Sarah E. Witherington, MSGC
WHAT I DO NOW: I am genetics specialist for Ambry Genetics, a private genetic testing company. I focus on oncology with a subspecialty in the genetics of pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma formation.
MY JOB CONSISTS OF: I currently travel throughout the Midwest visiting other genetic counselors or physicians working in oncology. I usually give lectures on the genetics of cancer and tumor formation as well as the importance of genetics in the long term medical management.
PATH TO MY CURRENT CAREER POSITION: I worked in several labs in several different fields of specialty, from biochemistry to botany. I took the time in undergrad to try out several different career choices before I made the decision to become a genetic counselor. Once I decided on that, I sought out clinical opportunities that would help me learn more about genetics and worked in a genetics lab to gain experience. It took a lot of trial and error to make my career choice but the work experience I gained by trying out several different things made me happier with my career path in the long run.
HOW I GOT TO LSUS: I chose LSUS because of the great science faculty. I knew that I would get personal attention and learn from professors who were doing research and keeping abreast of the latest research in their fields.
FOND MEMORIES OF LSUS: I have so many great friends from LSUS that are now my colleagues in the medical field. Spending extra time in the Science Building was always worth it. I met most of my closest friends there!
LSUS FACULTY WHO HELPED ME: Between Dr. Williams-Hart, Dr. Buzgo, Dr. Thompson, and Dr. Salvatore, I always had my questions answered. Dr. Sisson was also kind enough to listen to me ramble and kind enough to let me graduate!
HOW LSUS HELPED ME SUCCEED: I think students who attend LSUS sometimes think that they can't make it to the next big step, either at a bigger name graduate school or maybe working for a big name company. But you really can with a degree from LSUS. I never would have thought that I have graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago (a top 20 medical school!) with my Master's in Genetic Counseling. But I dreamed big, got in, and I am succeeding just as much, if not more than, students who attended those big name universities for undergrad.
ADVICE TO COLLEGE-BOUND STUDENTS: Balance, balance, balance. I know that joining every club and attending every extra activity can be tempting, but think about the long term and what is most important. You don't want to spread yourself too thin and be able to give only a little bit to a lot of things. The things you do that you put the most effort into are most important.
ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO ENTER MY FIELD: Try to gather as much experience as you can in genetics or other related fields. You don't think that unpaid internship at the hospital is worth it? If it is related, then it is worth your time. Graduate schools and future employers love seeing lab work or clinical observations in college. It shows interest and that you are willing to put in the time and effort. Being in Shreveport with so many great hospitals gives you the opportunity to volunteer, observe, and work. Call different departments to see if they need help, or ask if they are looking for a student intern. You never know what great experience you may find.
TIPS ON CHOOSING A MAJOR OR CAREER: I started out as a math major and quickly discovered it wasn't for me. So I decided to switch to biology and later to biochemical sciences since I wanted more chemistry. But I always kept in the back of my mind what I wanted to do long term. What was my future job going to look like and what degree would best serve me? I think if you keep that idea in mind when taking classes, you will find your right major.
MY TOUGHEST PROFESSIONAL CHALLENGE: As you transform from a student into a professional, there can be some growing pains and I experienced a few. But it is always important to be true to yourself and ask for help when you need it.
I'VE LEARNED THIS FROM LIFE: I am a complete worrier! And the past few years have come with a lot of life changes. But just know that in the end everything works out the way it is supposed to, even if it looks nothing like what you planned.
WHAT I'D BE DOING IF I HAD ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD: I'd still be doing genetics. It's hard to believe, I know, but genetics is my passion and what I think about most of the day. Although I wouldn't mind working in the fashion industry either!