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Students enter the program with a cohort of peers and typical develop strong bonds of support and collaboration within their cohort.  All students complete a common core of coursework in their first year, covering the three broad substantive themes of the department: Individual Development, Family Studies, and Prevention and Intervention. All students will also develop strong skills in research methods through the completion of a four-course methodology sequence over the first 2 years.  Students consult with their advisor to develop a customized course sequence to fulfill the remaining course credit requirements

Research Focus

The doctoral degree is a research degree, and as such, the most important training takes place outside the classroom through various apprenticeship experiences. This is the primary focus of the work the student completes in their advisor’s research lab, and may include carefully selected opportunities with additional labs that expand the student’s skill set and exposure to research.  Students are encouraged to be engaged in their lab environment and to capitalize on the intellectually rich environment at Penn State.  Students will complete a comprehensive dissertation project involving empirical research in fulfillment of the doctoral degree requirements. 


The HDFS department views the graduate training program as a collective mission, and graduate student mentoring extends beyond the students’ individual advisor.  Students receive education, training, feedback, professional guidance, and supervision from a broad range of faculty during their graduate training.  Faculty work with students to identify professional development goals tailored to the student’s career objective.

Development across domains

Students are encouraged to develop across multiple professional domains as appropriate for their career objectives. Students may have the opportunity to gain experience in teaching, methods specialization, presenting scientific data at research conferences, educating non-scientific audiences about research, writing grants to fund research, publishing research, and working with community stakeholders to understand and improve program outcomes.