A graduate program in Genetic Counseling

Last updated: July 19, 2013 at 1:38 p.m.


Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling
The Masters Degree Program in Genetic Counseling is a two-year course of study integrating course work with clinical experience in an environment that encourages close student/faculty interaction. The program places a strong emphasis on human molecular genetics, while providing in-depth coursework in counseling theory and technique as well as extensive clinical training.

Graduates of the program are expected to have: a clear understanding of human and medical genetics, molecular biotechnology, gene mapping and sequencing; developmental biology; a familiarity with many genetic diseases and birth defects and the various techniques used to detect and/or treat them; a familiarity with a variety of counseling theories and techniques that work in short-term counseling settings; an understanding of how genetic counselors function in a variety of work settings and their roles and responsibilities within a medical team; the ability to present relevant genetic information to individuals and families from diverse cultural backgrounds in an informed, compassionate manner and to help families obtain the medical and social services they may need; a sensitivity to the needs and options of children and adults (including parents and potential parents) with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and other genetic disorders; an awareness of the legal, ethical, and public policy issues raised as a result of new DNA and reproductive technologies; an understanding of research methodology, experience in the design and execution of research projects involving human subjects and in the preparation of completed projects for professional publication and presentation; and a familiarity with the relevant scientific literature and computer-based tools and websites.

Ordinarily, the program is completed in two academic years and the intervening summer. The program is accredited by the American Board of Genetic Counseling and prepares graduates for the certification examination in genetic counseling and employment as genetic counselors.

How to Be Admitted to the Graduate Program

In addition to a bachelor's degree, applicants should have completed the following courses: one year of general chemistry; one year of biology with lab; one semester of genetics (course should include both Mendelian and molecular); and one semester each of organic chemistry, biochemistry, psychology and statistics.

Applicants lacking one or more of these courses are invited to consult the program's director on how to fulfill these requirements. Volunteer or work experience in an area related to counseling, developmental disabilities or genetics is also recommended.

All applicants must submit a personal statement, results of the General Test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and forward official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work. In addition, they must submit three letters of recommendation. The GRE Codes for this program are Institution 3092, Department Program 0210.

Faculty Advisory Committee

Judith Tsipis, Chair and Graduate Advising Head
(Biology and Genetic Counseling)

Joseph Cunningham

James Haber

Judith Jackson
(Genetic Counseling)

Kate Kramer

David Rintell
(Genetic Counseling)

Beth Rosen Sheidley
(Genetic Counseling)

Gretchen Schneider
(Genetic Counseling)

Joan Stoler
(Genetic Counseling)

Lawrence Wangh

Rachel Woodruff

Affiliated Faculty (contributing to the curriculum, advising and administration of the department or program)
Alice Noble (Genetic Counseling and Heller School)
Barbara Lerner (Genetic Counseling)

Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science

Program of Study
The academic component of the curriculum consists of the following: graduate-level courses in molecular biotechnology, human genetics, medical genetics, human reproductive biology, counseling skills, research methodology, biomedical law and ethics, and a graduate-level course in health policy. These courses are designed to provide students with a solid scientific background, knowledge of counseling techniques and an awareness of the social, legal and ethical issues in human genetics today.

Student participation in a proseminar and journal club is required as well. These courses familiarize students with the relevant scientific literature while they learn to present papers in a professional and polished manner.

A series of seminars in genetic counseling and a master’s thesis complete the academic component of the curriculum. The seminars, in which students present and discuss cases, are intended to explore various counseling strategies and many of the legal, ethical and public policy issues confronting genetic health practitioners.

Fieldwork and clinical internships are an important, integral part of the program. First-year students carry out rotations in genetics clinics, in clinical genetics laboratories, and with genetic research teams at some of the major medical centers in the Boston area. Students also participate in community-based education and health care programs and meet periodically with a family raising a child with a genetic disorder or other disability. These placement experiences deepen the students' understanding of disability issues, illustrate how the genetic counselor fits into the health care continuum, demonstrate the various roles genetic counselors can have, and expose the students to professional opportunities for genetic counselors.

Starting in the summer following the first year and continuing through the second year, students participate in three intensive clinical internships: one in a prenatal genetics clinic, one in a pediatric genetics clinic, and one in a cancer genetics clinic (>500 to 600 hours). Satisfactory completion of the three clinical internships is required for graduation from the program. Working directly with patients and their families under the supervision of genetic counselors and clinical geneticists, students become familiar with the practice of genetic counseling and develop their research, counseling and communication skills. Attendance at two professional meetings is also required in the second year. Funds are available to defray costs.

The Brandeis GC program is fully accredited by the ABGC and students graduating from the program will have completed the coursework, research and logbook of cases required by the Accreditation Committee of the American Board of Genetic Counseling and are eligible to sit for the certification exam.

Residence Requirement
The residence requirement for this program is two years of full-time study.

Language Requirement
There is no foreign language requirement for the master's degree.

Master's Thesis
For the Master’s research project, students may work with a genetic counselor to design and evaluate an innovative educational tool or counseling strategy relevant to their clinical work or they may pursue either a laboratory-based project or a qualitative or quantitative study in the field. The Master’s thesis must be deposited electronically on the Robert D. Farber University Archives at Brandeis.

Courses of Instruction

Core Courses

BIOL 101a Molecular Biotechnology
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Prerequisite: BIOL 14a or BIOL 22a.
A study of the molecular basis of DNA replication, transcription, and molecular biology techniques such as PCR, DNA sequencing, genomics, cloning, microarrays, and siRNA, and their relation to human disease research applications. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Woodruff

BIOL 128a Human Genetics
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Prerequisites: BIOL 14a or BIOL 22a and BIOL 15b or BIOL 22b.
Survey of topics, including: mutation and polymorphism; molecular methodology; single-gene inheritance and complexities thereof; multifactorial conditions, risk assessment, and Bayesian analysis; cytogenetics; hemoglobinopathies; population genetics; gene mapping; cancer genetics; ethical considerations in genetics; immunogenetics; pharmacogenetics; genetics of development; biochemistry of selected genetic diseases; gene therapy, genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics. Usually offered every year.

BIOL 160b Human Reproductive and Developmental Biology
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Prerequisites: BIOL 14a or BIOL 22a and BIOL 15b or BIOL 22b.
Course deals with hormonal, cellular, and molecular aspects of gametogenesis, fertilization, pregnancy, and birth. Pathological and abnormal variations that occur and the available medical technologies for intervention, correction, and facilitation of these processes are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Jackson

BIOL 202d Introduction to Genetic Counseling
A two-semester sequence that provides the historical and theoretical foundations for the practice of genetic counseling and the role of genetic services within the health care delivery system. Introduces students to some of the practical aspects of genetic counseling, including case preparation, pedigree construction/interpretation, risk assessment, psychological assessment and support, patient education and medical documentation. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 203a Proseminar: The Molecular Basis of Genetic Diseases
Covers the molecular basis of muscular dystrophy, fragile X syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Huntington's disease, and several inherited cancer syndromes. A historical perspective is used for each topic; molecular diagnostics and genetic counseling issues are addressed as well. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Tsipis

BIOL 204b Clinical Genetics I
Introduces the major practice areas of clinical genetics: prenatal, pediatrics, biochemical and cancer genetics for first year students. The course is broken into fours blocks, each devoted to one of these areas. The blocks include didactic lectures from experts in the field as well as case discussions led by practicing genetic counselors meant to allow students to put what they have learned into practice. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider and Ms. Stoler

BIOL 205b Counseling Theory and Technique
A comprehensive overview of counseling theory and practice. Topics include listening, observation, and interview skills and strategies; family dynamics and development; coping and adaptation processes; referral and consultation procedures; and ethical principles. Students are provided an opportunity to integrate clinical experiences with the coverage of topics. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Rintell

BIOL 206d Genetic Counseling Journal Club
Informal biweekly meeting of students and faculty at which recent papers are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Tsipis

BIOL 207a Genetic Counseling: Case Conferences and Family Counseling
Examines case studies providing the basis for discussion of a variety of genetic disorders and the application of counseling modalities. Students have an opportunity to share experiences gained during clinical internships. Discussions emphasize the interplay of medical, psychological, ethical, legal, social, and cultural factors in genetic counseling. Co-taught by a clinical psychologist and a certified genetic counselor. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Rintell and Ms. Rosenfield

BIOL 211a Genetic Counseling Fieldwork Placement: Part I
Students work one day per week in a community-based health service organization, school, clinic, or public health agency to develop awareness of disability-related issues and the variety of community-based services for individuals with special needs. Students also observe in a genetics clinic twenty to thirty hours over the course of the semester to gain exposure to concepts learned in BIOL 202d (Introduction to Genetic Counseling). Periodic course discussions supplement the fieldwork experience. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Rosen Sheidley

BIOL 211b Genetic Counseling Fieldwork Placement: Part II
To begin preparing for clinical genetics internships, students participate in a variety of experiences that serve to foster and integrate the concepts introduced in courses and presentations. Students are exposed to procedures in clinical labs through lectures, site visits, and/or lab work. In addition, students continue observations in a genetics clinic and meet several times with a family with a child with a disability. Periodic course discussions supplement the fieldwork experience.
Ms. Rosen Sheidley

BIOL 212a Genetic Counseling Internship I
Students complete a 30 contact day clinical genetic internship under the supervision of a genetic counselor or other qualified clinician. Students increase their knowledge of clinical genetics and master genetic counseling skills by offering genetic counseling services in a prenatal, pediatric, cancer, general, adult ,or specialty clinic setting. Usually offered every summer.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 212b Genetic Counseling Internship II
Students complete a 25 contact day clinical genetic internship under the supervision of a genetic counselor or other qualified clinician. Students increase their knowledge of clinical genetics and master genetic counseling skills by offering genetic counseling services in a prenatal, pediatric, cancer, general, adult, or specialty clinic setting. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 213a Genetic Counseling Research I
In the summer semester students chose a research project, do a review of the literature and summarize key findings, and write a research proposal for a thesis project (to be done in the following fall/spring semesters). Usually offered in the summer.
Ms. Rosen Sheidley

BIOL 213b Genetic Counseling Research II
Prerequisite: BIOL 213a.
Students are introduced to the principles and basic techniques of social science research in a series of seminars while they implement their thesis research projects. Usually offered fall and spring.
Ms. Rosen Sheidley

BIOL 214c Genetic Counseling Process Group
In this small group setting, students can share and learn from their collective experiences in their field placements, courses, and individual lives and have the opportunity to process and integrate the experience of becoming a genetic counselor. Usually offered every semester.
Mr. Cunningham

BIOL 215b Readings in Molecular Biology
A combination of readings and clinical laboratory work to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the molecular biology of several human genetic diseases and the techniques used for their diagnosis. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Tsipis

BIOL 216b Internship Seminar Series
This is a noncredit seminar required for all genetic counseling students.
Students meet once a week for a series of lectures, presentations and mock sessions that explore issues related to advanced practice in genetic counseling. Topics include advanced genetic counseling case management, Baysian analysis, and the use of the NSGC code of ethics. Usually offered every year.

BIOL 220a Clinical Genetics II
Prerequisite: BIOL 204b or permission of the instructor.
Continuation of BIOL 204b with emphasis on the genetic and developmental disorders of most major organ systems. The course includes discussion of neurogenetics, neuromuscular, hematological, cardiovascular, connective tissue, skeletal dysplasias and craniosynostoses, vision and hearing disorders as well as coverage of renal, immunological and GI and pulmonary disorders. Each week covers a different system in both a didactic lecture and a case discussion. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider and Ms. Stoler

BIOL 236b Genetics, Law, and Social Policy
Explores legal doctrines, developing skills in analyzing legal and policy issues arising in professional practice and preparing students to actively participate in the development of institutional and public policies. Topics covered include confidentiality, patient autonomy, regulation of genetic, reproductive rights, and genetic discrimination. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. Noble