“Navigating Tumultuous Change and Uncertainty”

This message from SRCD President Ron Dahl seems worth sharing as we begin the new year.

Winter solstice 2016. Six weeks ago the U.S. election created a seismic event—a sudden massive shift in the geopolitical terrain that is still sending shock waves around the world. Today—as Earth’s angling orbit around the sun is creating the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere—seems an apt time to pause and take our bearings. The Inauguration on the West Lawn at noon on January 20th 2017 is still a month away. We may need to endure several more solstices before we are able to grasp the true impact of these events. The range of predictions varies wildly.

One thing is clear: a massive disruption has occurred. It has shifted the bedrock of what many of us had regarded as normalcy in U.S. political leadership. It has unhinged longstanding assumptions about the U.S. role in a rapidly changing and challenging global context. Such disruption of norms is exactly what many voters were seeking. Yet, as most of us are distressingly aware, upheavals can have dire consequences. Many in our nation, and across the world, are experiencing this period of tumultuous change as extremely threatening—including millions who are living in visceral fear of the future.

As members of a Society devoted to advancing developmental science and promoting its use to improve human lives, we are facing difficult challenges. Many of us feel that our core values and life work are under threat. We fear a fundamental de-valuing of our science in a ‘post-truth’ era of fake news. We abhor the rise in misogyny, bigotry, racism, and hate spewing crowds that many of us have witnessed. Most importantly, we see all of these dangers through an amplifying lens: their profound threat to the well-being, development, and future of children. All children.

How can we respond?
On one hand, with several thousand members spanning more than 50 countries, SRCD encompasses a diverse range of perspectives—making it impossible to speak with one voice for our entire organization. On the other hand, to say nothing in the face of what many of us regard as a time of great danger to our fundamental mission feels deeply wrong. So, I would like to take this opportunity to offer some personal reflections—emphasizing three points—and to make one pragmatic call to action.

The first point is captured in the wise advice of Maya Angelou, in Letter to My Daughter:

You may not control all the events that happen to you,
but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

It seems crucial that we not allow ourselves to feel defeated or diminished. Even if key people in power may disagree with our priorities, or seem to de-value our work and mission, we can decide—as individuals and as organizations—not to be reduced. We can actively choose the opposite path. We can engage more strongly in activities that create feelings of empowerment and larger purpose. By doing good science. By advocating powerfully for the values and inclusiveness that we believe in. By aligning our efforts toward heartfelt goals—which for many of us include the prioritization of science and policy that contribute to improving the lives (and the futures) of children.

A comment by President Obama just after the election, conveys a second important point:

Sometimes history zigzags.

It is important to take the long view. Growth, development, and progress rarely proceed in a simple linear fashion. What we experience as failures or tragic disappointments in the moment, often can be recognized later as the setbacks, barriers, and backslides that had to be overcome to achieve success. Emphasizing this perspective does not trivialize the magnitude or duration of the struggles. On the contrary, it is precisely when we are in the midst of the most daunting challenges that this perspective can become most critical. Not as some glib, abstract, optimistic statement. But rather, as way to kindle the authentic feelings of hope and inspiration that power resilience and perseverance.

A third relevant principle is highlighted by a quote from John F. Kennedy:

Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet.
We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.

We must find more effective ways to counter the divisive forces that are tearing our nation—and our world—to pieces. Of course there is no simple formula or straightforward solutions. The factors and conflicts that divide us are extremely complex. Progress will require multi-faceted efforts. Yet, among these efforts, let us not underestimate the potential for the unifying power of caring about our children’s future.

There are hundreds of organizations throughout the world devoted to children. SRCD is one of the largest organizations with a mission focusing on the science of child development. We should give careful consideration as to how we, as individuals and as an organization, can add uniquely to larger concerted efforts. We should strategize regarding how to best channel our energies and efforts to have a positive impact—in ways that align with these heartfelt goals and priorities. In ways that can help inspire others to unify.

A call to action:
We want your help. We seek stronger engagement from our members. We want you to share your ideas and to contribute energy and action to our plans. One way to contribute thoughts is through our portal. A more dynamic way to come together and share ideas is the upcoming Biennial Meeting, where we are planning a special pre-conference on Wednesday afternoon April 5th. We envision a summit of thought leaders spanning several areas of expertise, to discuss how our organization, and more broadly, our field, can best contribute to positive change in this time tumultuous change and uncertainty. The speakers and panelists will be finalized and announced in March. We recognize that a lot can change in the next few months. With luck, things in April may look much better than we fear. Or, by then we may feel an even more compelling need to come together to discuss big-picture strategy and prioritizes. We ask that you consider holding this space open in your plans.

In closing, I would like to add one personal reflection on this winter solstice. Some who have experienced great struggle to persevere through daunting circumstances have discovered this: While we are in the midst of the longest, most difficult, and loneliest darkness, our rational knowledge that the sun will rise again can seem like a cold, distant, and irrelevant fact. It is only through feelings of larger connection—to those we love, to what we love, and to what gives meaning to our lives—that this knowledge can inspire hope. There is wisdom in nurturing these deep emotional connections. In ourselves and in others. Then, when we most need it, we may be able to feel the hope that underpins our understanding that this darkness is only transient.



A message from the Princeton University President:

To the Princeton community,

Over the past two weeks, many people on campus and beyond have expressed concerns about the future of Princetonians covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which permits undocumented students to continue their studies here without fear of deportation.  I appreciate these concerns and share them.  While we cannot know at this point what will happen in the coming months, the president-elect said during his campaign that he might end DACA and deport students who had been protected by it.

That would be a tragic mistake.  DACA is a wise, humane, and beneficial policy.  It enables law-abiding young people who have grown up in the United States to develop their talents and contribute productively to this country, which is their home.  Princeton University has consistently supported DACA, and I both hope and believe that the policy can be sustained.  Though I usually do not sign petitions or mass letters, I joined a group of more than 100 college and university presidents who last week issued a statement supporting DACA.  That statement now has 300 signatories.

I have received a number of letters and petitions urging Princeton to do all it can to support its undocumented students if DACA is suspended or repealed.  We will do so to the maximum extent that the law allows.  Our efforts will be aided by policies already in place to protect the privacy and safety of every member of the University community.  For example, we do not disclose private information about our students, faculty, or staff to law enforcement officers unless we are presented with a subpoena or comparably binding requirement.  We are actively reviewing this policy and other policies and practices to ensure that they fully protect all of our students, faculty, and staff, including our DACA students.  We will also ensure that affected members of our community know where they can turn for guidance and support on matters related to immigration, including to the very knowledgeable staff of the Davis International Center.

Some of the correspondence reaching me has asked Princeton to declare itself a “sanctuary campus.”  Immigration lawyers with whom we have consulted have told us that this concept has no basis in law, and that colleges and universities have no authority to exempt any part of their campuses from the nation’s immigration laws.

As a constitutional scholar myself, I agree with that judgment and believe that it connects to one of the country’s most basic principles:  its commitment to the rule of law.  That principle deserves special attention in this uncertain and contentious time.  In a country that respects the rule of law, every person and every official, no matter what office he or she may hold, is subject to the law and must respect the rights of others.  Princeton University will invoke that principle in courts and elsewhere to protect the rights of its community and the individuals within it.  But we jeopardize our ability to make those arguments effectively, and may even put our DACA students at greater risk, if we suggest that our campus is beyond the law’s reach.

I hope you will permit me to close on a more personal note.  Both of my parents immigrated to this country, and I have devoted much of my adult life to writing and teaching about the rights of religious minorities.  I am deeply troubled by the hostility that was expressed toward immigrants and toward Muslims and other religious minorities during the recent election campaign.  But I am heartened by our community’s vigorous affirmation of the commitment to inclusivity that is fundamental not only to our University but also to America’s constitutional values.  I am glad to stand with other members of our community on behalf of DACA and the rights and well-being of all our students, faculty, and staff.

Chris Eisgruber

mentoring contract

Recently I attended a mentorship workshop for graduate students who are mentoring undergraduates in research. One suggestion was creating a mentoring “contract” where mentors and mentees can discuss their expectations openly and figure out what works best for their relationship. I think getting everyone on the same page from the get-go is a great idea, so I modified an example from the workshop and came up with this:

The purpose of this “contract” isn’t to create a list of obligations for each of us. This is a way to negotiate healthy boundaries and make our expectations clear. Our relationship will be unique, as is any relationship, so this is just a starting point for discussion. Please raise your own questions and concerns throughout the internship. You can talk to me about anything – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and I will strive to be the best mentor possible.


  • What are your research goals and personal goals in this internship (and beyond)?
  • What are my research goals and personal goals in this internship (and beyond)?
  • What is a reasonable timeline for these goals?
  • How will we help each other strive towards these goals?


  • What are your expectations for your role and my role?
  • What are my expectations for my role and your role?


  • What are our preferred means of communication?
  • What is a reasonable timeline for communication?
  • How available should we be in the lab and outside the lab?
  • How do we record research progress, questions, and any problems that arise?


  • When are we both going to be present at lab?
  • When are we both going to be available at lab?
  • Are lab hours strict or flexible?
  • Are there times when we’re definitely unavailable?


  • What does “professionalism” mean, in the context of our mentor-mentee relationship?
  • What does “professionalism” mean, in the context of our lab?

Concerns and Resources

  • What concerns do you have about being a mentee?
  • What concerns do I have about being a mentor?
  • What resources are available to you when I’m not available?
  • What resources are available to me?


This year, I’m also serving as a graduate student mentor for PSURE – the Princeton Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

Here’s an overview of the program, from the PSURE website:

“The Graduate School offers an eight-week summer research experience for undergraduates who express a serious interest in pursuing a Ph.D. and following a career in college or university teaching and research. The purpose of the program is to motivate and prepare students to make competitive applications to research doctoral programs, with a view toward completing the Ph.D. and going on to teach and conduct original research.

Princeton is a member of The Leadership Alliance, a consortium of 32 institutions of higher learning dedicated to increasing diversity in doctoral programs and on college and university faculties. The Alliance collaborates on a number of programs, from undergraduate research, to faculty development, to national symposia, to develop underrepresented students into outstanding leaders and role models in academia, business and the public sector. The Summer Research Early Identification Program (SR-EIP) is the keystone of Princeton’s participation in the Alliance.”

Specifically, I’ll be working on the following aspects of the program:

  • Conduct weekly meetings with students to mentor and advise on the research process, writing and presenting research, and general questions and concerns of students.
  • Assist with academic support programs developed in collaboration with the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the Writing Center, and other on-campus resources.
  • Attend and periodically facilitate lunchtime speaker series and other weekly events.
  • Collaborate with the Director of the PSURE program, Associate/Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, the Post-Doctoral Assistant, and Graduate School staff.


This year, I’m participating in the Princeton ReMatch research mentoring program. My mentee and I will work together on a research project this summer. (Stay tuned for more posts on that!)

Here’s the mission statement, from the ReMatch website:

Mission: To foster meaningful research collaborations between first and second year undergraduate students and graduate students from across all departments; support a diverse and inclusive research community at Princeton and beyond; provide undergraduates with early hands-on opportunities for mentored research to ignite and sustain their interest in research and prepare them for junior and senior independent work; train and support graduate students in becoming effective mentors and educators; strengthen Princeton’s research community.

ReMatch is a collaborative initiative between the Office of the Dean of the College (ODOC) and the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School (ODGS).”

legacy and diversity

From President Eisgruber:

I write today to update all members of the Princeton University community about recent events on campus, to describe important initiatives already underway or currently being considered to make Princeton a more welcoming and supportive community for all of its members, and to outline a process that the Board of Trustees will use to collect information about the record of Woodrow Wilson and his legacy on our campus.

For more than a year, Princeton—like many other colleges in this country—has been the site of intense and often emotional discussions about racial injustice.  These discussions emerged from and reflect disturbing national events, but they have often focused on the racial climate and the sense of inclusion at Princeton.

Although these conversations have often been difficult and uncomfortable, I have learned a great deal from them.  I have heard compelling testimony from students of color about the distress, pain, and frustration that is caused by a campus climate that they too often find unwelcoming or uncaring.  In some cases, these feelings are heightened or exacerbated by exchanges, frequently anonymous, on social media.  These problems are not unique to Princeton—on the contrary, similar stories are unfolding at many peer institutions—but that does not make them any more acceptable.  Our students deserve better, and Princeton must do better.  We must commit ourselves to make this University a place where students from all backgrounds feel respected and valued.

Important efforts are under way.  In December of last year, I charged a Special Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to develop recommendations that would enable our University to provide a more welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds.  The task force included students, faculty members, and administrators, and it had strong representation from student leaders who had participated in the heartfelt discussions that led to its creation.  We accepted every recommendation that the task force made—recommendations that ranged from additional funding for programming and for staff support in key areas to a review of our academic programs and requirements and our orientation programs for students and new faculty.  The task force also recommended that we strengthen and reconceptualize the Carl A. Fields Center to make it more responsive to the needs of the students it is intended to serve; we have begun that work, but we also are taking more immediate steps to designate areas within the Center for several cultural affinity groups.  Reports on our progress in carrying out the recommendations of the task force can be found on the Inclusive.Princeton.edu website.

The task force recommendations complement an earlier effort initiated by my predecessor, President Shirley Tilghman, in January 2012.  She created a joint faculty and trustee committee and charged it with finding new strategies to diversify Princeton’s faculty, staff, and graduate student body.  Increasing the diversity of these campus populations is essential to enhance our scholarly and educational excellence as well as to make our campus more fully inclusive.  Co-chaired by Trustee Brent Henry ’69 and Professor (now Dean of the Faculty) Deborah Prentice, the committee published its report in September 2013.  A number of important steps have been taken already and more are planned; the committee report, and an update about progress in these areas, can be found on the University’s website at:  http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S42/32/24O59/.

Even as we pursue the recommendations of these committees, more remains to be done.  Recent events have focused renewed attention on the concerns of underrepresented students.  Earlier this week, students occupied Nassau Hall for a day and a half to advocate for improvements in the climate for black students on campus.  Last weekend, Princeton Latino and Latina students endured a traumatic experience at a LatinX Ivy League Conference at Brown University, and upon returning to our campus they and other students have written to request a number of further improvements that would make our University more inclusive.  Other student groups are also addressing these issues, and I anticipate continuing discussion—and, I hope, constructive dialogue—over the coming months.

I care deeply about what our students are saying to us, and I am determined to do whatever I can, in collaboration with others, to improve the climate on this campus so that all students are respected, valued, and supported as members of a vibrant and diverse learning community.

Making further progress will require compassion, commitment, and imagination. It will also require that we discuss difficult topics civilly and with mutual respect.  To be an inclusive community we must treat one another with respect even when we disagree vigorously about topics that matter deeply.  When I spoke to the students who occupied Nassau Hall, I insisted that we would consider carefully the issues that troubled them, but that we would do so through appropriate University processes—processes that allow for full and fair input from the entire University community.

One of the most sensitive and controversial issues pertains to Woodrow Wilson’s legacy on the campus.  As every Princetonian knows, Wilson left a lasting imprint on this University and this campus, and while much of his record had a very positive impact on the shaping of modern Princeton, his record on race is disturbing.  As a University we have to be open to thoughtful re-examination of our own history, and I believe it is appropriate to engage our community in a careful exploration of this legacy.  Since the Board of Trustees has authority over how the University recognizes Wilson, I have asked the Board to develop a process to consider this issue, and the Board has agreed to do so.  The Board will form a subcommittee to collect information about Wilson’s record and impact from a wide array of perspectives and constituencies.  This information will include a range of scholarly understandings of Wilson.  Toward this end, the Board will solicit letters from experts familiar with Wilson, and it will make those letters public.  The Board will also establish a vehicle to allow alumni, faculty, students, and staff to register their opinions with the subcommittee about Wilson and his legacy.  In addition, members of the Board’s subcommittee will schedule visits to Princeton’s campus early in the spring semester to listen to the views of the University community, including its alumni.  After assessing the information it has gathered and hearing the views of all parts of the Princeton community, the Board will decide whether there are any changes that should be made in how the University recognizes Wilson’s legacy.

These are turbulent and demanding times, but if we engage in thoughtful and meaningful conversation they offer hope for real progress.  The quest for a diverse and inclusive community has been among Princeton’s most important goals at least since the presidency of Bob Goheen ’40 *48, and we have come a long way.  But we have not come far enough, and making further progress will require hard work and good will.  I am confident that Princeton’s extraordinary community—on campus, and throughout the world—is up to the task.

Christopher Eisgruber ’83