Spotlight on Alumi Carreers - Heather McLaughlin

Heather McLaughlin, Ph.D. - Graduate 2012

Since receiving her undergraduate degree in Diagnostic Molecular Science from Michigan State University, Heather McLaughlin (PhD, 2012) has been on a career path towards clinical diagnostics. Her PhD thesis research (“Genetic and Functional Evaluation of Aminoacyl-tRNA Synthetase Mutations in Patients with Peripheral Neuropathy”) with Tony Antonellis helped her build a solid molecular genetics foundation while maintaining a clinical connection. “I knew I wanted to do a Clinical Molecular Genetics fellowship when I was finished grad school. It has been a great career decision for me because it’s scientifically stimulating, yet I don’t need to worry about grant funding.” Heather is a Senior Clinical Scientist at GeneDx, evaluating clinical exome sequencing data to identify disease–causing variants in patients with suspected genetic disorders. “Often these patients have exhausted all other clinical testing options, so exome is their last hope.”

To get to her current position, Heather first completed a Clinical Molecular Genetics fellowship, an accredited training program from the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics. After her fellowship at Harvard University, she worked in a clinical laboratory for a year. “The hours were long and it was very difficult to maintain a work-life balance while juggling my clinical and academic responsibilities.” Her recent decision to join GeneDx has provided her a much more patient-focused role. “It has really allowed me to have a broader impact on patient care.” Clinical laboratory experience has also been invaluable to her in her career trajectory. “The field is growing very rapidly but fellowship positions are hard to secure, and having adequate experience really helps you to get your foot in the door.”

Her words of wisdom to current trainees are simple: do what makes you happy. “Don’t be afraid to explore alternate career paths. There are so many wonderful opportunities out there that don’t fit the dogma of grad school, post-doc, PI.”