A passion for an evolving profession
When all the stars aligned, Ebony Richardson knew it was time to pursue her PhD at the Graduate School of Health.
A passing comment in Ebony Richardson’s first-year genetics lecture set off a series of events that have today evolved into a passion for all things Genetic Counselling.
Ebony has completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at the University of Newcastle (with Honours in Genetics through the University of Sydney) and a Master of Genetic Counselling at the University of Sydney.
Today, Ebony joins the Graduate School of Health (GSH) as one of the Discipline’s new PhD candidates where she hopes to contribute to an evidence-based implementation of preconception carrier screening in the Australian population.
Learn more about Ebony’s journey in our Q+A below:
How did you get into genetic counselling and postgraduate research?
The first time I heard about the profession was in a throwaway comment made by a lecturer in a first-year genetics lecture. I was instantly intrigued and started researching what this was and how to become qualified as a genetic counsellor.
I worked towards my goal of getting into the Master’s program all throughout my undergraduate degree and elected an honours in genetics to boost my chances of being accepted to the competitive program.
My honours project was my first taste of the research field; while making transgenic zebrafish that glowed in the dark is a far sight away from the work I do now, it instilled a love of the research process in me that I haven’t been able to shake since.
I continued to participate in research during my Master’s degree as this is an important requirement of the program itself and was lucky to work with a very passionate genetic counsellor who was pioneering the role of genetic counsellors in the research space.
Once I graduated and began working – first in the prenatal setting, and most recently in a clinical whole genome sequencing pathology setting – I continued to view much of my work through a research lens. When all the stars aligned, I decided it was time to pursue my goal of completing a PhD!
Why are you passionate about genetic counselling?
Genetic counsellors are an extremely crucial part of the health care system and have an ever-diversifying number of roles that make it an exciting time to be part of this profession. I have had an interesting career path to date; working in the private prenatal sector as a new graduate, in a clinical laboratory and pathology service, and most recently undertaking a PhD to understand what it means to be a researcher.
More and more genetic counsellors are moving into these areas and I am passionate about the expansion of our profession and re-defining what it means to be a genetic counsellor. I feel that research is one way that I can contribute to this evolving profession.
Genetic counsellors are an extremely crucial part of the health care system and have an ever-diversifying number of roles that make it an exciting time to be part of this profession.
PhD Candidate, Genetic Counselling
What is your research area about and what do you hope to achieve?
My research area is genetic carrier screening in the preconception and prenatal settings.
I hope to contribute to the establishment of a strong evidence-base for how we can assist patients to make informed decisions about whether they want to access genetic carrier screening for reproductive planning.
This is a very pertinent topic as the Australian government has recently launched a pilot project called ‘Mackenzie’s Mission’ that aims to make this type of testing available across Australia. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) has also recently announced recommendations that this testing be discussed with all couples planning a pregnancy or in their first trimester.
Depending on the outcome of Mackenzie’s Mission, this could become a Medicare subsidised test in the near future. I hope to contribute to an informed, safe, and ethical implementation of this testing that is accessible and inclusive for all members of our diverse Australian population.
Why did you join the Graduate School of Health?
A Masters-level training program is required to attain qualification as a genetic counsellor and GSH has recently welcomed its first cohort of students. Dr Alison McEwen and Dr Chris Jacobs are the course co-ordinators, and also two of my PhD supervisors. They are my main reason for choosing UTS and I feel very grateful to have their support as I take this step forward in my research career.
What have you been doing prior to joining the Graduate School of Health?
Prior to joining GSH, I have been working as a genetic counsellor and variant curation scientist at Genome.One, which is a clinically accredited whole genome-sequencing laboratory.
My previous role was in the private prenatal sector and it was in this position that I first developed an interest in genetic carrier screening and experienced first-hand the complex decision-making that is involved when electing testing that may change your reproductive choices.
My combined experiences in the prenatal and laboratory settings have made me passionate about carrier screening and I strongly believe that this is testing that we should make available through local Australian laboratories, and in a way that will be accessible to all Australians.
What advice would you have for other HDR students?
I’m still very new to my PhD, but the best advice I have to give at the moment is to engage with your supervisors and absorb their knowledge about what it means to be a researcher. Understanding what your research motivations are and what type of researcher you want to be will form the strong foundation that is needed to undertake the challenge of a PhD.
Learn more about Genetic Counselling at the Graduate School of Health.