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Course Requirements

All students take a core series of courses in the first two years.  This ensures a common foundation of breadth for all students pursuing a degree in HDFS. 

  • 3 substantive classes (Lifespan Development, Family Studies, and Intervention Research)
  • 4 foundational methods classes in research methods and statistics
  • 2 professional development classes

In addition to this students complete electives tailored to their program of research

Methodology Requirement

HDFS is widely regarded for the sophisticated methodological training students receive.  In addition to the 4 required core courses, students take a minimum of 2 additional electives.  Some students select HDFS for the opportunity to study with world renowned researchers on the cutting edge of statistical modeling of change and complex behavioral dynamics.  Other students feel more apprehensive about the statistical coursework at the outset.  Regardless, all students come to view their methodological training as invaluable in preparing them to conduct innovative research and are highly sought after on the job market.

Research Requirement

All students in the program are required to participate in research activities. Students are expected to present research at professional meetings and take advantage of workshops, colloquium series, and symposia held at Penn State every year.

Communications Requirement

In line with the Penn State Graduate School requirements, all students must demonstrate high quality written and oral communication skills in English, reflective of the advanced degree they are pursuing.  Evaluations of communication skills take place throughout the student's first two years in the program. 

Teaching Requirement

Instructional development is an important component of graduate education in HDFS. Our program is designed to provide a broad and flexible approach to students’ development in this domain.  The Department provides graduate coursework on teaching, supervised teaching experiences, and teaching assistantship opportunities.  Students are also encouraged to pursue additional resources for professional development in this domain available through the Penn State Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence.

Student Development and Evaluation

To ensure that all students receive high quality mentoring and supervision, faculty are required to work with students annually to identify specific goals, establish timelines, identify strategies for completing goals, and discuss progress.  In additional to the supervision provided by the student's advisor or co-advisors, the full faculty convene annually to discuss student progress and identify any concerns.  This process ensures that students in need of additional support or guidance are identified early, and is a critical component ensuring all students' success.

Master’s Thesis and Dissertation

HDFS does not admit students into the program pursuing a terminal Master's degree.  However, all doctoral students must complete a Master's thesis before holding their Qualifying Exam.  Students who enter the program with a Master's Degree (in any area) that fulfills the empirical requirement are not required to complete a second Master's Degree. 

Students who do not enter with a Master's Degree will be required to complete this degree "along the way".  In final fulfillment of the Doctoral Degree students are required to complete a written dissertation, and successfully defend the dissertation orally.