Hear from one of our Counsyl moms about maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Q: Where did you work before becoming a mom?
Ashley: I was a prenatal genetic counselor for seven years before I took my one-year “sabbatical” to care for our son.
Q: What motivated you to get back to your career?
Ashley: Besides my general craving to be a professional again, I knew that to keep pace with the rapid development of genetic testing, I could not be absent from the field for long. Just in the year I took off, the increasing availability of non-invasive prenatal diagnosis, comparative genomic hybridization and expanded carrier screening panels had quickly changed a “standard” prenatal counseling session. I feared if I waited much longer, my knowledge and skill-set would be outdated.
On a personal level, I was ready for the glitz and glamour of the clinic. OK, work was never that sexy, but I wanted to go to a place that required real pants and maybe a little lipstick. The thought of getting 20 minutes to read a book on the subway was downright decadent. I would have meaningful conversations with actual adults. I would get to attend lunches and lectures. I could actually finish my coffee before it got cold!
Q: Why did you choose to work with Counsyl?
Ashley: I had been back at work in a traditional prenatal counseling setting for a year when I heard Counsyl was hiring genetic counselors. I’d previously done some research projects on the topic of carrier screening, and I enthusiastically felt like universal expanded carrier was an idea whose time had come. The people who were already employed by Counsyl seemed focused and passionate about the work they were doing. Seeing this as an opportunity to expand my career experience, I decided to give working from home a try.
Q: Did you have any concerns about working from home?
Ashley: I was intrigued but wary. There were logistical issues. Since our “cozy” Brooklyn apartment could become crowded quickly, I would need to let our wonderful nanny go and put my son in daycare. Could I stand to be at home all day? What would I wear? Could I ignore the dirty dishes and other messes in order to focus on work? Would I miss the camaraderie and support of co-workers? And my greatest concern: Would I be able to truly connect with patients without face-to-face contact? How would I know how to personalize a session without those essential non-verbal cues?
Q: How did you transition from mom to professional?
Ashley: Like most women, I am a multi-tasker but have found the need to draw a line between my homemaker tasks and work tasks in order to accomplish anything. Learning to divide the day was a challenge at first—but ultimately a little self-imposed structure removed the temptation to do the laundry between patient calls.
By far the biggest adjustment to working from home was not being able to meet with my counselees face to face. For the first few weeks of calls, I found myself talking to a photo of my sister and brother-in-law on my desk, as though they were the clients, gesturing with my hands throughout the call. With practice, phone counseling quickly became second nature. Although I still believe face-to-face interactions are ideal, I believe patients appreciate the convenience of a phone consult as much as counselors.
Q: What do you miss about working in a traditional office setting?
Ashley: Sometimes I miss visiting in with co-workers between cases, but truthfully I am a more efficient employee without the small talk around the water cooler. Although we are geographically spread out, our team is close-knit and so supportive that I never feel isolated. I’ve found I can live without the typical office trappings. I’ve yet to miss that awkward moment of being serenaded by the staff over birthday cake.
Q: Are you happy with your decision to work from home?
Ashley: It was an adjustment but turned out to be the right decision for everyone involved. The nanny took the news well and thought it was a sign that she should apply to graduate school. My two-year-old thrived in the social environment that day care provided. I learned I will never be able to ignore a mess, but there is plenty of time to prepare an organized work environment before the workday begins. And for what it’s worth, my dog is quite happy with the new arrangement as well!
Ashley Svenson received her undergraduate degree in Biology in 1998 from The University of Texas at Austin. She received a post-baccalaureate certificate in cytogenetics in 1999 from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and her Masters in Genetic Counseling in 2003 from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Ashley currently works as a part-time genetic counselor for Counsyl.
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