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I Wrote a Personal Statement

Last Friday, I submitted an application for the Genetic Counseling Fellowship in ReSearch Training (GC-FIRST) Program. This two-year fellowship opportunity is designed to provide four genetic counselors the advanced training needed to become genetic counseling research leaders. This program is also intended to prime fellows to gain the skills to become crucial mentors for future genetic counseling researchers.


The application required a personal statement. While I read and provide feedback on personal statements my followers send to me most weeks, I have not needed to write my own for years. The exercise was not fun, but I got it done and my application is submitted. I do not identify as an amazing writer, but I am happy with the final product because it:

1) Directly addresses the prompt.

2) Gives the readers a clear understanding of my background, expertise, and desire for the fellowship.

3) Organized writing sample.


There are so few personal statements examples for GC grad school available online, that I decided to publish mine here as an example for GC hopefuls. The prompt provided for the fellowship is quite similar to what you might see provided by a GC graduate program. I would love to hear your feedback on my personal statement. Do you think I answered the questions in the prompt? Is it capitvating or boring? How could I improve my statement?


Lastly, thanks to mom, Lauren, and Annette, who reviewed my statement and provided me with feedback to strengthen my essay.


PROMPT:

Your Personal Statement should answer the following prompts in 1-2 pages:

  1. Well designed research is vitally important to advancing the practice of genetic counseling, but communication of research to a variety of audiences is what determines the long-term impact. Please describe your strengths and growth areas when it comes to communication in general and specifically in relation to research.

  2. A central feature of successful research is the ability to work collaboratively. Describe a time you worked on a collaborative project and the ways you managed that collaboration to lead to a successful product. How do you think this will apply to research endeavors?

  3. Just as important as collaboration is the ability to balance priorities and monitor progress toward multiple goals. How have you balanced competing priorities in your current work and how do you anticipate this playing out during the fellowship?

  4. How do you see this fellowship fitting into your current and/or anticipated career plan? What career trajectory would you like to have once you’ve completed the fellowship? Please comment specifically on your previous leadership experiences and how that relates to the goals of the fellowship.



GC-FIRST Application Personal Statement


I held my breath as I pulled down my pants in a tiled bathroom stall of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Brown blood. I folded a pad of toilet paper into my underwear, asking how this could be happening again. Surely I was not the first fertility healthcare provider to experience a miscarriage while attending the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Scientific Congress. But I felt so alone.


Five back-to-back miscarriages over the course of three years crushed my soul. I joined recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) online support groups to ease the feeling of isolation. In these groups I was saddened, but unsurprised to read hundreds of posts from individuals confused about their karyotypes, products of conception, carrier screening, and their options for treatment and the level of evidence backing each treatment option. In attempt to make meaning of my experience and to share my expertise as a genetic counselor, which was previously limited to scientific journals and conventions, I started two YouTube channels, Katie Lee CGC Talks Genetic Counseling and Katie Lee CGC Talks Miscarriage and Fertility to provide accurate and free information on genetic counseling, miscarriage, and fertility.


In this age of over-information, communicating research in short form is one key to wide distribution and application. As an assisted reproductive technology (ART) genetic counselor I present research posters, communicate research-supported treatment and guidelines to patients, and participate on research committees. What differentiates me from other candidates is my ability to summarize and synthesize information and communicate effectively across multiple outlets. I have consistently demonstrated this since starting my YouTube channels two years ago. Through this outlet, I have honed my ability to present scientific information and dispel misinformation in two- to ten-minute videos that are informative yet easily consumed in our fast-paced world. Depending on the content and intended audience of my videos, I use storytelling, humor, empathy, enthusiasm, and/or professionalism to communicate new material in a memorable and entertaining way.


While I feel confident presenting familiar topics, I would like to improve my ability to communicate research methodology, critical analysis of research, and opposing literature in the ART field. For example, in a video I published this year I respectfully and judiciously explained a hot topic - the New York Times article, When They Warn of Rare Disorders, These Prenatal Tests Are Usually Wrong, but at times I feel uneasy taking on controversial subject matter. I have avoided some of the most debated topics in my purview, such as new literature addressing the overstated benefits of Preimplantation Genetic Testing for Aneuploidy (PGT-A) for patients under 35 years. Completion of the GC-FIRST Program will provide the skills needed to analyze disputed literature so I can confidently communicate research outcomes and limitations of studies.


When I create videos communicating ideas or topics that are less familiar to me, I often connect and collaborate with colleagues and new acquaintances. One of my first collaborations was a video titled How to Apply to GC Grad School as an International Applicant. My network lacked experts on this subject, so I sent cold messages across multiple platforms, identified two interviewees with this experience, and later led the interview following an outline of questions I drafted. While I received thanks from many hopeful international applicants after publishing the video, I recognized that my process had room for improvement.


I learned that the experts are more knowledgeable than me on which questions to ask to reveal the sought after answers. After this realization, the way I planned my future videos changed for the better. Now I include interviewees in brainstorming, exploring what they wish to speak about, rather than adhering to my own outline. I dedicate more time seeking experts with unique backgrounds and perspectives and research each interviewee, establishing my respect for their experience, expertise, and time. I also now utilize templates to efficiently set-up interviews, share information about how the process will work, and to ask for feedback following a collaboration. These demonstrated skills of goal alignment, developing mutual respect and trust, and meeting efficiently will translate directly to research collaboration.


YouTube is a low-paid creative outlet and passion project that I prioritize alongside my paying job and personal life. To balance these priorities, I set achievable daily and weekly goals across different areas of my life to help make consistent progress on large projects. I have learned that I optimistically underestimate the amount of time needed for certain tasks, so I now build in a cushion for my optimistic projections to avoid setbacks on deadlines. I currently work remotely 15 hours per week for Seattle Sperm Bank. If selected for this program, I plan to promote my toddler to full time daycare and temporarily decrease my content creation to budget time for coursework and projects. Upon completion of the GC-FIRST Program, I am excited to expand my YouTube content to include genetic counseling research-related topics and analysis of new ART and RPL research.


I hope to utilize skills from the GC-FIRST Program in two main areas: academic research and advocacy through content creation. Specifically, for academic research, I would like to investigate the role of genetic counselors in fertility clinics and gamete banks as well as genetic counseling outcomes in the ART setting. As the lead genetic counselor at Seattle Sperm Bank, I designed the genetic counseling service delivery model and set all GC-related protocols but have not yet had the opportunity to research how to most effectively perform these roles in a way that is both achievable for my team and most beneficial to sperm donors and recipients. I hope to engage my team in research opportunities, utilize our data to publish literature, collaborate with other healthcare providers, and confidently present research at future conferences to promote awareness and catalyze positive change within this under-researched specialty, and also to improve my own team’s workflow at Seattle Sperm Bank. I believe my social media advocacy work and content creation allows for the broadest impact. I plan to use my genetic counseling YouTube channel to demonstrate my research progress in real-time, to share what I learn, and to provide virtual mentorship and inspiration to future and current genetic counselors on the topic of research. I will apply new-found critical analysis skills to discuss confounding topics and new literature related to ART and RPL on my miscarriage and fertility YouTube channel. I believe that my platform can inspire professionals and patients who, like me, may be feeling alone and ill-equipped to move forward, whether in spearheading research or navigating their pregnancy loss and fertility journey.



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