Meet Lisa Mar, genetic counselor and Hawaiian dancer!
Hi, I'm Lisa Mar!
What kind of work do you do?
As a genetic counselor, I help patients understand what options they have for genetic testing, what the possible results are, and what to do once they receive their results.
There are many kinds of genetic testing available and results of testing can tell people if they are at an increased risk for different conditions, including cancer and heart disease. My job is to help people understand and cope with the results they might receive.
One of the things I love about the field is that I can work in so many different settings. In the cancer clinic, I’ve met with patients who are considered at higher risk for cancer to help them understand their genetic test results and make a plan for cancer surveillance. In the cardiology clinic, I’ve worked with a team to help patients and their relatives manage their hereditary heart conditions and take steps to reduce their chances of major cardiac events. In the prenatal clinic, I’ve helped expecting couples understand their genetic risks in the pregnancy and navigate their testing options. In the genetic testing lab, I spent my days counseling patients by phone about their test results. I also worked on various genetics and non-genetics related projects to help ensure that the patient and clinical perspectives are heard.
How did you become interested in biology, and what did you study?
I first fell in love with science in high school, when I enrolled in a human anatomy course. I was fascinated by the way all the different parts of our bodies function, separately and together, to make us do amazing things, like dance!
I continued to explore science in college and also developed an interest in social science, wanting to know more about why people are the way they are. So I studied both Sociology and Biology. I enrolled in two amazing courses--Human Genetics and Ethical/Social Issues in Medicine-- at UC Berkeley, which is where I fell in love with genetics.
This is also how I learned about genetic counselors and their role in educating and supporting those receiving difficult information that can affect the entire family. I felt lucky that I could combine both of my majors and interests into a career of helping people.
After completing an internship with UCSF’s Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program and seeing firsthand how genetic testing and genetic counselors could make an impact on patient lives, I knew that I wanted to be a genetic counselor. So I attended grad school and obtained my Masters degree in Genetic Counseling. This is when I got to dive deep into human genetics, genetic diseases, psychology, and counseling. I got to do my training in a variety of settings, including cancer, cardiology, pediatric, and prenatal clinics.
What do you do for fun in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time traveling and learning about the cultures in different countries. I also love the great outdoors and will try to spend any free time doing activities outside, like hiking or kayaking. I also enjoy exploring my creative side by dancing Hawaiian hula, painting, and with photography.
What’s your one piece of advice for people interested in biology?
I would encourage people interested in biology to never stop asking questions--of yourselves and others. Ask questions and explore what parts of biology and everyday life you really enjoy.
Do you like baking? Do you like conducting science experiments? Do you like fixing things? Do you like spending time outdoors or indoors? Do you like talking to people about things you’ve learned?
Take those answers and spend more time doing those things you enjoy. Then try to find people that are doing those things day to day. Talk with them, shadow them, and try to imagine yourself doing the same.
I used to think that there were only a few jobs in science that existed for me. But the ones I thought about pursuing didn’t exactly fit my personality or interests. Once I started focusing more on the things I liked about science and biology versus what I thought I should like, just to fit a certain career, I landed on genetic counseling. There are so many ways to get into science--don’t be afraid to try different things until you find the right fit!