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PhD Program

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies offers a PhD in Human Environmental Sciences, with an emphasis area in Human Development and Family Studies. The PhD program can lead to careers in research, college or university teaching, or to leadership positions in public and private institutions.

The PhD program is designed with student individuality in mind. Students have unique career goals and research interests, and we help students reach their goals through individualized learning plans and varied opportunities for research and teaching. 

students in classroom with instructor

The PhD degree is flexible and is co-designed by the student and an interdisciplinary committee to meet the goals and objectives of the student. A core of theory, research methods, statistics, and content courses are combined with a collateral area from among disciplines such as psychology, sociology, education, nursing, gerontology, public administration, business, and law. Doctoral students focus on Lifespan Development, Early Childhood Development, or Family Studies.

Each student will undergo a comprehensive exam process and a dissertation. The Student Handbook provides more details about requirements of these processes.

Students are provided a great variety of research and teaching experiences both to prepare students for the variety of tasks required in academia (e.g., research, teaching, service) and to allow students to individualize their programs of study. Doctoral students will lead at least two research projects and be a Graduate Instructor of at least one undergraduate-level course. In each of these experiences, students are mentored by faculty.

In addition, the Department of Human Development and Family Studies also houses several centers and programs through which students have opportunities for research or service. The Center for Family Policy and Research (CFPR) emphasizes applied research on issues related to children and young families, and studies policy implications for families and individuals across the life span.

The Center for Children and Families across Cultures (CFAC) is a venue for multidisciplinary, collaborative efforts for studying children and families of diverse backgrounds within the U.S. and across nations. A central tenet of CFAC is a strengths-based, positive development approach to developing models, conducting research, and providing outreach that benefit such populations.

The Center for Relationship and Family Resilience (CRFR) seeks to increase knowledge of individual, family, and cultural factors leading to health and well-being throughout the lifespan. CRFR collaborates with schools and agencies in the community to promote resilience.

Focus on Kids is a court-ordered parent education program designed to educate divorcing and separating parents about how to help their children adjust to divorce. Many of our doctoral students facilitate this program with members of the community and have developed an online version of the program.

The Child Development Lab (CDL) is a nationally-ranked educational center for infants and young children. Our graduate students have opportunity to work in the CDL, not only to train as educators, but also to conduct research.

HDFS faculty have received university and national recognition for teaching, research, mentoring, and service, and they are highly ranked for their publication records. Collectively, our faculty have over 170 publications since 2009. They are multidisciplinary in their training and areas of expertise, which allows students to benefit from multiple perspectives and to find an advisor whose research closely aligns with the interests of the student. Our department fosters an environment of collaboration and support for graduate students. Doctoral students work closely with faculty members, who serve as research and teaching mentors, and they frequently co-author publications. In fact, faculty and student collaborations resulted in over 100 publications since 2009.

Our doctoral students are expected to be involved in research and/or teaching while maintaining a course load. This experience prepares students for employment in academia, which has expectations of research, teaching, and service concurrently. Our department has provided more faculty to Doctoral/Research Extensive University family studies departments than any other program in the United States.

Further, the University of Missouri provides a Preparing Future Faculty program, which is offered for doctoral students nearing graduation. This program is designed to prepare students to compete on the job market, and, ultimately, equip them with the skills necessary for success in a faculty role.

All of our doctoral students are provided assistantships, which provide a tuition waiver, a health insurance reduction, a monthly stipend, and discounts at the University Bookstore. There is no special application process for assistantships; the application for admission serves as your assistantship application.

About half of our doctoral students also have earned fellowships from the College of Human Environmental Sciences or from Graduate Studies. Graduate faculty will nominate students based on the strength of their application. Fellowships are awarded to strong candidates who can demonstrate a goodness of fit between their interests and talents and the department’s.

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