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Writing a textbook is challenging. There are different requirements than writing a popular trade book; the text must undergo strict fact checking; and the inclusion of multimedia, assessments, and digital learning materials can make it a long and arduous project. That doesn’t include the time and effort it takes to build rapport with co-authors and the editorial team.
For Dr. Allison Sidle Fuligni, Professor of Child and Family Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, and Dr. Andrew Fuligni, Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Psychology at University of California, Los Angeles, some of those challenges were mitigated and others heightened. “We’ve of course collaborated before,” said Allison with a nod toward her spouse, “on things like raising our children together.” However, their professional work has remained mostly separate.
When approached by Macmillan Learning and asked to author Scientific American: Lifespan Development, Allison and Andrew learned quickly how to navigate living with a co-author and authoring with a spouse. “I think we figured it out early,” said Andrew. In this month’s special edition of our Author Spotlight series, we sat down with co-authors–and spouses–Allison and Andrew.
While Allison and Andrew are both experts in the field of developmental psychology, their areas of expertise vary and their educational and career journeys are distinct.
Allison was, from a young age, interested in child development; though she didn’t always know if graduate school and a career in developmental psychology was for her. “Growing up,” she said, “I thought I wanted to become a teacher, getting a degree in education and a teaching certificate.” While studying at Brown University, she discovered a degree program that she didn’t know existed, and it set her on a different path.
“It was an interdisciplinary major,” Allison said, “that combined psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, computer science, philosophy, and anthropology. It taught me to think about and understand things through many different lenses.” It was through this Cognitive Science degree that Allison was exposed to and able to conduct her own research. “I focused on children’s cognitive development for my honors thesis,” she said. “Working with children during my undergraduate research is what inspired me to apply to graduate school,” she added, “which is where Andrew and I met.”
Andrew remembers becoming interested in developmental psychology in high school and feeling certain that he would major in Human Development while studying at Cornell. “I was already interested in the subject,” he said, “and then I was fortunate enough to enroll in the honors section of an adolescent psychology course during my second semester. It was treated like a graduate seminar, and from then on I was hooked.” Andrew had no doubts about his educational and career path when he started graduate school at the University of Michigan, where he and his future spouse enrolled in the same PhD program.
Although in the same program, Allison and Andrew’s graduate school experiences were quite different. “I wasn’t always sure that graduate school is what I wanted to do,” said Allison, “which makes it much more difficult.” Allison often shares with her students the challenges she faced. “I actually quit graduate school twice before obtaining my Phd,” she said. “My mentor told me that all I had left to finish was my dissertation, and I’m glad I persisted.”
Part of what made graduate school a challenge for Allison was figuring out what she wanted to do with her degree. “One of my professors encouraged me to go the route of developmental psychology, a very research-based PhD,” she said. “And I did enjoy the problem solving and measurement aspect of research, but I also longed for more of a service-oriented career.” At one point, Allison considered getting her M.D. and becoming a doctor. Nevertheless, she completed her PhD in developmental psychology and spent the first half of her career as a research scientist. “Now the majority of my job is full-time teaching,” she said, “and that feels like my service: training students who will someday become Head Start teachers and running after school programs.”
Andrew teaches less than his spouse, though he still finds it just as rewarding as the research and writing aspects of his job. “Most of my teaching is of graduate students,” he said, “which is intricately involved in the writing process itself. Though I find it important to include undergraduates in the research process as well.” Andrew’s favorite part about teaching is when he can show his students the science that tells them that something they thought was true isn’t true. “With child development,” he said, “people think they know it well because they experienced it firsthand… but the science behind it often surprises them.”
There is a feature in each chapter of their textbook, Scientific American: Lifespan Development, called “Can you believe it?” that demonstrates what Andrew described as his favorite part of teaching. “In this feature,” he said, “we offer a deep dive about preconceived ideas that students may have, and then we discuss the science behind it.” Allison agreed. “I love bringing new information to students. They become so interested and it opens up new perspectives,” she said.
Even with their wealth of teaching and research experience, writing a textbook posed a new challenge for both Allison and Andrew. “It took much longer than I had anticipated,” said Andrew. “And we were cautious because there are many textbooks out there and it’s difficult to break into the market.” Allison added: “It’s a big decision to change textbooks. Not one that instructors take lightly.”
The exciting challenge of their textbook was to create something novel. “We wanted it to be graphically interesting, include multimedia, be accurate and up-to-date, and based in science,” said Andrew. “It also needed to be accessible to students,” he added. Allison and Andrew greatly credited their other co-author, Jessica Bayne, for bringing the project to life. “We envisioned the content,” said Andrew, “and Jessica–who has a long history as an editor and producer–had the vision of the entire textbook and package and how it should come together.”
Between the three co-authors, there was a natural division of workload. “My area of expertise is early childhood,” said Allison, “including infancy, early, and middle childhood. Andrew’s is adolescence and the transition to adulthood.” Content-wise, it made sense for Allison to write the first half and Andrew to write the second half. “Jessica then provided the continuity across all of the chapters,” said Allison. “She was very focused on helping us create fresh, engaging, and accessible material.”
Scientific American: Lifespan Development provides students with a rich portrait of different stages of the lifespan, including different experiences, strengths and weaknesses, challenges, settings, and family forms. “Development is about how we raise our children,” said Andrew, “about how we change and adapt to the world we grow up in.” Each chapter in the book features the story of a different person or family, and developmental concepts are introduced to students through the context of these people’s experiences–and then explained through science.
“It’s difficult to choose a favorite story or chapter,” said Allison. “Though one is of a toddler named Telele. She is an Alaskan native, and her parents are from different tribal groups in Alaska, raising her to speak multiple tribal languages in addition to English.” Allison is passionate about second language acquisition in childhood, having conducted research on Spanish-speaking children early in her career.
Diversity is a central theme throughout the book. In addition to Telele’s story, the book includes a same-sex couple living in New Jersey with adopted daughters; a set of sisters on either side of the puberty transition; and the story of an individual with dementia. “The book captures the essence of stages of life really well,” said Andrew. “Through the stories, students really gain a better understanding of what toddlerhood is like, and adolescence, and being a parent, and taking care of one’s own parents.” The co-authors described the book and the stories within as those of “typical people with many typical life experiences.”
While Allison and Andrew are experts in their field and have literally written the textbook on Lifespan Development, they still experienced some of those typical experiences when raising their children. “I think it’s been an interesting experience,” said Andrew. “Certainly, my profession has provided me with the scientific knowledge of what goes on during each life phase, but there was still a lot of gut checking and patience required.” Allison described it as being difficult to “turn off” the analytical part of her brain. “It’s how I’ve been trained and it’s how I face the world,” she said.
In addition to raising their two children and writing Scientific American: Lifespan Development together, Allison and Andrew enjoy hiking the Southern California mountains. “My mom took me backpacking as a child, which instilled a love of nature and wilderness in me,” said Allison. “And now we have this goal of completing the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, a 67-mile long hiking trail.” The two also enjoy sharing book and movie recommendations with each other, and playing board games as a family when their children are home.