What they're saying...
“The most valuable thing I learned was to always remember that each sample we receive in the laboratory belongs to a person. It is so important to remember that a person went through some procedure, whether it was as simple as a cheek swab or as invasive as a risky surgery. We must honor their experience by taking great care to produce the most reliable and accurate results for our patients.” - Kelly Rios, 2014 Diagnostic Genetic Sciences, Molecular Diagnostics
The Perfect Fit
After hearing about the Diagnostic Genetic Sciences program from a friend, Kelly knew it was a perfect fit for her — someone with a long-term passion for the healthcare industry and a specific interest in the study of genetics. Kelly looks back on her time in the DGS program fondly. “I enjoyed the hands-on independent lab work," she remembers, "but also loved the collaboration when analyzing and comparing results with my tight-knit group of classmates. The small class sizes were definitely a plus for me!”
After graduating from the program, Kelly got a job as a Sequencing Technologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center performing targeted RNA sequencing assays to detect gene functions in cancer tumors. The results help medical professionals diagnose and treat patients with cancer. In August 2020, Kelly started a new chapter as a medical student at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
Beyond the Basics
When reflecting on the DGS program, Kelly highlights how well it prepared her for her position at Sloan Kettering. “Every aspect of the DGS program is focused on producing skilled technologists who are ready to enter the workforce with a strong understanding of how their work impacts patient care,” Kelly says. “The program goes beyond teaching the basics of genetic sciences and ensures that students understand the ethics and controversies of genetic testing.”
Kelly feels that the intensive internship she participated in was an incredibly valuable experience provided by the DGS program. “I gained a deep understanding of daily laboratory functions and perfected my bench-side techniques under the guidance of certified technologists.” She was also able to visit other clinical sites for tours of different lab environments, which helped her make an informed decision about where she wanted to work after graduating.
A Powerful Perspective
UConn’s DGS program provides an important perspective that Kelly reflects on often — every specimen is from a person. “It’s so important to remember that a person went through some procedure, whether it was as simple as a cheek swab or as invasive as a risky surgery,” Kelly says. “We must honor their experience by taking great care to produce the most reliable and accurate results for our patients.”
During her time as a DGS student, Kelly also learned how to be flexible and adapt to the constantly evolving field of molecular diagnostics. “As technologists, we need to be prepared for change, but also recognize that we’re lucky to have a career filled with exciting discoveries and life-long learning!”
Unique Experiences and Prestigious Credentials
Kelly says that colleagues are consistently impressed with UConn’s highly regarded and unique program. They note how her background and experiences are so specific to the field. “Out of the 30+ techs working in my lab, only three other co-workers have molecular diagnostics degrees, and they all graduated from UConn DGS!”
When asked if she recommends the field, and the DGS program, to UConn students, Kelly gives an emphatic answer — “Absolutely! Look into the many applications of diagnostic genetic sciences, the different career paths, the potential for professional growth, and the many different avenues of research. You should do a little soul-searching too. If you enjoy lab work, patient care, and job security, then DGS might just be for you!”
“I attended an Allied Health open house to learn about different specialties and had the chance to chat with professors and students of the DGS program. After having these conversations and learning that the field is rapidly growing, I was eager to study DGS. Overall, I was drawn to the DGS program because of the friendly faculty, my love for science, and the promise of a clinical internship.” - Rachel Cash, 2016 Diagnostic Genetic Sciences, Molecular Diagnostics
A Love for Science
As an Allied Health Sciences major, Rachel learned about the UConn DGS program by talking with students and professors at an open house. She decided on the program “because of the friendly faculty, my love for science, and the promise of a clinical internship.” When reflecting on her time in the UConn DGS program, Rachel highlights the importance of both the coursework and the clinical work. “Through coursework, I learned about both the history of the field and about where the field is heading. Through my internship, I learned how to work in a laboratory.”
Rachel currently works as a Molecular Technologist at Baystate Health in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She uses multiple platforms to extract, test, analyze, and report patient samples for virology, oncology, and genetic testing. She performs lab maintenance, ensures compliance with the College of American Pathologists, and serves as a Practicum Coordinator for students working in the lab - including UConn DGS students. Rachel has also played an important role in the COVID-19 pandemic, as she was heavily involved in validating the SARS-CoV2 assay.
Multiple Avenues to Learn and Grow
Rachel believes the combination of coursework and clinical experience helped her seamlessly transition into a laboratory environment. “The DGS program includes coursework that helps establish a comprehensive understanding of methods and techniques. The molecular laboratory course was critical and very valuable because it introduced me to a variety of molecular techniques that I use every day.”
She also acknowledges that her internship built on her coursework by providing more than just knowledge of laboratory techniques - it also taught her how to share space and work with others. “I was able to apply this knowledge and strengthen my laboratory skills in my clinical internship. The internship was crucial to my understanding of laboratory methods and workflow.”
When asked if she would recommend the DGS program to students, Rachel sums it up nicely: “I would recommend the DGS program because the coursework establishes a great foundation of laboratory techniques with the chance to further develop these skills during a clinical rotation.”
Professional Confidence in a Changing Environment
Rachel also says her clinical internship was her favorite experience in the UConn DGS program. She says working at Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena, Montana “allowed me to learn about molecular techniques and laboratory workflow, understand the field of medical genetics, and develop professional confidence.”
In the ever-changing and quickly growing field of molecular diagnostics, Rachel encourages others to keep learning. “My eagerness to learn has allowed me to hold major roles in validations of new instruments and tests.” The UConn DGS program provides a solid foundation for continued learning and growth.