Shelby Phillips, a sophomore biology major and UMass iCons student in the biomedicine track, is determined to use her science knowledge to improve the lives of others. Phillips is also pursuing a certificate with the UMass Developmental Disabilities and Human Services program, with the ultimate goal of becoming a genetic counselor.
Genetic counseling focuses on patient outreach, providing them with information about their risks of getting certain genetic diseases or cancer. Additionally, parents may bring their children to a genetic counselor to receive a diagnosis for their condition that previous physicians and specialists could not provide. These counselors work with patients of ranging conditions as well.
“When you think genetic diseases you think Down Syndrome, Autism, Parkinson’s Disease, stuff like that, but it’s not even just that. They have specialists for heart diseases, which I was really shocked about!” Phillips said.
But overall, the profession focuses on educating families on what a certain condition entails, and the strategies these families can use to cope with the new diagnosis.
Phillips said, “it’s a lot about helping people cope with finding out about this, and also just helping them find answers. This interest in helping families through genetic counseling stems from circumstances close to home.
During Phillips’ junior year of high school, her younger brother was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. “They evaluated him for about a week and said he had Autism, but my mom never got the resources to help her cope with it and help her understand,” Phillips recalls, “I don’t think they really told her what Autism was and what it meant. And that’s when I kind of took to the internet.” From here, she researched different aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorder, including the genetics behind the condition.
As she continued to learn more about Autism, Phillips turned towards careers that involved working with people with ASD and other genetic conditions. Genetic counseling gave her the ability to combine her interest in science with her goal to help those with disabilities. “I like science! I like learning about the genetics of things, and that’s why I’m a biology major. It’s good to know the scientific aspect of it, and then I also want to be able to break it down for people and provide the support,” Phillips said.
Phillips also explains the field is very interdisciplinary, giving her options for specific paths she may want to go, including starting up her own company or hospital work. And although Phillips is not certain on the path she will take in the future, she hopes to bring passion for science and family outreach to this growing field.