Professional Organizations: Why You Should Join Them, How to Get the Most Out of Their Meetings, and How to Avoid Going Broke Doing So

Professional organizations and their meetings are one of the best parts of academic life. You get access to important professional resources and networks. Conferences are in fun locations – some of my favorites have been Melbourne, San Diego, New Orleans, Lausanne – and once there, you get to hang out with a bunch of people who also nerd out on good research. But, professional organizations and conferences can also feel overwhelming and mysterious to new graduate students.

Why join a professional organization?

The big question is – why join an organization in the first place? They are expensive to join, and once you graduate, they are even more expensive to maintain membership. But, they do offer a host of benefits.

Me, Kelly Musick, and Tasha Snyder on the Lavaux Vineyard walking tour outside of Lausanne, Switzerland. We were attending the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies conference.

Me, Kelly Musick, and Tasha Snyder on the Lavaux Vineyard walking tour outside of Lausanne, Switzerland. We were attending the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies conference. Kara Joyner was behind the camera.


Professional organizations often sponsor journals. You will have access to the journal through your membership, and often can even get print copies of journals if you prefer. But, you can probably get the journal through your institutions library, at least at most universities with graduate programs. You also get access to other professional resources, such as the mentoring program that the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) offers. Junior scholars are paired with more senior scholars, and these senior scholars offer advice, networking opportunities, and support. Many organizations have teaching resources available, and others have professional development resources, such as example conference submissions.

Some organizations have member profiles on their websites. The Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) has a database of members that reporters can search for experts related to their reporting. The listserves maintained by professional organizations are also very useful. They are used for disseminating information such as job opportunities and as recruitment tools for studies. Some disseminate teaching resources or media articles related to the organization’s topical focus.

Most departments post their job ads to professional organization websites as well as the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is much easier to find jobs that are related to HDFS on the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) website that to try to search the massive Chronicle database.

Finally, organizations often publish newsletters with useful articles and updates on issues of relevance to the organization, such as the funding situation at NIH or a policy brief that was recently published. You do not always need to be a member to receive these emails, so check the organization’s website to see if you can sign up for the emails even before you are a member.

New research ideas

Professional organizations, particularly through their meetings, can spark new research ideas. Consuming the latest research at conferences can help you identify exciting trends coming in the field before they even appear in the journal.  You might learn about a dataset that is publicly available that you did not know existed. You might come up with a novel research idea that you hadn’t previously thought of upon hearing a question at a talk. Thus, professional organizations can help you push your research forward.

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Why I believe in Family Science

Today I am publishing the first publicly available ranking of Human Development and Family Science programs in North America, at least the first ranking that I am familiar with.  Why did I go to the trouble of creating this ranking? Because I believe in human development, and in particular, family science, and you should too.

photo credit: Alain Bachellier via photopin cc

photo credit: Alain Bachellier via photopin cc

When I first got my job at Ohio State, I did not like the name of our department. Human Development and Family Science?  My degrees from Illinois and Penn State were both in Human Development and Family Studies. In all honesty, I thought family science was some kind of strange term for scholars that studied families, but were not rigorous researchers. What came to mind were cross-sectional, community-based studies, where the major topic of interest was some abstract concept associated with some other abstract concept. At the point I was hired, I had just gotten done working with an economist for two years, so my use of the term endogenous was at an all time high, as was my dismissal of scholarship that I put in the “family science” category. Sometimes I would talk about my program as “family studies” because I was embarrassed of the term.

Over time, however, the term family science has grown on me. Family science used to seem like this exclusive term, whereby you had to be in a particular club, or get your PhD from a particular program, to be a “family scientist”. But, now that I have learned more about family science, I realize that it is actually an inclusive term. Actually, my article using econometrics to examine the mental health consequences of cohabitation vs. marital dissolution is family science. And so is my article looking at how playing with a “fake baby” determines your co-parenting after the real baby is on the scene. Family science is diverse, interesting, and includes a range of research topics related to the family, from family demography to family psychology, from qualitative to quantitative methods, from large, secondary datasets to small, community samples.

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How to Succeed in Graduate School While Really Trying

I am really trying! photo credit: dkjd via photopin cc

I am really trying! photo credit: dkjd via photopin cc

We are midway through the autumn semester, and I have been reflecting on my graduate proseminar course, which is essentially an introduction to graduate school. Some programs have these types of classes, and others do not. So, in this post I give you links to articles I assign and a few tips I give to our first-year graduate students. The articles and tips are designed to tell students those things which faculty generally assume students know, as well as give them suggestions on how to succeed in graduate school. What would you add to my list?

How do I take a graduate class? How do I know what classes to take?

Claire’s Tips for registering for courses:

  • Talk with your advisor. Talk with your advisor about which courses you should take each semester. They may have specific courses they want you to take, or they may know about a specific seminar being offered that would teach you a specialized skill or knowledge set.
  • Email the professor. You may not be able to tell from the title of a course what the course topic will be. If you see a faculty member is teaching a seminar, email them for a course description and/or syllabus. Even if the syllabus is not ready, they will be able to share with you the topic for the seminar. Then, you can decide whether or not to take the seminar.
  • Take seminars when they are offered. Faculty often rarely have the opportunity to teach graduate seminars. Thus, if you are interested in a seminar in a specific topic, such as attachment, it may not be offered again for two or more years. Thus, it is smarter to take the seminar when it is offered and delay a required course, because you may not have the opportunity to take the seminar the following year.
  • Make it count. Choose your electives wisely. For example, try to take electives related to your research interests. You may be able to write a paper for these courses that are related to your research interests and will thus lead you closer to a publication or help you prepare for candidacy. Further, if you are planning to do a minor or specialization, you should look for electives that will count towards the requirements for the specialization.
  • Explore other departments. HDFS is interdisciplinary, and our students often take coursework outside of the department. If you cannot find an elective you are interested in taking in the HDFS course offerings, you might explore electives in Psychology, Sociology, Economics, or Communication.
  • Register for independent studies and thesis credits. Do not forget to register for independent study and thesis credits! By adding these credits to your load, you will free up time from coursework to focus on your research.
  • Make sure you take the minimum number of credits needed to be a full-time student.

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Information to Promote Grad Student Success

Last week I posed the question “What information, tools, tasks, and activities could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?” So, let’s start with the first part of that question – what information could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?

There are several pieces of information, as well as ways to disseminate that information, that can promote graduate student success.

photo credit: seeveeaar via photopin cc

photo credit: seeveeaar via photopin cc


The first piece of information that comes to mind is the grad handbook. Our handbook now has several “tips” sections for students. We have 1) tips for success (i.e. meet with your advisor often; get to know your fellow grad students), 2) application tips (i.e. be yourself; proofread), and 3) tips for registering for courses (i.e. talk with your advisor; make it count).  We also have advising best practices (from the OSU graduate school), including both graduate student responsibilities and graduate advisor responsibilities.  Finally, the handbook includes guidelines for making reasonable progress through the program, including information about what reasonable progress may look like each year (i.e. first-year students will want to be involved in research and have a minimum 3.0 GPA; fourth-year students will want to have a first-authored conference presentation and complete their required coursework).

By having a detailed handbook with advice and tips, students can 1) plan a course of study that is going to foster success, and 2) use reasonable progress standards to set annual and long-term goals for themselves.

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Welcome to Adventures in Human Development and Family Science!

I have been thinking about writing a blog for a while now.  But, with so many great blogs (Family Inequality, Pearls of Wisdom: The Blog, Professional Development, Sociological Images) I wasn’t sure what I could contribute. There are always things I would like to suggest – i.e. check out this great post on writing an introduction – but I can do that now that I am officially on twitter (Follow me: @ClaireKampDush).

In thinking about what I have to contribute, I finally think I *may* have found a hole in what is out there on the world wide web.  A blog dedicated to the trials and tribulations conducting interdisciplinary research – and specifically – interdisciplinary family and developmental research.  Many times when people ask what department I am in, they look confused. Actually, I am confused at this point.  For my first 6 years at Ohio State, I was in the Department of Human Development and Family Science (HDFS). We just recently went through a merger, and now I am in the Human Development and Family Science program in the Department of Human Sciences. Human Sciences is a broad (!) term we picked to describe our department that includes psychologists, demographers, sociologists, and economists in the HDFS program, economists, fashion designers, and hospitality managers in the Consumer Sciences Program, nutritionists from bench science to dietitians in the Nutrition program, and sports managers to exercise scientists in the Kinesiology program.  So, if anyone is prepared to blog from the trenches of interdisciplinary research, I think we members of the Department of Human Sciences are!

That said, I also believe I am uniquely qualified to blog about conducting interdisciplinary research. I worked with clinical psychologist Laurie Kramer and psychologist (though I never knew what his discipline was until I saw that he was in the APA on his CV) Joe Pleck at Illinois, clinical psychologist Cathy Cohan, developmental psychologist Karen Fingerman, and sociologist Paul Amato at Penn State, and economist Liz Peters at Cornell. Thus, individuals from several social science disciplines have contributed to my training. And, since being at Ohio State, my primary collaborators have been developmental psychologist Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, clinical psychologist Galena Rhoades, and sociologist Miles Taylor.

I am a member of the American Sociological Association,  Association for Psychological ScienceCouncil on Contemporary FamiliesInternational Association for Relationship ResearchNational Council on Family RelationsPopulation Association of America, and the Society for Research on Child Development. I review for journals in family studies, sociology, psychology, and demography.  All in all, I am inherently interdisciplinary, and I am passionately so. I always tell my graduate students that the most exciting research can grow from interdisciplinary thinking.  For instance, as a family demographer (note that demography is also an interdisciplinary field), psychologists often ask me if I am concerned that someone else is going to conduct my research idea in a secondary dataset.  For the most part, I have not found this to be a problem, as I find that I usually am asking different questions than those in the disciplines are because I am considering important factors from across them. It is not always easy to conduct interdisciplinary research, be in an interdisciplinary department, and have to constantly tell people what “HDFS” is and that no, I am not a therapist.  But, it can also feel really great!


I hope you enjoy my blog, and I hope to have something to share with you once a week.