Vanderbilt MGC students are required to complete a master’s thesis during their 21-months of training. As part of the thesis requirement, students are enrolled in a two-part course, Research for Genetic Counselors 1 (GC6610) and Research for Genetic Counselors 2 (GC6615), during the first year. These courses explore the research process, with a focus on articulating the value of research to the practice of genetic counseling. The courses introduce the research knowledge and skills students need to develop and complete their thesis research, including principles of study design, critical reading of the literature, developing a statistical plan, quantitative and qualitative research methods, collection and management of data, human subjects research and the IRB, the informed consent process, and research ethics. As topics are discussed in class, students apply what they have learned to the development of their theses.
During the first semester, each student is paired with a faculty research advisor who will provide guidance on their research during the program. The faculty research advisor helps facilitate the student’s thesis development (including development of a thesis timeline), research and writing process through regular meetings. During the first year of the program the student focuses on choosing a thesis topic, and developing a thesis proposal.
Toward the end of the first year of the program, each student presents a thesis proposal to the Research Review Committee and invited faculty. Students will present their proposal (research question, background, planned methods) to obtain feedback from other researchers or people in the field. This is a an opportunity for students to ask for suggestions or if ask the audience if they have particular questions related to the project. It is also a time for other clinical researchers to bring up issues they see with the project and how to improve it. If appropriate to the research topic, the student also submits an application to the Vanderbilt University Institutional Review Board (IRB) by the end of the first year. All students will attend an IRB meeting as a part of MGC training.
During the second year, students collect and analyze research data and write the thesis in manuscript format, ideally specific to a particular peer-reviewed journal that they intend to submit to. Students have access to a number of resources to support this work, including online resources through The Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, methodology experts for study design assistance, and statistical consultants for data analysis.
Funds in the amount of $500 per student are provided to the faculty research advisor, to be used for the student’s project. The student collaborates with his or her faculty research advisor and thesis committee to determine the most appropriate use of funding.