The 50th anniversary of women’s arrival at Union features a year-long celebration of women and their contributions to the College, their communities and the world.
Ellen T. Matloff '91 majored in biology at Union before earning an M.S. in genetic counseling from Northwestern University. She is a genetic counselor and founder and CEO of MyGeneCounsel, a digital tech start-up that provides consumers and clinicians with a progressive way to stay up-to-date on genetic test results. The author of more than 50 scientific publications, Ellen is an established educator and lecturer who has received national awards for her ongoing patient advocacy efforts. Most notably, she was a plaintiff in the 2013 BRCA gene patent case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. The court’s decision has led to drastically lower prices for genetic testing, making it possible for more patients to afford this technology.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
After founding and directing the Cancer Genetic Counseling Program at Yale School of Medicine, where I worked for 18 years, I started a new company based on trends, needs and an opportunity I saw in the genomics marketplace. Talk about a challenge! I went from a traditional academic medical facility, where I knew the ropes after almost two decades on the job, to the start-up business marketplace, where I began writing business plans, attracting investors and courting clients. It has been both challenging and rewarding to go in such a different direction, and I’m glad I found the courage to jump when I did.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
I had several female professors at Union who showed me that science is not just a guy’s game, including Professors Karen Williams, Barbara Boyer and Helena Birecka. My maternal grandmother was an attorney and my mother a physician, both when few women entered those fields, and they were successful at their jobs and in running their families.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
There are still barriers to women in the work place, but you can jump them. You may not be able to do everything all at the same time, but you can be a success in both your personal and professional life. Be good to yourself and support other women and girls, too. And don’t be afraid to turn to male mentors – there are many, and I couldn’t have done it without them.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
I had many, but the most formative occurred at a Ben & Jerry’s that used to be located on Union Street, next to a laundromat. It was my senior year, spring term, and the weather was finally warm. My friends were studying for finals and I couldn’t convince any of them to come with me, so I went for a cone by myself. At B&J’s I was paying for my ice cream and overheard a small, elderly lady asking to use the phone. She had been doing her laundry next door and was calling a cab for a ride home. Spontaneously, I offered to drive her and carried her small basket of clothes to my old blue Volvo. She explained that she’d been waiting a long time and had had an accident, so she sat on her coat – which made me very sad. As we sat next to each other in my bucket seats I could feel the miles that stretched between us. My entire life stretched before me, bright and full of promise, and hers was coming to an end. We had so little in common. And then she began to speak. She was a Cornell graduate and both she and her husband were college professors, he at Union. She’d lost her husband a few years before, but told me about their life together, their children, their adventures. We pulled into her driveway and the space between our seats had shrunk to nothing. I carried her things into her house, said good-bye, and drove back to my apartment, acutely aware that my life would fly by quickly, as had hers, and that I needed to try to remember this every single day.