On the Front Lines of the Future

06.25.18

The field of genetics changes – FAST!

How Do We Keep Up?

Even with receiving daily listservs, attending weekly journal clubs, setting Google Alerts for our favorite journals, signing up for email newsletters,
and scanning blogs, it’s very difficult for geneticists to keep pace with all of the advances happening in our exciting field. New genes, new disease
associations, new clinical trials, and new therapies are emerging all the time. There’s a barrage of new information to absorb, in addition to handling
our main responsibilities – those of seeing patients, signing out lab reports, and conducting our own research projects.

But it’s what we do and we love it! In addition to genetics being the absolute most interesting topic to read about (well, it is), it’s our calling. We
have a duty and desire to provide the families we serve with the most up-to-date information, the latest and best in genetic diagnostics, and access
to the newest, most promising therapies. It’s a challenge, but it comes with amazing rewards!

The same could be said about teaching – challenging, but rewarding, but how can they keep up?

GGC’s Division of Education assists middle and high school science teachers in becoming more knowledgeable and confident
teachers of genetics and genomics. Science teachers must cover a vast amount of material over the course of a semester or year. They can’t (and don’t
need to) know everything about every topic. But we do want to help them better understand genetics and be more effective at imparting that knowledge
to their students.

GGC offers student outreach opportunities through the Gene Machine and Helix Express, visiting schools
with fancy equipment that most don’t have in their laboratories and sharing hands-on, engaging activities taught by genetics experts. But our visits
are limited. Yes, they are a fun, out-of-the-box experience, but it’s only one class period of one day. Teachers are the ones who have that student’s
time and attention every day of the school year. After we leave, the teachers are fielding the questions like ‘How do I become a genetic counselor?’
or ‘I saw this online article about CRISPR, what does it mean?’

 


Because we recognize the significant influence of teachers, we don’t limit outreach to the students. Teachers who are enthusiastic about the topic they
teach, who feel confident in their knowledge of the field, and who have access to experts when needed, are the ones most likely to light that spark
in a student’s mind. None of us would be where we are without the influence of great teachers, and most of us at GGC can point to a particularly influential
teacher whose knowledge, encouragement, and passion set us on our path toward genetics. 

This week we are welcoming teachers from across SC to Greenwood for a hands-on lab workshop as part of our summer teachers’ course. This year’s course,
BIO 614, includes topics such as bioinformatics, CRISPR, and the ethics of genetic testing. We’ve been
offering these courses every summer since 1994, usually to a capacity class. This year, the didactic portion of the class was online followed by the
two-day workshop in Greenwood (some things just can’t be as effectively taught online, despite what YouTube may say). These courses, along with the
teacher development workshops we offer throughout the year, have served 128 teachers this school year alone. These opportunities provide them with
information about the newest advances in genetic medicine – not bogging them down in specific nucleotides and metabolites, but giving them a big-picture
glimpse into how genetics and genomics are changing medicine, and in turn providing knowledge and confidence to engage their students and inspire them
to think about these careers as real opportunities.

It’s partially selfish. There is a shortage of clinical geneticists and genetic counselors. We can’t hire enough bioinformaticians to analyze the all data
that’s being generated. We want to encourage young people to consider careers in this exciting field. STEM careers, like genetics, are in high demand,
and enthusiastic, motivated teachers are the direct link between an interested student and future geneticist.
 
Genetics has a reputation for being a difficult discipline (it is), requiring a lot of schooling (that’s true, for some careers), and working with disorders
that can’t be treated (wait, not so fast). These barriers will discourage some students, but they may not seem like such barriers when their well-informed
teacher can explain how genetics is the medical specialty connecting all other specialties, and how treatments are available for many hereditary conditions
with promising research in progress for many more. 
 
We are indebted to all of our teachers and will continue to be their support for all things genetic. They are on the front lines of our future.

My inspiring teachers were Janice Cothran of Northside Junior High School and Delanie Dimsdale of Greenwood High School. They sparked my interest in biology and specifically genetics (loved those Punnett Squares!) Who was that teacher for you?

-Lori Bassett, MS, CGC

 

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