Career Interview: Marnie Gelbart, PhD

Director of Program Development and National Initiatives
Personal Genetics Education Project, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School

ASHG: What non-scientific skills (communication, artistry, athleticism, etc.) are important for your job? Were any of these skills unexpected assets for you?

Dr. Gelbart: Communication skills are key. It is of course important to find accessible and relatable ways to convey your message. It is equally important to listen – to find out what people are thinking, what they want to know – and then let what you hear inform your approach. Communicating with the public is a two-way street.

ASHG: What do you think the future holds for the field of genetics?

Dr. Gelbart: This is a tremendously exciting time in the field of genetics, bringing new possibilities for improving human health and saving lives. Yet, this is only widening the gap between what science is making possible and what many in the general public understand. Misconceptions about genetics abound, and we are responsible.

It was a profound moment for me when I underwent carrier testing and my doctor drew 17 vials of blood. If I, with my PhD, could not wrap my head around it, then how can we expect anyone else to? How we approach this transition, how effectively we engage people will shape the future.

ASHG: If you could go back to when you were a trainee, what is one piece of advice you would give yourself for your current career?

Dr. Gelbart: I’d go back and tell myself that I’d ultimately get where I wanted to be and be stronger for it. As a grad student and postdoc, I developed an interest in science communication. Still, it took a good amount of soul searching, investigating my options, and networking to figure out how I wanted to apply that interest. It’s amazing how quickly those memories fade when you get to the other side.

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