Human Development & Family Studies PhD Program

The graduate program prepares scholars to define problems and conduct innovative and rigorous research that informs policies and practices aimed at promoting the health and well-being of individuals and families. A central focus of the program is to develop skills to study the complex interplay of biological, developmental, interpersonal, and contextual determinants that protect and/or undermine the health and well-being of individuals and families across their life course. The doctoral program emphasizes integration and critical evaluation of research as well as the use of sophisticated methodologies that advance discovery and implementation of novel approaches to better the lives of individuals and families across multiple social contexts.

Potential Careers

Graduates of the PhD program typically fare well in the job market and are leaders in their professions and communities. Many of our graduates go on to complete post-doctoral fellowships in academic or translational research settings, and most of our graduates hold Assistant and Associate Professor positions in a variety of departments. See the list below for a sampling of the places our graduates currently hold positions:

  • Assistant Professors
  • Child, Youth, & Family Studies, University of Nebraska
  • Psychology, West Virginia University
  • Early Childhood Education, Georgia State University
  • Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University
  • Family Life, Brigham Young University
  • Associate Professors
  • Sociology, Wichita State University
  • Human Development and Family Studies, Michigan State University
  • Youth, Family, and Community Sciences, North Carolina State University
  • Human Environmental Studies, Central Michigan University
  • Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum, Oklahoma State
  • Postdoctoral Positons
  • Yale Child Study Center
  • Bronfenbrenner Institute

We are also highly supportive of students who choose not to pursue academic careers. Our graduates have also held positions as Policy Fellow (e.g., Society for Research on Child Development Policy Fellowship), Data Analyst (e.g., Applied Survey Research), Research Scientist (e.g., Zero to Three; American Institute for Research; Moffit Cancer Center), Extension Specialist, and other translational science directorships (e.g., National Center for Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning at Child Care Aware® of America).

Doctoral Program Core Competencies

Doctoral students in HDFS are expected to develop basic competencies through work in core courses and supervised research experiences. Students develop additional competencies through coursework, supervised and independent research. The core competencies, described below, reflect current research in developmental and family sciences and intervention and prevention science. The Graduate Committee reviews these competencies regularly to ensure that they reflect up-to-date scholarship in developmental and family science.

Theory - Students are expected to understand and apply:

  • basic tenets of influential developmental and family studies theories and emerging theoretical and conceptual frameworks (e.g., behavioral genetics and developmental neuroscience)
  • theoretical and conceptual frameworks utilized in empirical developmental and family studies research
  • processes and mechanisms that promote development and change
  • the use of scientific methods to inform and advance theory

Research Methods - Students are expected to understand and apply:

  • univariate and multivariate data analytic techniques, including: correlation and regression (e.g., hierarchical multiple regression and logistic regression), factor analysis (e.g., exploratory, confirmatory) and ANOVA (e.g., repeated measures, MANOVA)
  • up-to-date approaches for analyzing mediation, moderation, and interdependence and for interpreting results of these analyses
  • specific analytic techniques for answering specific types of research questions and for drawing appropriate inferences from results
  • explain the strengths and limitations of measurement (e.g., reliability, validity) and research designs (e.g., correlational, experimental, quasi-experimental; cross-sectional vs. longitudinal), methods (i.e., qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods) and related analysis strategies to the study of human development and family studies.

Intervention - Students are expected to understand and apply:

  • research designs for assessing intervention effectiveness (e.g., appropriate application of quasi-experimental, experimental (RCT) and non-experimental research)
  • critical elements in intervention research (including issues such as fidelity, attrition, dosage, and local adaptations)
  • ethical and responsible conduct of intervention research (including attention to research with vulnerable populations)
  • empirical and theoretical foundations of interventions (either existing or newly designed), including hypothesized mechanisms of change, and appropriate research for assessing effectiveness of a specific intervention

The Third Year (and Beyond)

Beginning with the third year in the graduate program, students' focus turns to the development of research competencies. The Department requires that students complete two additional courses in statistics and/or research methods; one of these courses must be focused on quantitative analysis while the other may focus on either quantitative or qualitative analyses. Appropriate statistics and research methodology courses include those at the 500 and 600 levels in the Department of Statistics, and courses at the 600 level in other departments.

Research Focus

Knowledge generation is a major goal of Purdue's Department of Human Development and Family Studies. The department carries out a broad range of research projects, and there is a strong record of intramural and extramural grant funding. The faculty have identified five themes that reflect the focus on applied research and scholarship in HDFS.

Early Childhood Education and Care

A growing body of research literature documents the nature, process, and consequences of early childhood learning and development, and directs attention to the role of risk and protective factors in children's development. Research in HDFS on early childhood education focuses specifically on understanding the relations between home and school factors that contribute to children's positive developmental and learning outcomes. A primary research focus is on the design and evaluation of targeted interventions that support the development of children's social, cognitive, and academic competence.

Interpersonal Relations

Human beings are inherently social creatures. Familial relationships set a foundation and provide a context for emotional, social, and cognitive achievements. Departmental research considers how parents, siblings, friends, in-laws, stepparents or children, and other social partners influence each other's well-being and development. Our research covers the life span from infancy to old age, looking at individuals and families.

Culture and Diversity

Diversity is an integral part of all societies and groups. Scholars from different theoretical perspectives and interests investigate variability and similarities across groups in developmental and family outcomes in several domains. Research focuses on the processes linked to group (e.g., culture, social class) variation and commonality. Examples of research areas include child-parent relationships and parenting practices across cultures, preschoolers' perceptions and interactions with children with disabilities, children's perceptions of conflict in varying political settings, and pathways to literacy readiness across culturally, socially, and economically diverse groups.

Health and Wellbeing

Health concerns are central to family life across the developmental spectrum. Parents of young children often closely monitor their children's health. Youth gradually develop greater responsibility for managing their healthcare. Families become increasingly important as adults face health care changes in old age. Faculty who work in this area are guided by the bio-psychosocial model. Particular areas of study are well-being and physical health in later-life, family functioning and coping with cancer.

Military Families

Military families — whether serving now or in the past — have stepped forward to take on difficult challenges on behalf of our nation. These families have much to teach us about both strength and vulnerability, and supporting them while and following their service presents important policy and programmatic challenges for government, employers, and communities. Researchers in our department and across Purdue are addressing questions related to changes in families as they experience challenging transitions, the development of military-connected children, youth and young adults, the effectiveness of programs serving military families, and ways to address families' needs in the future.

Sample Plan of Study

See the current graduate manual for a sample Plan of Study.

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