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Developmental Origins of Lifespan Learning, Well-Being, Health and Disease (Cluster)

This cluster and the corresponding certificate program in Transdisciplinary Development Science is designed to provide the next generation of developmental scientists with the theoretical and technical tools to advance the DevSci mission of “healthier, earlier”. We aim to train scientific leaders who will break new ground on the scientific priorities of our times, and to do so with a powerful and nuanced understanding of developmental processes and the complex interface of biology, psychology, and social context in shaping early development health and wellbeing across the lifespan. Its themes center around neurodevelopmental health, vulnerability and disorder, and the influence of early life developmental processes on human capital.

Recently, scientific evidence has documented the crucial effects of early life factors on later outcomes in learning, biological function, health and disease. Early adverse experiences – such as prenatal exposure to psychological stress, chemical exposures or maternal depression – are strongly associated with later adverse outcomes in physical health, mental health, and academic achievement. Advantageous early experiences are associated with long-lasting positive developmental outcomes in language, cognitive and social development, as well as in health, wellbeing and functional achievement.

Identifying the early origins of lifespan learning, health and wellbeing is now a strategic priority for our nation and for the broader scientific community. Through seminars, faculty-guided research projects and regular scientific exchange, this cluster aims to:

  • Uncover mechanisms of health, disease, and wellbeing via state of the art measurement approaches
  • Improve health and wellbeing of all children through earlier identification
  • Rapid translation of developmental sciences discovery to prevention application

Formal opportunities

Developmental Exchanges: In these seminars, offered once per quarter, we identify a cross-cutting theory or research theme (e.g., the effects of fathers on health and educational outcomes in young children) and invite four researchers working on the topic from different perspectives to join together in a 90-minute program. Hosted alternately at the Evanston and Chicago campuses, the structure is simple: First, each speaker provides an overview of their work and its implications. Next, discussion opens to engage all participants.

Topical expert seminars.  Each year, Northwestern is host to a wealth of invited addresses that bear directly on cluster issues. To capitalize on this richness, the Developmental Origins cluster selects three such addresses and builds programming around them specifically for cluster fellows. The cluster faculty will circulate a few of the speaker’s most recent publications; one week before the address, interested cluster members meet with at least two relevant faculty members to discuss the papers and their implications. Finally, in addition to attending the talk, interested cluster members will interact with the speaker directly in an hour-long meeting.

Additional Opportunities: In addition to these formal offerings, small group meetings will be hosted with selected colloquia speakers, to provide more focused time for Cluster member students to engage with noted scholars in developmental science. In addition, several times a year DevSci hosts social events where cluster members can get to know each other and DevSci faculty.

Click here for a complete list of upcoming DevSci Cluster sponsored events.

How to participate

All graduate students interested in advancing the field of developmental science are invited to participate in this cluster. We offer a tiered level of involvement to accommodate all levels of interest.

Introductory/Basic DevSci Student Cluster Involvement

  • Students who are interested in receiving information about upcoming events, but who are not ready to commit to cluster participation, may elect to join the DevSci Cluster email listserv
  • Students at this level are allowed to attend events, however there are no requirements for continued participation
  • To join, please email with a request to be added to the DevSci Cluster email listserv

DevSci Student Cluster Membership

  • Students at this level will receive information about upcoming events and opportunities through the DevSci Cluster email listserv, and are required to attend at least two DevSci sponsored events per year
  • Members at this level are eligible to apply for seed funds and fellowship opportunities
  • To join, please submit an application to Jessica Horowitz with a 1-2 paragraph summary about your research focus and link to developmental science, and CV. Applications should be sent as a single pdf.

Northwestern graduate students and Feinberg Medical School Trainees across departments, who have joined the Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences (DevSci) cluster, may elect to receive recognition for training and experience in developmental science by completing the requirements and recommendations for the certificate in Transdisciplinary Developmental Science. See Transdisciplinary Developmental Sciences Certificate Requirements for specific courses and procedures needed to complete this program.

Who to contact

Please contact the program co-directors, listed below, with general questions about this program. To apply for Cluster Membership please see instructions under How to Participate or on our website. Please contact the Jessica Horowitz, the DevSci Associate Director, with questions about the certificate program. 

Molly Losh, PhD, Co-Director
Jo Ann G. and Peter F. Dolle Chair in Learning Disabilities
Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders, SOC

Vijay Mittal, PhD, Co-Director
Assistant Professor, Psychology, WCAS

Craig Garfield, MD, MAPP, Co-Director
Associate Professor, Pediatrics & Medical Social Sciences, FSM
Co-Director, the Hospital Medicine Fellowship, Lurie Children’s

Jessica Horowitz, PhD
Associate Director, DevSci
Research Assistant Professor, FSM