Our Continuing Quest to Answer the Important Questions

Norma J. Bond Burgess, Ph.D., NCFR President
/NCFR Report, Winter 2021

We have worked through the COVID-19 crisis with hope and anticipation for a better “normal”. To say we have a “new normal” does not do justice to what we have experienced. Societies changed as we endured a pandemic at a scale that most of us had never witnessed. Two years later, we are in a recovery unlike any other. Perhaps in the near future, today’s reality will not seem so strange.

Throughout all this, we have socially distanced so that we could protect ourselves and our loved ones and prevent spreading the disease. At one time, we thought the cure was upon us; in actuality, it was—until the Delta variant introduced itself to us with the fury of a cyclone. As you think back, I am certain that you cannot remember any time like the one we have just witnessed and experienced that took the world by storm.

Life is a journey unlike any other, and the experiences of the pandemic provided new meaning to us for living. How does thinking this way influence us all in one way or another? Precautions take place everywhere! We take extra care when we are in public and in our homes! We actually learned how to appropriately wash our hands and sanitize them for our health’s sake and for that of our neighbors, students, and fellow persons.

On many occasions as a professor, I have wondered back to my training as I tried to understand and explain phenomena that we continue to experience as families and societies. I finally concluded that some situations “simply are not in the book!” The answers for the questions that we pose are rare as we explore research opportunities and seek additional resolutions. As a curious graduate student, I remember inquiring of one of my professors—when is the question completely answered? His response was “When one ceases to ask why!” Professor J. Oliver Williams, of North Carolina State University, was wise in that way. Given that we continue to pose questions, we evidently have much work to do.

As professionals who specialize in the study of families and the practice of working with them to solve problems, we have a lot to learn. Teaching the next generation what to do is a critical component of what our legacy will look like in the future.

Each time we address pertinent questions, others arise to test our thinking. This prompts us to further polish our skills, contribute to the toolbox, and take the next steps. The work is never done, and our scope continues to broaden as we develop new answers and applications.

The last few years provided fodder for consideration in significant ways. Unstated feelings, misunderstandings, and a lack of clarity about many subjects that had not been sufficiently resolved were not widely addressed in the schools that our children attended, and so they provided much kindling for scientists to develop solutions using more sophisticated approaches than before. Societal discussions about what should be taught in schools provided an opportunity for your NCFR Board of Directors to examine positions that needed attention and resolution, or at least comment. Conversations today about the status of tenure characterize where higher education might be in the future.

No doubt, many of these discussions continue to raise the mercury in the thermometers, ire in the veins, and add salt to old wounds in their own way. Research topics are open for renovation since families and societies are dynamic in their own way. If this were not so, research and teaching would not take on new meanings. Scholars with the fluidity of the spectrum, generate much knowledge so that the work for new assistant professors and doctoral students spin rapid.

Topics for research in the coming years will reflect the status of where families are. I understand this task is usually the wherewithal of the major professor. However, once the dissertation is finished, the world is your oyster—so do select wisely. Your work will reflect your thinking about the future of families and their well-being. Your blogs, channels, and other communications will reflect your thoughts and extend beyond the classroom. For those starting YouTube channels, I understand—it is the big trend. Learning what readers want to read is a component for being here. Your work could spread more quickly and broadly than it can in journal publications—but will it count equally? Hot topics now include climate change and its impact on families; after twenty years, we are out of the war in Afghanistan so that one no longer works for discussion, though it may be of interest for researchers on the impact of the military on families.

Projecting research topics over the next two years will be interesting. Race relations within the U.S., I am sure, will continue to be an important component in collectively bringing peace to the nation. Finding a better “normal” post-COVID-19 will stimulate how we maneuver back to some aspects of pre-pandemic life. Rebuilding the economy so that lives can be lived, and children can catch up with their education—including in-person proms and graduations—and returning to travel and, for higher education, study abroad all bring challenges in preparing our students to be world ready.

Faculty exchanges and faculty-led programs changed right before our eyes. Events that had a significant impact on our lives and that of our students represents additional facets of education that will need to be addressed straight away—that is, when countries re-open their borders to welcome curious students and welcome back old friends from several years ago. It appears as if we “lost” eighteen months to an unknown phenomenon, except that we all know what it was, but did not know what to do with it and how to manage ourselves at the same time.

The enrichment of careers is sure to rise again, and to a different level. Countries will welcome students from everywhere; some countries will continue business as usual with policies that provoke discussion and consideration in other ways.

Your NCFR Board of Directors will continue the quest for outstanding research, teaching, service, social justice, inclusivity, and equity. The disparities that we see in our lives and read about in our research allows further examination by CFLEs and other practitioners to provide better services and serving families with more knowledge and various approaches. Welcome to 2022!