Academic journal article Family Relations

Issues in Training Family Scientists

Academic journal article Family Relations

Issues in Training Family Scientists

Article excerpt

In this article we explore several issues related to educating doctoral students to become family scientists. We begin the article by briefly addressing what a family scientist is. Then we identify competencies we believe a family scientist should possess. Following that, we outline the kinds of academic experiences we think are necessary to achieve those competencies, and we discuss other kinds of activities that should be provided as part of the training for family scientists. The next section of the article includes a discussion of controversies and unresolved issues in the education of family scientists. The article concludes with some speculations regarding the future of graduate education for family scientists.

We want to note at the outset that there is little literature on the topic of training family scientists. There is more written about educating undergraduate students in family studies than there is about educating graduate students to become family scientists. Therefore, much of what is contained in this article reflects our collective wisdom and biases regarding graduate education.

What is a Family Scientist?

The three co-authors of this article clearly personify the difficulties in defining what a family scientist is. We have graduate degrees in counseling psychology, family studies, child development, and sociology. Two of us have doctorates in family studies (Ganong and Demo), and one has a doctorate in special education (Coleman), yet all three of us wear the mantle of family scientist. In addition, we identify ourselves with labels of other professions, such as sociologist, mediator, and counselor. Two things make us typical of family scientists: (a) the diversity of educational backgrounds and (b) the fact that we hold multiple professional identities. None of us has had the same graduate training, although there obviously was some overlap, and yet we are all family scientists.

There are broad and narrow definitions of family scientists. The broad definition is any social or behavioral scientist who studies families, a definition which includes family psychologists, sociologists, family life educators, family therapists, family policy analysts, family nurses, psychiatrists, communications scholars, anthropologists, and others. The narrow definition is that a family scientist is a person "who studies the workings of the family as the foreground of their inquiry" (R. D. Day, e-mail communication, December, 1994). In this narrower view, family scientists may draw upon knowledge from other disciplines, but the knowledge is focused upon the internal dynamics of families and the ways families interact with their ecosystems (Keim, 1995). The broad definition includes scholars and practitioners who study and work with families part of the time, although they may also focus on individuals and on nonfamily groups. The narrow definition includes only those scholars and practitioners whose primary focus is on families. According to this narrow definition, family scientists conceptualize their study or practice within a familial context, even when they study or work with individuals.

Defining family science is difficult; there is controversy over whether a family science discipline exists and, if it does, what distinguishes it from other social and behavioral sciences that incorporate the study of families (Beutler, Burr, Bahr, & Herrin, 1989; Burr & Leigh, 1983; Edwards, 1989; Jurich, 1989; Menaghan, 1989; NCFR Task Force on the Development of the Family Discipline, 1988). Our purpose is not to debate the existence of family science as a unique profession, nor is it to bog down in controversies regarding who can legitimately be called a family scientist. Obviously, those calling themselves family scientists are a diverse group, and their training is also diverse. In this article we will use the broad view of family science, but we will limit our comments regarding educational and training issues to academic programs that focus primarily on preparing individuals for professional careers that emphasize families. …

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