Maheen ArshadHer undergraduate studies in Behaviour, Cognition and Neuroscience prepared Maheen Arshad for a rewarding career as a genetic counsellor.

Program perfect preparation for profession, says science grad

UWindsor alumna Maheen Arshad (BSc 2020) discovered joy by taking the lesser-known career path of genetic counselling.

“Genetic counselling is a really rewarding profession and I wish everyone could learn about it because I absolutely love what I do.”

After receiving her honours BSc in Behaviour, Cognition and Neuroscience (BCN) through the Department of Integrative Biology, Arshad went on to complete a two-year master’s degree in genetic counselling at Wayne State University School of Medicine.

Genetic counsellors are health-care professionals with specialized training in medical genetics and counselling. They work directly with patients and families at risk of genetic conditions. Arshad currently works in the fields of cancer, prenatal, and preconception genetics at Henry Ford Health in Detroit.

“It has the complexity I wanted in a career with a good balance of providing scientific information along with psychosocial counselling to support patients and families — it is the best of both worlds,” she says.

“There’s a lot that is not known so when we do have the answers, we can help patients be proactive and navigate challenges. Whether it is finding out they have an increased lifetime risk of cancer or whether is it a high-risk pregnancy, as a genetic counsellor I can serve as a central resource for my patients at difficult stages in their life.”

Arshad reports feeling prepared for graduate school thanks to the classes and knowledge she gained from undergraduate experience.

“Because of Science at UWindsor and the BCN program I transitioned well into grad school and adapted to the greater courseload along with the clinical rotations," she says.

“BCN was also the perfect program to prepare me for genetic counselling as it was a mix of biological sciences and social sciences, which transitioned well into learning complex medical genetics and psychosocial counselling.”

It was at the University of Windsor that Arshad learned about genetic counselling. She says Windsor is geographically well-positioned to give students the option to go across the border for shadowing, work, and volunteer opportunities.

A self-described shy high schooler, Arshad stepped out of her comfort zone as an undergraduate and quickly landed a student research position in biomedical sciences professor Lisa Porter’s lab investigating the role of a cell cycle protein in the formation of brain tumours.

“It was really cool to get started in research in my first year,” she says.

“What I was learning in the classroom about the cell cycle, I was able to apply that in the lab doing research simultaneously, which helped consolidate the knowledge and provide greater context from what I was learning.”

Arshad also engaged with the BCN student organization by serving as vice-president of finance and co-ordinating its annual fundraising gala. She also attributes her success to being involved in Student Success and Leadership Centre’s LEAD program where she learned leadership skills, professionalism, and communication skills, and developed a sense of university community.

“I really optimized my time in undergrad and I’m so glad I did, because looking back it was so much fun to have all those experiences.”

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