How I Work: Marsha Michie

Posted by: Anna Miller, PhD student, Case Western Reserve University

We sat down with ASHG member Marsha Michie, PhD, Assistant Professor of Bioethics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, to learn more about her research on the ethics of biomedical research and practice.

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Marsha Michie, PhD, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (courtesy Dr. Michie)

ASHG: Tell us about your position and how it fits into your institution and its goals. 

Dr. Michie: I am a social scientist and empirical bioethicist, meaning that I conduct research on topics related to the ethics of biomedical research and practice. My main areas of interest are the translation of genetic/genomic and related technologies from research into clinical care, and the impact of genetic information on patients and families, particularly in the perinatal period. I also teach and mentor students and trainees in topics related to bioethics.

ASHG: How do you keep up with the latest in genetics science and use this in your work?

Dr. Michie: I subscribe to quite a few news sources and blogs in genetics, including GenomeWeb and news from ASHG and ACMG. Because so much of my research is about how new genetic technologies are developed and used, I keep in touch and collaborate with genetic scientists, clinicians, and genetic counselors to make sure I am up to date and have a clear understanding of the newest developments in the field.

ASHG: What are your favorite genetics websites and Twitter feeds?

Dr. Michie: GenomeWeb, TheDNAExchange.com, StatNews, @hail_CSER, @GA4GH, @eshgsociety, @GeneticCouns, @GenethicsForum, @GeneticsSociety, @TheACMG

ASHG: What are you currently reading/thinking about?

Dr. Michie: I was just funded by NHGRI to study how parents prepare for a child with a genetic condition after they receive prenatal test results. I’m also working a lot on ethical issues around CRISPR, especially ways to incorporate the views of patient communities into ethical guidelines, and am spending a fair amount of time looking into infant and maternal mortality.

ASHG: What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your superpower?

Dr. Michie: I’m pretty good at calming other people (students, colleagues) down when they are nervous or anxious, and helping them see the big picture. If only I could apply that superpower to myself!

Marsha Michie, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Bioethics at the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine, and has been an ASHG member since 2013. Find her on Twitter at @marshamichie!

Anna Miller is a PhD student in Genetics and Genome Sciences at CWRU, and has been an ASHG member since 2019. 

Be Well to Do Well

Posted By: Ann Klinck, Communications and Marketing Assistant, ASHG

Earlier this month, ASHG hosted a webinar titled Resilience and Wellness, which focused on strategies to maintain your mental wellness in the scientific workplace and improve your resilience to the challenges and setbacks we all face.

Sharon Milgram, PhD, Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reminded webinar listeners that to function at the highest capability, you must take your own well-being into consideration.

Developing Resilience

“Those who are resilient prepare to be resilient,” said Dr. Milgram. Developed through education, self-reflection, and practice, resilience can help a person navigate through adversity constructively. Here’s how:

  • People: Find people you can trust, who will give you energy when you feel stuck, and go to them to find compassion, a listening ear, or just companionship.
  • Process: Figure out what wellness practice or resources you can focus on that will help you in that moment.
  • Prepare: You cannot try to discover these things in a moment of crisis; you have to set yourself up for success.

Dr. Milgram also provided this helpful tool to identify characteristics of a resilient person.

Handling Our Inner Critic

To improve the way you view difficult situations or setbacks, analyze your self-talk. Are the stories you tell yourself harsher than they need to be? Consider whether you would say the things you tell yourself to a friend. Are you seeing the broader picture?

Destroying Cognitive Distortions

Dr. Milgram described cognitive distortions or automatic negative thoughts as “Characteristic ways that our mind convinces us of something that is really not true to reinforce negative thinking or emotions.” Some examples are:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: Your performance is either perfect or a complete failure.
  • Catastrophizing: You exaggerate the implications of a setback or mistake.
  • Mind reading: You make assumptions about what someone else is thinking.

Here’s how to tame them:

  • Journal to identify your most common negative thoughts.
  • Talk to mentors and peers.
  • Use your science voice to question them: Where is the evidence that this is the worst thing to ever happen in my life?
  • Be open to counseling when it’s unmanageable.

Never Feel Like an Imposter

Imposter fear is a type of cognitive distortion, qualified as “The feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Dr. Milgram pointed out that “If you are working towards a PhD in the sciences, if you are a postdoc, if you have been working as an undergraduate in a high-knowledge research environment, there is much evidence of high achievement already, though we often find ourselves feeling like fakes and phonies.”

Imposter fears include attributing success to luck or discounting your successes. You’re not alone! 70+% of individuals experience imposter fears at some point in their educational and work journey. Fight that feeling by practicing accepting praise and reminding yourself that impostor fears happen to everyone.

To Do Well, We Have to Be Well

Dr. Milgram provided a model of holistic self-care outlining four quadrants of wellness.

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In her shared slide deck, you can find a wellness assessment for each quadrant. While everyone defines these quadrants differently, each needs to be fulfilled to feel well. Dr. Milgram reminded us we can’t fix everything at once, and to take time to work on one area instead of trying to change too many habits too quickly.

Watch the full webinar, or check out our Twitter account to see live engagement from listeners!

Genetic Counseling Researchers Shape the Future of Precision Medicine 

Guest Post By: Heather A. Zierhut, PhD, MS, CGC; and Adam H. Buchanan, MS, MPH, LGC 

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Genetic counselors’ advanced training in – you guessed it – genetics and counseling, plays a key role in healthcare. Genetic counselors can guide and support people seeking more information about how inherited diseases and conditions might affect them or their families, and help interpret test results. While many genetic counselors work directly with patients, others focus on research to help in the development of new or improved treatment or care for people with genetic conditions. In honor of Genetic Counselor Awareness Day on Nov. 8, National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) members Heather A. Zierhut, PhD, MS, CGC, and Adam H. Buchanan, MS, MPH, LGC, share how their research is shaping the future of genetic counseling and precision medicine.

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Heather A. Zierhut, PhD, MS, CGC

NSGC: What inspired you to be a genetic counselor?  

Heather: I think there are two main categories of people who become genetic counselors: those who have a long exploration into the profession or those who have a light bulb moment. My entrance into genetic counseling was like a laser light show. My undergraduate genetics professor briefly mentioned the career. Like any good researcher, I went to my tiny matchbook size dorm room and looked up everything I could possibly find on the topic. Fireworks were going off in my mind. Genetic counseling was love at first literature search.

 

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Adam H. Buchanan, MS, MPH, LGC

Adam: I’m one of those long exploration types. In college I cycled through several possible career choices. My career research was a great source of stories about the (sometimes gross) lives of a veterinary technician or hospital employee who cleans up after surgeries. But, nothing grabbed me until I worked with a genetic counselor while doing my thesis in a master’s of public health program. I loved the way genetic counseling combined the communication skills I was learning as a public health educator with the connections you make while interacting with patients.

NSGC: How did you first get involved in genetic counseling research?  

Heather: Like many aspiring Principal Investigators, my gateway to research was undergraduate summer programs. I loved the idea of being able to set up experiments, ask questions, and get answers all in a three-month time span. But after experimenting in yeast and fruit fly labs, I found myself wanting to research something different. I switched gears to my ultimate organism of interest, humans. It all started with two genetics icons, Janet and Marc Williams, giving me a small research project looking at outcomes of early hearing screening tests. Even after making the decision to pursue genetic counseling, I never lost my desire for research. I searched for a training program where I could find mentors to support my interest in clinical care and research. The desire for research mentors was first and foremost in my decision to go to the University of Minnesota.

Adam: When my kids were little and their favorite question was “why?”, I knew they came by it honestly – it’s always been one of my favorite questions, too. As a genetic counselor I sought out ways to answer the whys that arose in my clinical work. Like Heather, I was fortunate to have colleagues willing to indulge those questions and a mentor who looked for opportunities to involve me in all phases of research during my research apprenticeship – including writing and reviewing manuscripts and learning the ins and outs of grant proposal preparation. So, when I was driving home from a rural cancer genetics clinic one day and had a light bulb moment about how to more efficiently improve access to care, I had the tools to turn that spark into a viable research project.

NSGC: What do you enjoy about genetic counseling research?  

Heather: You either love and appreciate the ups and downs of research or you gut out the experimentation period in hope and anticipation of the day you get those final results. As much as I wish I could say that I love to stop and smell the research roses, I do not. I am a destination data person. Getting results is my favorite part of research. It’s like the best holidays all wrapped into one called Data Day. Knowing this about myself, I chose to pursue a doctoral degree in genetics and epidemiology with research projects that give me data sooner rather than later.

Adam: I’m totally with Heather on her love of Data Day. I also love thinking about the research process as crafting a story. If everything falls into place, you develop this beautiful narrative that arcs from why your research topic is important to patients all the way to how the study you’ve proposed will generate data that will help those patients. It’s a challenging process that takes a lot of tinkering and being able to communicate the big picture while having your details in order. That’s why it’s such great fun when it works.

NSGC: What advice do you have for aspiring genetic counseling researchers? 

Heather: I shifted research directions completely after completing my PhD. The shift was the right direction for my newly developed skill set, but I needed help getting started. I reached out to people with expertise and asked them to assist me. I applied for numerous early investigator grants and was told repeatedly that I needed more experience in the field. Not letting it slow me down too much, I started collecting pilot data to build my case. Others in the field started to take notice and I was asked to be on several national committees. These combined efforts led to funding through the Jane Engelberg Memorial Fellowship, a grant intended to promote the professional development of individual counselors and to improve the practice of genetic counseling. This took persistence and a following a slightly different path than I had envisioned. My advice is don’t be afraid to take risks and get out of your comfort zone.

Adam: All research starts with a good idea. And our clinical experience can provide a wealth of research ideas. Pay attention to the whys that linger in your mind after seeing patients. Also, researchers fail. Sometimes spectacularly – unfunded grant proposals, rejected manuscripts, and studies that go off the rails. This is a particular challenge for the over-achievers who make up the ranks of genetics professionals. But, it’s an inevitable part of doing research that moves the field forward. Keep your head up, rely on the mentors Heather mentioned – they’re out there and they really do want to help – and learn from everything. Finally, find a research focus that gets you jazzed. It’s a lot easier to be persistent when you’re excited about your work.

NSGC: What genetic counseling research are you working on now?

Heather: My current research is on the vast under-diagnosis of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) and issues that arise in communication of genetic information in FH families. There are 1 in 250 people out there with a treatable genetic cause of high cholesterol. It’s my research and my job to make sure that people with FH know the risks and have opportunities to prevent heart disease in their families. But as with anything having to do with families and communication, it’s complex. Our research team chips away at finding ways to screen families and help them become aware of their heart disease risks. We hope to give an opportunity to end the cycle of heart disease in their family.

Adam: I’m leading a group that was just funded by the NIH to study how children and their parents react to receiving genomic results for conditions that do not occur until adulthood (such as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome). There are lots of intriguing questions we’re hoping to answer in this study, particularly about the psychosocial impact of this information and how family members use it to guide their healthcare. It’s a topic that has been written about a bunch, but there’s barely any empirical data to guide whether and how to provide this information to families in practice. We’re looking forward to adding our story to the mix and helping families in the process.

Heather Zierhut is the associate director of the University of Minnesota Graduate Program of Study in Genetic Counseling and assistant professor in Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development. Current areas of research include the psychosocial and public implications involved with the provision of genetic counseling services, implementations of whole genome sequencing, and outcomes of genetic counseling. 

Adam Buchanan is an assistant professor in the Genomic Medicine Institute at Geisinger, Co-Director of the MyCode Genomic Screening and Counseling program, and a member of the American Board of Genetic Counseling. His research focuses on access to genetic counseling and assessing behavioral and psychosocial outcomes of genetic counseling. 

How I Work: Neil Lamb

Posted by: Kate Garber, Chair of the ASHG Communications Committee

In September, I interviewed Neil Lamb, PhD, Vice President for Educational Outreach at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, about his career trajectory, favorite resources, and current projects.

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Neil Lamb, PhD, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology (courtesy Dr. Lamb)

Kate: Tell us about your position and how it fits into your institution and its goals.

Neil: HudsonAlpha is a non-profit organization in Huntsville, Alabama, that focuses on using genomics to improve human health and global sustainability. My team’s mandate is to create a more genomically literate society and to foster the development of the next generation workforce in Alabama. Our efforts encompass many different activities including teacher training workshops, the development of educational kits, courses and seminars on biotechnology for the greater Huntsville community, and even the development of educational apps. I work with an incredible team that makes this all happen, and these programs reached 1.5 million people during the last school year.

As part of our efforts, we have partnered with the Alabama Department of Education, specifically at the K-12 level. We want students to understand the growing importance of genetics and genomics, to develop ways to meet the educational standards on these topics, to help teachers confidently teach these subjects, and to get students to make connections between potential careers and the facts in their textbooks. As part of this work, we identify learning gaps related to genomics and ask, “How can we step in and address them?”

Kate: What have been some of the biggest surprises to you about working with your state government? Do you have any advice about working with non-scientists in these types of situations?

Neil: The biggest and most pleasant surprise has been how engaged people are about genomics. No matter what level I’m working at, many people are beginning to recognize its importance, and they all want to know more. This curiosity is a great starting point, and it means we can easily find a talking point that interests people and use that as a springboard.

When talking with non-scientists, look for an area of common interest between what you’re doing and what interests the person you’re talking to. You might have to talk about multiple things until you see that light of recognition. When you do find an area of common ground, grab onto it and use it as a point of reference to start making connections.

It’s important to keep your conversation as free of jargon as possible, at least when you start. We are so used to the detailed language we use with our peers, it’s hard to take a step back and have a more general conversation, but it is so important to have people walk away understanding the importance of your work and the help you need, that you really must put it in terms they can grasp.

If you want to talk to someone about a very specific topic, walk them into that content by scaffolding it to something they already know and understand. It’s very difficult for somebody to internalize new knowledge if they can’t tie it to something they already know.

I believe that when you use public funding for your science, you have an obligation to explain to the public what it’s about. And this community outreach aspect was very important to the founders of HudsonAlpha, so I have the support of the larger organization in this.

Kate: How did your previous experience lead you to this job?

Neil: I look back at everything from my graduate training on, and each of those things prepared me for what I’m doing now. My graduate training and time on the faculty at Emory gave me an understanding of the field, the language, and the vocabulary I have needed. After my PhD, I spent two years working at a church doing communications work and outreach to families, which gave me the comfort and confidence to step into challenging conversations in a sensitive way and to talk about science to non-scientists. While at Emory, I directed a research-based DNA testing lab, which gave me familiarity with the tools, instrumentation, and challenges of DNA variant detection and interpretation. I also taught medical students at Emory, which confirmed my passion for teaching and emphasized to me that I’m a much stronger educator than a research scientist.

This recognition helped with the shift in my career. All of these experiences help me, as VP of Educational Outreach, talk about complicated topics that are often fraught with emotional and ethical issues to a broad range of individuals. They’ve helped me find the right analogies and language, and really translate science going on here and elsewhere into tools, applications, and experiences that engage students, teachers, clinicians, and the public. What I do today, I could not have done without the skills I learned at each of those previous jobs.

Kate: What are your favorite genetics websites and resources?

Neil: I spend a lot of time looking for recent genetic discoveries that I can share, and I use what I find as the sources for an annual guidebook on biotechnology that I craft. I’m always reviewing papers and summaries looking for materials. My go-to sources are things like The Scientist, GenomeWeb, and Genome magazine, and I spend a significant amount of time with the “This Month in Genetics” section of The American Journal of Human Genetics. (Note from Kate, who writes that section in AJHG: I absolutely did not bribe him to say that!)

For K-12 stuff that I recommend for students and educators, I’m a really big fan of learn.genetics out of Salt Lake City and Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code, which was developed with NHGRI for an exhibit and whose website has ongoing content and resources.

Kate: What are you currently reading/thinking about/working on?

Neil: We are putting an intentional emphasis on bioinformatics and computation. We are working on a project with two- and four-year schools across Alabama where students will be computationally modeling the impact of DNA variants that we are identifying in patient populations here at HudsonAlpha. We are trying to help undergraduates learn some of the concepts and tools around genomics, including bioinformatics tools and comparative genomics, so it’s going to be fun to watch how that evolves.

At the high school level, the state of Alabama has a number of projects underway to help celebrate the state’s bicentennial in 2019, and we have one project called “Bicentennial Barcoding”. We are working with high school classrooms across the state in partnership with wildlife preserves, nature centers, botanical gardens, and communities to identify native Alabama plants and then DNA barcode them.  We want students to recognize the rich diversity of plant life in the state and to think about ways to protect it, and then we want to tie genetics, biotechnology, and computation to it to give them a different angle to look at those plants.

These are just a couple of many projects they we have going on right now. They are great ways to look at how we can push what we do here at HudsonAlpha out into the community and really build excitement and enthusiasm in lots of places across the state.

Kate: What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your superpower?

Neil: My superpower is communicating complex topics in an easy to understand way. That is the essence of who I am. There are a lot of things that I am not, but being able to communicate things in a way that people say “Oh, I get that!” – I’m really good at that, and I think that’s why this job at HudsonAlpha is a great job for me. It’s all about taking the science and its applications and finding ways to tell those concepts, tell those stories, so that people say “Wow! That’s cool!” or “Wait, that’s a job I could consider?” or “Now I understand that soundbite I heard on the radio”.

Kate: I would go one further and say that one of your other superpowers is getting people excited about this stuff. It’s not just the language you use, it’s also that you do it in such a way that I can see how excited you are and that makes me excited about it too.

Neil: One of my team’s philosophies is to think about how we can create sparks that ignite somebody else’s enthusiasm or love of learning or desire to want to know more.

Neil Lamb, PhD, is Vice President for Educational Outreach at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. He has been a member of ASHG since 2000, served on its Information & Education Committee from 2003-05, and chaired the I&E Committee from 2007-09.

 

 

Work-Life Balance: Advice from a Geneticist

Posted By: Elisabeth Rosenthal, PhD, Member of the ASHG Communications Committee

Achieving work-life balance as a scientist is hard; the hours are long and can be unpredictable. Here’s some advice from Gail Jarvik, a member of ASHG’s Board of Directors, a physician and statistical geneticist at the University of Washington, and Head of the Division of Medical Genetics at UW.

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Gail Jarvik (far right) and her family celebrated her daughter’s graduation this spring. (courtesy Dr. Jarvik)

Elisabeth: You are a clinician, researcher, administrator, and your work requires a lot of traveling. You are also married with three children. How?

Gail: It can be done. It helps to be very organized. I also have a supportive spouse who introduced me to the concept of getting as much help as we could afford when our family was young. His parents were both academics and he was well-trained from watching how they made it work. I had never had a housekeeper. That was his idea—even before we had children.

Elisabeth: How old are your children now?

Gail: Our children are now 22, 20, and 14 years old. At this point, only our 14-year-old takes substantial time. However, aging parents are beginning to take more time.

Elisabeth: How did you adjust your work when you first had children?

Gail: I went into the office early in the morning. You can get a lot done before everyone else shows up. At that time, I stayed off email from 7 until 9 AM. It allowed me to focus without distraction. I would work for a couple more hours after the kids were in bed at night. It is a real advantage to be a statistical geneticist. I have always been able to work very productively from home.

Elisabeth: How did you arrange childcare?

Gail: Unfortunately, the Seattle area does not have great childcare options. My husband is also a physician-scientist, so we needed flexible help. We have had live-out nannies for 22 years now. We have treated this as professional positions with a vacation, sick days, and health and unemployment insurance. There have definitely been some challenges, but our current nanny has worked with us for 14 years. We know she truly loves our kids.

Elisabeth: Did you work on weekends?

Gail: Of course, but for the most part I have been able to work from home.

Elisabeth: Any not-so-proud moments?

Gail: Not too many. Or, at least, not very many that I recall. I was able to volunteer one half day a week at my children’s grade school for many years. For the most part my schedule was flexible enough to be at recitals, performances, games, etc. I limited traveling when my first two children were young. I did finish a grant at the hospital while in labor. It was my project in a larger PO1 competitive renewal, so it had to get done. The baby was early. The grant was on time and it was funded.

Elisabeth: Any parting advice?

Gail: It all works somehow. You do not need to do all of it yourself. I had to learn how to accept help from both professionals and friends. Final advice: it is OK to bring store-bought food to the school potluck.

Gail Jarvik, MD, PhD, is the Arno G. Motulsky Endowed Chair in Medicine, Joint Professor of Medicine and Genome Sciences, and Head of the Division of Medical Genetics at the University of Washington. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology at the UW Medical Center and an Affiliate Member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. A longtime member of ASHG, she served on its Program Committee from 2009-12 and has been a Board member since 2015.

How I Work: Karlene Coleman

Posted By: Chris Gunter, PhD, Member of the ASHG Communications Committee

We sat down with ASHG member Karlene Coleman, BSN, MSN, CGC, AGN-BC (Advanced Genetics Nurse – Board Certified), to learn more about her work providing genetic counseling, running a specialty clinic, and educating health professionals.

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Karlene Coleman, BSN, MSN, CGC, AGN-BC (courtesy Ms. Coleman)

ASHG: Tell us about your position and how it fits into your institution and its goals.

Karlene: My position has two main parts: the first is that I follow up on and provide genetic counseling for genetic testing ordered through the Marcus Autism Center, which is the largest clinical center for autism care in the U.S. Second, I created a specialty clinic for 22q11.2 deletion back in 2006, and we have now seen over 700 families. I also give lectures in multiple training programs at Emory, including the Schools of Medicine and Nursing.

ASHG: How do you keep up with the latest in genetics science and use this in your work?

Karlene: I am a member of ASHG and the American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG), so I attend the annual meetings for both and read many journal articles from each. I also get GenomeWeb alerts. In addition, I am a member of the International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG), and use their newsletters and webinars.

ASHG: What are your favorite genetics websites?

Karlene: Of course I use OMIM, GeneReviews, and Genetics Home Reference at NIH regularly. I also use a new site called ThinkGenetic, developed by a colleague at Emory, which is to help educate families and guide them through symptoms to come up with questions for their doctors or to self-diagnose genetic conditions.

ASHG: What are you currently reading/thinking about?

Karlene: We are using developmental questionnaires in our 22q clinic to identify the needs of the children over time, and we just submitted an abstract to ASHG 2017 looking at the reliability of these measures.

ASHG: What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your superpower?

Karlene: Serving as a resource for people all over the region on what to do and where to refer when they need to help specific patients. I just got a call yesterday from one of our physician liaisons after I had given them a lecture several weeks ago, and they are already calling to make referrals. It’s great!

Karlene Coleman, BSN, MSN, CGC, AGN-BC, is a Clinical Nurse Coordinator at the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She has been a member of ASHG for over 20 years.

How I Work: Brian Shirts

Posted By: Elisabeth Rosenthal, PhD, Member of the ASHG Communications Committee

We sat down with ASHG member Brian Shirts, MD, PhD, to learn more about his work at the cutting edge of clinical genetic diagnostics, including how his work intersects with his faith.

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Brian Shirts, MD, PhD. (courtesy Dr. Shirts)

ASHG: Tell us about your position and how it fits into your institution and its goals.

Brian: I am Assistant Professor of Laboratory Medicine at the University of Washington. Being in a clinical department means part of my job is doing clinical genetic testing in patients. Since I am at a university, the other part of my job is teaching and doing research. In order to have this position, I did medical school and doctoral training in human genetics. Then I did specialty training to be board certified in Clinical Pathology and Molecular Genetic Pathology. When I started graduate training, I did not know that the position I currently have existed. When I first met a physician who specialized in genetic diagnosis, I quickly realized, “That is what I wanted to do all along!”

Working at a university, I need to be on the cutting edge of clinical genetic diagnostics. I specialize in hereditary cancer testing and understanding the health effects of extremely rare genetic variants. When I say “extremely rare”, I mean genetic variants that I may see for the first time when I look at the results of a patient receiving clinical genetic testing, or a variant that may have only been seen in one or two other people in the world. In cancer risk genes, these variants are usually inherited and clustered in families, so I like to call them family-specific variants.

I am lucky because my research interests and my clinical work go well together. I spend over half of my time doing research and developing translational applications that will allow myself and others to apply my research discoveries to clinical diagnostics.

ASHG: How do you keep up with the latest in genetics science and use this in your work?

Brian: I try to attend the ASHG Annual Meeting and the Association for Molecular Pathology meeting as often as I can, as I think these are the best forums for the latest in genetics science and genetic diagnostics, respectively. I also read several journals and go to journal club presentations as often as I can.

ASHG: What are your favorite genetics websites?

Brian: I have to give a plug for my website on family studies for rare variant classification: findmyvariant.org. Some of my other favorite genetics websites for non-geneticists are: Genetics Home ReferenceLearn.Geneticsmy46, and Genetic Alliance.

ASHG: What are you currently reading/thinking about?

Brian: I am always thinking about how to apply population genetics principles to clinical diagnostics. For something completely different, I like to read the best books that my kids are reading. I am currently reading “Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire!” by Polly Horvath.

ASHG: What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your superpower?

Brian: When I go to church, others tell me that I have an extraordinary talent for asking appropriate yet thought provoking questions during Sunday School. Being an outspoken scientist in a faith community can be difficult to navigate, but communicating with people from different backgrounds is a really important skill to develop.

Brian Shirts, MD, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Laboratory Medicine at the University of Washington. He has been a member of ASHG since 2004.