Curriculum and Training FAQs

What Courses Do I Take? As a student in the Dual Degree Program, you will generally take all of the required courses for both the MS Genetic Counseling program and the PhD program. In many cases the same course is required for both programs.

Besides Coursework, What Exams Will I Have To Pass?  Dual Degree Program students must pass all of the required examinations for the PhD program, including the preliminary qualifying exam, taken after completion of the first two years, the dissertation proposal and the dissertation defense. In addition, Dual Degree Program students take the two written comprehensive exams that are required for MS Genetic Counseling Students. Typical MS Genetic Counseling students take a written comprehensive exam after their first and second (final) years. Because of the different timeline, Dual Degree Program students will take the first MSGC written comprehensive exam after their second year. They will take the final genetic counseling comprehensive exam closer to the time when they will graduate. The purpose of these exams is to maximize preparedness for the American Board of Genetic Counseling certification exam.

How Else Will I Be Evaluated?  General progress in the program will be conducted by graduate faculty in the Department, similar to other PhD students. These occur bi-annually.

How Will My Clinical Rotations Work? Genetic counseling students who are not in the dual degree program typically complete their clinical rotations in their second year, plus an additional semester of prenatal genetic counseling, and a summer of general genetics. Dual Degree Program students will complete the same variety of clinics, but this will be concentrated in their final year, after they have completed work towards their PhD. Otherwise, the requirements and expectations for each of the clinical rotations are the same for Dual Degree Program students as for MS Genetic Counseling students.

What Kinds of Research Do Dual Degree Program Students Work On?  The Department, and the broader University, provide a wealth of varied research opportunities for Dual Degree Program students. Past and current research by Dual Degree Program students includes quantitative analysis of genomic data to develop risk profiles for substance abuse disorders, and identifying genomic markers for schizophrenia; functionally characterizing genes important in cancer and identifying biomarkers related to traumatic events. The field of genetic counseling is expanding in multiple directions and there are relevant opportunities in cytogenetics, bioinformatics, psychology, and other fields. You are blazing the trail!

How Long Will It Take Me To Graduate?  The typical length of study for PhD students (non-dual degree students) is four to five years, and the Masters of Genetic Counseling students typically earn their degree in two years. Because of overlap in program requirements, most Dual Degree Program students will be expected to finish the program in five to six years. This will vary depending on the student’s specific project and laboratory funding.

What Will I Do When I Graduate? You are blazing the trail! According to the 2010 Professional Status Survey conducted by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, only 2% of genetic counselors hold PhDs. A study from the Journal of Genetic Counseling (Wallace et al., 2008) of prospective employers suggested most identified opportunities for PhDs in genetic counseling, especially in academic and research settings, are serving as principal investigators. VCU is graduating the first dual-degree students, so tell us about your successes after you graduate!