Riding the whirlwind of 2019
As we anticipate the on-campus intensive to welcome our second intake of UTS Master of Genetic Counselling students, we pause to reflect on the first year.
What accomplishments have you been most proud of in the first year of the UTS genetic counselling program?
Alison: There have been so many ‘firsts’ during 2019. Much of our program is delivered online so logging in to the Zoom classroom for the first class to find the students chatting and introducing their pets, and the enormous relief I experienced in that moment is a standout. We’ve gone on to use the Zoom classroom in a range of ways, offering weekly opportunities for students apply their learning. It was a privilege to present our experiences educating the new generation of genetic counsellors at the World Congress on Genetic Counselling.
Chris: Before we started, we really weren’t sure how it would be to deliver a genetic counselling program via online learning. Would the students be able to interact with each other and with us? Would we really be able to teach counselling skills without regularly being in a face to face classroom environment? How could we provide reflective practice supervision via Zoom? We could and we did. Turning the vision into reality has been a huge accomplishment and one that I am very proud of.
What have been the biggest challenges so far, and what you have learnt from them?
Alison: We are lucky to have the opportunity to develop the academic Discipline of Genetic Counselling at UTS, encompassing teaching and learning, research, and a PhD program. While exciting, it has at times been challenging to find academic genetic counsellors and allies to deliver this program of work. I’ve learnt to be creative, finding ways to involve genetic counsellors from across Australia in the program, so that our students learn from a diverse and experienced team.
Chris: Finding and overseeing 24 different research projects, alongside teaching and doing my own research has probably been my biggest challenge. At the beginning it was just Alison and me, but as the team has grown, that pressure is easing. We are now a diverse and highly experienced team, spread across Australia. In addition, we have lots of ‘friends’ of the program who have supported and encouraged what we are doing. I have learnt many things, not least that resilience comes in lots of guises and that teachers do not get long holidays!
What excites you most about the future of the program?
Chris: It is incredibly exciting and an enormous privilege to be educating the next generation of genetic counsellors. The rapid pace of change in the field of genetics and genomics raises enormous challenges and opportunities for clients, families, health professionals and society – what a time to be starting a career in genetic counselling. None of us knows what the future holds for our profession, but undoubtedly the UTS program will help to grow and shape the role of genetic counsellors in Australasia.
The best moments in my week are those times when I can be truly present with the students as they become the next generation of genetic counsellors.
Head of Discipline (Genetic Counselling)
Alison: As we start the second year, I’m excited about the potential for collaboration. The first and second year student groups are connecting, doubling the size of our UTS Genetic Counselling community, we’re hosting a student journal club with students from Boise State planning online events with University of Melbourne genetic counselling students. Our comfort with the online environment opens up many opportunities for collaboration and connection.
What have the genetic counselling students taught you, as their teachers?
Chris: As adult learners, the students bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience in many walks of life. Learning with them as well as from them is one of the great joys of teaching. I admire the students’ bravery and willingness to step out of their comfort zone and embrace new challenges, giving their best and learning from the experience.
Alison: Our inaugural students remind me daily of the human capacity for courage and resilience, and of the importance of community and connection. The best moments in my week are those times when I can be truly present with the students as they become the next generation of genetic counsellors. Their courage as they try new things (role plays, simulation, research, placements and more), their resilience in managing full time study in the context of their own full lives, and their openness to growing a community with us and with their peers is inspiring and humbling.
In closing, I return to the language of my homeland, Aotearoa, New Zealand, for the daily reminder that in this journey together we are all both learners and teachers:
He waka eke noa
A canoe which we are all in with no exception