Advancing Family Science: Exploring & Understanding Professional Identities

Diane Cushman, NCFR Executive Director
/ NCFR Report, Summer 2022


As work continues on NCFR’s Advancing Family Science (AFS) Initiative—to strengthen the identity, visibility, and perceived value of the discipline of Family Science—feedback from NCFR members remains invaluable to help our staff and organizational leadership better understand how those in Family Science view different identities: their professional identities, the identities of their academic units, and the identity of Family Science itself.

In the years leading up to the AFS Initiative, current and past members indicated a clear need to further define, clarify, and promote the identity and value of Family Science. This has been and remains our primary focus. Digging deeper into the work, however, has helped us discover additional questions and needs that are important to consider.

In my spring NCFR Report column, I hinted at a new area of exploration related to identity: the relationship between the areas of Family Science and human development. The two are commonly paired in academic units, often written as “Human Development and Family Science” and familiarly called “HDFS.” As the AFS initiative progressed, some members asked about how NCFR represents and conveys HDFS and the connection between the two areas, especially given that the HDFS label is increasingly used in academic program names.

One of our initial activities to “take the pulse” on this topic was to talk about it with members. NCFR staff members, in small-group conversations, listened to a number of members give their perspectives, which were full of important and nuanced insights. As I write this, staff are still synthesizing the conversation themes and what they mean for next steps at NCFR. The following, however, are a few early takeaways:

  • The two areas of Family Science and human development fit well together. In a practical sense, it’s difficult for one to exist without the other.

  • Among academic institutions and individuals, we see nuanced perspectives on the structure and extent of the relationship between Family Science and human development.

  • Both Family Science and human development are growing and evolving in their identities. Even as we refer to “human development” as a singular concept, we also understand that different perspectives exist on the identity of the human development field.

  • NCFR is in a position to take “ownership” of the Family Science discipline and serve as its professional home (our Global Ends direct us to advocate for the discipline and professions of Family Science). NCFR is not in a position to “own” human development in the same way.

From the member conversations, staff also recognized connections between the topic of identity and other important matters on NCFR’s radar—the training of Family Science students and exploration of standards for academic programs, the hiring of faculty in Family Science and HDFS units, and pathways to academic leadership, to name a few.

Ultimately, we recognize the prevalence of “Human Development and Family Science” in professional labels and identities, as well as the importance of each area to the other. We intend for NCFR to show the connection between Family Science and human development in the work of the AFS Initiative while continuing to focus on lifting up Family Science’s unique and important contributions, which are still unknown to many people outside of Family Science.

The critical task is weaving together insights from our members to determine what NCFR can do next to best serve its members and the Family Science discipline. If you have perspectives you’d like to provide, please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected], or submit your feedback online at

New Content and Resources

I hope you found time this spring to explore how the new Advancing Family Science resources I introduced in my previous column can help you promote your identity as a scholar, professional, or student:

  • “How to Explain Family Science to Anyone” is a thorough, yet easy-to-understand guide for developing your Family Science elevator pitch ( Note that it lays the groundwork if your major or background is HDFS, as well.

  • The online Toolkit to Promote Family Science—full of free graphics, posters, articles, and more to help you spread the word about Family Science—has already grown since its launch, now containing more than 90 items ( Check back regularly for new material.

Since that column, we’ve also added new career-exploration content to our cache of resources: the on-demand webinar How to Find a Career in Family Science, and new profiles of members in different practice careers. Find all our resources for exploring Family Science careers at

As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts and ideas related to strengthening and promoting the Family Science discipline. Send your feedback anytime at