Department of Human Development and Family Studies
Ph.D.: University of California, Los Angeles
Office Location: Family Studies Building
What interests students in studying human development and family studies?
Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) is often considered a discovery major. Students come to college not knowing it exists, take an HDFS course to fulfill a general education requirement, and fall in love with studying individuals and families in context. An education in HDFS provides a great balance of understanding concepts and theories with practical and applied information.
Graduate students in HDFS are often drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the degree. They appreciate learning about and doing research on individuals and families from a range of different perspectives.
What types of jobs do students pursue after attaining a human development and family studies degree?
For undergraduate students, there is enormous career flexibility with an HDFS degree. We have students go on to careers in counseling, education, advocacy and non-profit work, health careers, business, and research. They work with a range of populations including infants and young children, adolescents, older adults, couples, and families in a range of settings.
Many graduate students end up working as faculty in human development, psychology, or other disciplines. Others work in applied research, policy, or government settings. Alumni of our Marriage and Family Therapy program often apply their clinical and outreach training to positions as licensed therapists.
Have there been recent changes to the Department of Human Development and Family Studies that have strengthened your department?
It is an exciting time to be part of the UConn HDFS program. We have five new faculty joining the department this year alone, and have had recent junior and senior hires over the past few years.
Are there any common misconceptions about human development and family studies?
Among undergraduate students, a common misconception is not recognizing the versatility of an HDFS degree. Sometimes students think that all HDFS alumni become preschool teachers. Early education is an excellent career option, but it is only one of many possibilities for our alumni.
People also don’t always recognize the scientific rigor of the research that happens in our department. Our faculty use advanced statistical techniques, are awarded multi-million dollar grants, and publish in top scientific journals, not only in family science, but also in psychology, sociology, and health outlets.
Where do you see the field of human development and family studies going in the next 10 years?
The field of HDFS is moving in exciting directions, and many of these trends are already happening at UConn HDFS. As an example, HDFS researchers, more and more, are examining the role of culture in the development of individuals and families. At UConn, we have a longstanding history of such research, with, for instance, the Center for the Study of Culture, Health, and Human Development, led by Professors Sara Harkness and Charlie Super. We also have several more recently hired faculty who incorporate cultural perspectives into their programs of research.
Many of our faculty also consider aspects of physical health, like nutrition, cancer, and sexually transmitted infections, and/or mental health in their programs of research. An important direction for the field is to consider prevention and intervention – that is, not only to understand what predicts positive or negative health or social outcomes, but also to determine how to improve wellbeing. Our faculty study these topics in a range of contexts, including child maltreatment, HIV prevention in Africa, improving nutrition, and decreasing substance use.
What first interested you in human development and family studies?
When I applied to graduate school, I did not know that HDFS existed. When I accepted my first faculty position in an HDFS department, I felt like I was home. I love that HDFS is so interdisciplinary – everyone is studying development and families, but from a range of perspectives and disciplines. In addition, HDFS scholars care about context, and recognize that individuals and families are products of their culture, their environments, and their daily and lifelong settings, like family of origin, school and work settings, friends, romantic relationships, etc.
What made you decide to come to UConn to head this department?
When I interviewed, I was impressed by the strength of the HDFS faculty and the research happening inside the department and in affiliated centers. I appreciated the strong focus on health and culture within the department and at the University, as evidenced by the UConn academic vision. The department clearly has colleagues who support each other, which is something I highly value. Overall, I think it is an excellent time to be joining UConn in general and HDFS in particular.