Xueying Qiao MS '15


Assistant Director of Human Genetics

E-mail Janelle


What prompted you to pursue a graduate degree?

My childhood dreams were to be a scientist, uncover secrets of human life, and help develop tools fighting against diseases. I gained an opportunity and joined a research laboratory in New York after completing my undergraduate study in Shanghai, China.

I indulged in exploring microbiology and biochemistry, and enjoyed the discoveries in the fields for two decades following my graduation, until our grants were cut drastically due to the slump of the economy in 2009. I had to leave my job. I found it difficult to find a similar position with only a bachelor’s degree. I realized the need for a graduate degree. After exploring various professions by taking courses and volunteering in pertinent activities, I determined that genetic counseling is the right career for me.

Genetic counseling conveys medical information to clients who have little medical knowledge by building a bridge between scientific knowledge from academia and common sense at home. Each year, many men and women develop cancers; many babies are born with birth defects; and many families suffer from hereditary disorders. They fear; they despair; and they need help. The one who can effectively help them is a genetic counselor. Genetic counselors are able to empower them with knowledge and information, assisting them to make informed decisions. Genetic counselors can also aid them in obtaining possible help from many resources, and help them work out plans to manage their conditions. Without hesitation, I chose genetic counseling as my new career. Though I am unable to develop tools fighting against diseases as my childhood dreams desired, I am able to provide tools, such as information and support, to help people obtain the best care for their genetic conditions.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence College for your graduate studies?

The graduate program in genetic counseling at Sarah Lawrence College was the most preferred training program to me. While all programs have their strong features, the Sarah Lawrence program has very unique ones: 1) it has, as the nation’s first program in genetic counseling, the longest training experience and the largest class size of its kind; 2) it has trained many more genetic counselors than any other program, providing great networking potential; 3) it has diverse resources in teaching and clinical rotations; and 4) it has the reputation of training students soundly and rigorously in interpersonal and psychosocial skills, which are the keys to the success of genetic counseling. As a research professional working with only chemicals and microorganisms, I desperately needed this mature program to not only equip me with knowledge in genetic counseling, but also hone my social skills.

What role did the Sarah Lawrence faculty play in your time here?

Throughout my graduate study at Sarah Lawrence, I enjoyed the superior services of the library, gymnasium, and other administrative offices including parking, accounting, and financial aid. However, the most substantial benefit was from the program itself. The leadership of the program was composed of true educators. They were making the training program more and more efficient, effective, and attractive. Not only were the directors accessible, but also they proactively reached out to students. They knew every student well and gave assistance to students upon individual need. In addition, the directors were good at finding resources and motivating students to apply for grants needed for various projects, participate in outreach programs, and identify and match research topics for graduate theses. The program also made graduates believe that it would be the solid backbone in their future careers.

All faculty members were knowledgeable and experienced. Many speakers were from different organizations, such as Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Cornell University, Columbia University, New York University, and more. Some instructors spent unbelievable amounts of time in their teaching and sincere feedback; some taught with their unique, engaging ways; and some gave touching lectures with their very own experiences.

What experience as a student had the greatest impact on you?

During my graduate study, the friendship among classmates had the greatest impact on me. Because of my age (52 at the time) and my language barrier (English is my second language), I was unable to complete class notes for review and keep up with the class at the beginning of my training. Some classmates came to me, right before exams, and encouraged me: “Xueying, you can do it!” Many classmates helped me with class notes. One of my classmates even altered her way of making class notes from paper to computer, as the electronic files were more legible and editable, and e-mailed the corresponding notes to me right after every class without my asking. In addition, I had problems understanding Western views (I am a typical Chinese woman); my classmates would give me lessons explaining their cultures. This help was crucial to my success; these warm moments are the most memorable experiences during my training at Sarah Lawrence.

How did your coursework prepare you for your clinical training/fieldwork, and how did that experience prepare you for your career?

The coursework and clinical training were well organized. The class “Genetics Across Life Span” was designed to prepare students for clinical rotations and it started on the first day of the program. The observation of the clinical fieldwork started simultaneously. After preparing for two semesters, students kicked off their intensive clinical fieldwork in the summer and the second year. By the end of the program, all students could practice enough cases and were able to counsel clients independently, which provided the sound foundation for their future careers.

Where did you do your clinical training/fieldwork?

The institutions and locations for clinical training were broadly diversified. My rotation sites involved five hospitals, one cytogenetics laboratory, and one rehabilitation center, and covered three states. The diversity helped me greatly in understanding different counseling styles in various clinical settings and various populations with different ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses.

What advice can you offer to prospective graduate students?

In general, the graduate program in human genetics at Sarah Lawrence is a powerful platform that can effectively transform motivated students into genetic counselors. My advice to prospective students is that if you want to strengthen your interpersonal and psychosocial skills, if you want to experience different working environments and expose yourself to many populations, this program is perfect to you.

What are you up to now?

My goal is to serve various communities, especially our Chinese community. Community education is a major form of my service. In order to reach the goal, I need to have a wide range of clinical experience and scientific knowledge. I had sufficient training in prenatal, cancer, and pediatrics, but had few training experiences in rare diseases including lysosomal storage diseases (LSD). I therefore chose a one-year genetic counselor fellowship in LSD at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio, in which there are top geneticists (physicians) and genetic counselors who specialize in LSD. The fellowship training is thorough and systematic. The training involves independent counseling in general and LSD clinics, coordinating clinical trials for new investigational drugs and participating in clinical research. It also involves other activities, such as auditing grand rounds, lectures, and seminars. Recently, I passed an examination, the Clinician Cultural and Linguistic Assessment in Mandarin (CCLA, administered by ALTA). I am now an approved clinician who can communicate directly with patients independent of an interpreter in Mandarin at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Though the fellowship training keeps me busy, it brings me the knowledge and experience I am eager for.