work and others who focus more on teaching. This division of your time is something you can negotiate.

Attendee Question: How to become competitive when applying to the clinical lab genetics? Some labs require sponsorship. What references do they look for?

Dr. McIntyre: For fellowships, you can become more competitive by auditing or taking courses in clinical genetics/cytogenetics/clinical molecular genetics, attending local case conferences at your institution (physicians who see Genetics patients, genetic counselors, and lab directors discuss clinical cases), shadowing in a clinical lab, attending ASHG and ACMG conferences. Some fellows that I know did a 1-2 year research post-doc in a clinical lab prior to applying for fellowship. For references, I would recommend asking colleagues who know you well and can attest to your scientific capabilities, work ethic, and professionalism. It is completely acceptable if your references are researchers (and not clinical laboratorians).

Attendee Question: For clinical roles, since this involves work with patient data, does this imply that this requires being on-call or working beyond normal business hours? I’d be curious about work-life balance in this space.

Dr. McIntyre: It depends on the lab you work in. I sign out clinical cases in 2 different academic labs but am only on-call for one of those labs for one weekend per month (no after hours). Some labs I interviewed with had more on-call responsibilities, while others had no call. For me, the work-life balance is much better than when I was doing solely research. It is certainly challenging work, but I do keep fairly normal hours.

Attendee Question: Can we take up this fellowship after our master’s? Or do we need a PhD?

Dr. McIntyre: To sign out patient cases as a clinical lab geneticist, you will need a PhD or MD and a clinical fellowship. However, you can become a clinical lab technologist with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Clinical lab techs do wet-bench and analysis work in a clinical lab. There are a lot of job opportunities in this area.  

Attendee Question: Are there any additional tips for using some online courses such as Coursera or edX?

Dr. Mirceta: If you’ve taken any courses that are relevant for the job you’re applying to, highlight it in your resume and cover letter. If they’re not relevant to the job, I would still maybe briefly summarize how many courses you’ve taken (or in what fields).  I do think it shows great initiative and personal growth to be eager to learn new things. Be prepared to show your knowledge during the interview if they ask you questions related to the field, but also don’t feel like you have to be an expert after a few introductory courses.

Attendee Question: Can you provide any guidance for genetic counselors exploring how to get a PhD?

Dr. McIntyre:  Some genetic counselors do a PhD in genetic counseling, genetics, or even in public health. It might be helpful to try to do some informational interviews with genetic counselors who have PhDs to find out what their experiences were like. Professional society conferences or LinkedIn are good places to find these potential contacts.

This ASHG digital program was made possible through an education grant from the Illumina Corporate Foundation. This support allows ASHG to offer a wider variety of programs to our membership. For more information, read more about this new grant in the ASHG press release. Also, be sure to check out ASHG’s Virtual Career Fair on February 17 for more information on your career search. You can register here!

ASHG uses cookies to provide you with a secure and custom web experience. Privacy Policy