Demystifying the Genome: A Career in Genomic Education

Beyond the PhD recently had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Emaly Piecuch as a part of our Career Discovery Seminar Series. Dr. Piecuch is currently employed as a genomic educator at the Jackson Laboratory (JAX) in Bar Harbor, ME. Her educational background includes earning a  BS in Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology from Purdue University followed by doctoral training at the University of Connecticut, which she completed in 2019. During graduate school, she engaged in unique teaching opportunities like teaching science to eighth graders. She was able to leverage these experiences to pursue a career in science education.

Dr. Piecuch began her seminar by elaborating on her role as a genomic educator at JAX, where she is mainly involved in developing courses for a wide variety of students ranging from second graders to undergraduates. She first talked about her involvement in “Teaching the Genome Generation (TTGG)” TTGG is a high school professional development program that has been implemented by JAX for over a decade and is funded by the NIH under a grant-based science education program known as SEPA (Science Education Partnership Award).  TTGG aims to bridge gaps in knowledge in genetics and genomics among high school teachers and students in New England. High school teachers from across the New England region are provided a short residential training in the TTGG curriculum as well as basic laboratory techniques such as pipetting. They are then provided with teaching materials that contain saliva collection kits, reagents for PCR (polymerase chain reaction), and guided instructions for DNA sequence analysis. Other components of the coursework include tutorials for bioinformatic analysis as well as a comprehensive bioethics curriculum designed in conjunction with the Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd) which is based out of Harvard University. She is also involved in performing quality control for the teaching kits where her skills in molecular biology prove handy. Additionally, she is able to utilize the data analysis skills that were developed over the years as a graduate student to statistically analyze the impact of TTGG which has an impressive reach of over 17,500 students since 2015.

Another important aspect of her role is course and content development at JAX. She provided the example of a case study developed for mitigating uncertainties around COVID-19 testing during the pandemic which was successfully approved by the National Center For

Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS,https://www.nsta.org/ncss-case-study/power-test). She also briefly talked about a mini-course in cancer genomics for undergraduate students developed due to insufficient coverage of this topic in undergraduate syllabi across the country. She was involved in other ventures at JAX such as the Open House (https://www.jax.org/education-and-learning/high-school-students-and-undergraduates/virtual-open-house)and the Genetics Learning Resources (https://www.jax.org/education-and-learning/high-school-students-and-undergraduates/teaching-the-genome-generation/stem-learning-resources) to improve virtual engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Pro tip – The SEPA website (https://nihsepa.org) can be used as a resource to look for science education jobs available in different states based on the projects funded in these regions and directly reach out to people involved in these programs.

 If you are interested in exploring this career option, you can contact Dr. Emaly Piecuch via email at emaly.piecuch@jax.org or Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/dremalyjpiecuch). You can also access the video recording of Dr. Piecuch’s seminar on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHRUPsn58ZE).

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