Individual Development Plan
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca
If you feel like you’re floating along or you need a clearer map to reach your destination, it may be time to chart your career course. One way to navigate your career is by employing an Individual Development Plan (IDP). An IDP is a dynamic document that identifies career goals, sets a path and helps trainees manage their career development plans. IDPs have long been used in the business world and because their effectiveness has been proven, they are increasingly used by universities to promote graduate student and postdoctoral training.
How do you use an IDP? First of all, it’s important to understand that it is the trainee’s responsibility to initiate this process. After all, only the trainee knows what he or she wants for a career path. Mentors can help identify what the trainee excels at, provide advice and guide the trainee with their own experiences. However, it is the responsibility of the trainee to decide a career path and create the specific plan to actively develop the necessary skills to achieve their goals.
It’s recommended that once the trainee develops the initial draft of the IDP, the trainee meet with his/her mentors to discuss and gain feedback. This should be done at least once a year. However, for new postdocs and graduate students, more frequent “check ins” during the first year would ensure that a stronger foundation is set and enhance the training experience.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes that IDPs can make a difference in a trainee’s experience. They have therefore announced that effective October 1, 2014, NIH-funded graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are strongly encouraged to have an IDP. See this NIH notice for more information.
Additionally, new UCSD guidelines encourage all graduate students and postdocs, regardless of funding mechanism, to complete IDPs.
The primary responsibility for completing the IDP rests with the grad student or postdoc. However, faculty mentors will need to be actively involved in the IDP creation process.
- Trainees will approach you for a special meeting about their IDPs to discuss skills they think they have and others that they want to develop, and action steps they plan to take to develop those skills and meet their ultimate career goals. As their mentor, you can help the trainee assess their skills and facilitate the creation of short-term and long-term goals to reach their career goal for their IDP. Please note that you may want to point out not only additional skills for the trainee to develop, but also skills they might not realize they already have. Although research strategy is a pivotal part of the scholars’ training, this IDP discussion should not focus only on research plans. It’s important that discussion of immediate research plans not take over the discussion of the trainee’s long-term career goals.
- It’s also important that the IDP meeting be confidential and one-on-one. IDPs are personal documents and not meant to be shared with other lab/research group members.
- Candid communication between mentor and trainee is crucial to the IDP process. Constructive feedback in an open environment leads to the most effective use of the IDP. This may be a good time to encourage trainees to consider a “Plan B” career path, if appropriate.
- Be receptive to plans that include post-academic careers (careers outside of academia) as the NIH requirement for an IDP encourages PhDs in all facets of the workforce.
- Note that trainees may have multiple mentors that they are meeting with to develop their IDPs.
- We encourage you to take the completion of the IDP seriously, and to encourage your trainees to do so as well. Research has shown that having a structured training program (such as an IDP) leads to greater success in the training program1, such as more productivity (greater number of publications and grant proposals), fewer conflicts and better relationship with advisors.
- Postdoc advisors can find more information about the University of California and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) agreement for IDPs and the difference between an IDP and the annual review, here.
- Faculty interested in the IDP process may wish to join the UCSD IDP listserv here.
- NIH-funded graduate students are required to have IDPs and update them annually. Please note that we predict that other agencies (e.g., American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure…) may also adopt this requirement as they have with past NIH requirements. The American Heart Association announced in May 2014 the requirement to include an IDP with a fellowship application. Thus, it is a good idea to have an IDP in place if you receive any extramural funding, particularly from a health-related organization.
- The primary responsibility for completing the IDP is yours, not your mentor’s. You are responsible for initiating the thought process for creating an IDP, meeting with your mentor(s) to solicit their feedback, and following through on the action steps to reach your goals.
- Your academic department will train you in the use of IDPs. Some departments may assign this responsibility to a faculty member, but most departments ask student affairs staff to conduct the training. Talk to your graduate coordinator to learn about your department’s training offerings.
- Additionally, the Graduate Division offers backup IDP training for grad students approximately once a quarter. Emails announcing the training sessions will come from your graduate coordinator or departmental IDP coordinator.
- Take the completion of the IDP seriously. Research has shown that having a structured training program (such as an IDP) leads to greater success in a training program.1 Scholars who take the IDP seriously will benefit from it!
On July 23, 2013, the NIH issued a Notice (NOT-OD-13-093) requiring institutions to report the use of IDPs for all graduate students and postdocs supported on NIH awards on all progress reports submitted on/after October 1, 2014. Please note that we predict that other agencies (e.g., American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure…) may also adopt this requirement as they have with past NIH requirements. The American Heart Association announced in May 2014 the requirement to include an IDP with a fellowship application. Thus, it is a good idea to have an IDP in place if you receive any extramural funding, particularly from a health-related organization.
- The content of an IDP and formulation of career objectives is the responsibility of the postdoc, but should include input from various mentors. The IDP includes career goal(s), skills in need of development to achieve career goals and at least 5 realistic goals per year to address those needed skills. Discussion of your IDP with faculty and additional mentors is vital. They have gone through this process and have experiences, best practices, and tips to share. Draw on their knowledge. Each year, update your IDP to reflect changes your accomplishments and changes in your career and research objectives.
- Having an IDP is part of your essential training (along with attending the New Postdoc Orientation and Introduction to the Ethical Challenges of Research workshops) as a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Diego.
- Take the completion of the IDP seriously. Research has shown that having a structured training program (such as an IDP) leads to greater success in a training program 1, such as more productivity (greater number of publications and grant proposals), fewer conflicts and better relationship with advisors. Scholars who take the IDP seriously will benefit from it!
For assistance on creating your IDP, assessing your skills, working with mentors and setting realistic and achievable goals, attend the the EPIC Bootcamp, offered by the Office of Postdoctoral and Visiting Scholar Affairs (OPVSA). Each postdoctoral scholar will have the opportunity to develop and present his/her IDP to faculty participants for feedback and by the end of the session have the foundation of an IDP to guide his/her career objectives. For one-one assistance in the creation of your IDP, you may request a career advising appointment.
Postdoctoral scholars are strongly encouraged to participate as part of their research training and education. Although this Bootcamp is designed for postdoctoral scholars in the beginning stages of their training, all are welcome.
- **Note** There are many variations of an IDP form. The UC San Diego IDP Form is the recommended form. However, please use an IDP form that works for you.
- Find more information about the University of California and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) agreement for IDPs and the difference between an IDP and the annual review, here.
Questions and comments can be addressed to Ginger Hazen (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the Office of Postdoctoral and Visiting Scholars Affairs.
IDPs are currently required only for grad students funded by the NIH or the American Heart Association. However, we predict that other agencies (e.g., American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure…) may also adopt this requirement as they have with past NIH requirements. Thus, it is a good idea for students who receive any extramural funding, particularly from a health-related organization, to have an IDP in place.
Academic departments have the following responsibilities with regards to grad student IDPs:
- Academic departments are responsible for training grad students and faculty to create IDPs. Each department should appoint one to two designated trainers; these trainers may be faculty or staff, according to the needs of the department.
- Academic departments must then track the students’ completion of IDPs. Departments may choose to do this by having students turn their entire IDPs in to the department. However, we recommend that departments collect only the first page of the IDP or some other assurance that it has been completed. This allows the student to maintain some privacy regarding their plans. (While all grad students are encouraged to have IDPs, departments need only track the completion for those students who are required to have them.)
- Postdoc training is available through the Office of Postdoctoral and Visiting Scholar Affairs (OPVSA). Departments may also choose to train and track postdoc IDPs, but postdocs will still need to submit their IDP to their departmental admin on an annual basis.
- Departmental staff responsible for training grad students in the use of IDPs should join the UCSD IDP listserv here.
The Graduate Division offers train-the-trainer sessions to teach departments how to use the IDP. Emails announcing these sessions will be sent to the graduate coordinator listserv and the IDP listserv. In addition to the in-person train-the-trainer sessions, there is a recording of a previous session that can be viewed by new trainers or those who need a refresher.
Please note that this recording is not intended for use by grad students themselves. This recording should not replace the departmental grad student IDP training. We in the Graduate Division feel that it is important that grad students get in-person IDP training with human interaction; this will encourage them to take both the training and the IDP creation process seriously.
Departments may design their IDP training to fit their own departmental needs. However, the Graduate Division provides some resources that departments may wish to use as a starting point:
- PowerPoint for IDP Presentation [.pptx]
- Script for the Presentation [.doc]
- Comprehensive Skills Analysis [.doc]
Questions and comments can be addressed to the Graduate Fellowship Advisor (email@example.com) in the Graduate Division.
Financial and grants management staff should check for compliance with NIH IDP policy at the following times:
- PD/PIs should be encouraged to include a plan to use IDPs in the training or research plan of training grant and fellowship applications.
- The use of IDPs by NIH-funded grad students and postdocs must be reported on each grant or fellowship’s annual progress report (RPPR or PHS 2590). The NIH noticedescribes where on the report this information should go:
- For trainees supported by research grants or fellowships, report on the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) Section B. Accomplishments.
- For trainees supported on Training Grants using the PHS 2590 form, report on the Progress Report Summary Section A. Training Program.
- Please verify that progress reports for all grants and fellowships that support at least one grad student or postdoc refer to the use of the IDP before submitting the report.
- For a sample of how to include IDPs on the RPPR, please contact Graduate Fellowship Advisor (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ginger Hazen (email@example.com).
What is the definition of “NIH-funded”?
The policy requiring all NIH-funded grad students and postdocs to have IDPs applies both to those who are directly funded by the NIH on their own grant (such as an F31 or F32) and those who are indirectly funded by the NIH, receiving money from someone else’s grant (such as a faculty member’s T32 or R01).
Does UCSD anticipate requiring IDPs for all grad students and postdocs?
While UCSD encourages all grad students and postdocs to have IDPs, we do not anticipate making this a requirement for graduate students at this time. However, having an IDP is considered part of essential training for postdocs at UCSD.
May academic departments choose to require IDPs for all grad students and/or postdocs?
Yes, departments may require IDPs if they choose.
Must the completed IDP be submitted to the NIH?
No. The NIH is not collecting IDPs; rather, they ask that the use of an IDP be noted on the RPPR each year.
Must the completed IDP be submitted to someone on campus?
Postdocs may be asked to submit their completed IDPs to their departmental administrator depending on their department. Academic departments are responsible for tracking grad students’ completion of the IDP. Both postdocs and students should check with their academic departments to learn whether they are required to submit their completed IDPs to their academic office.
Are grad students and postdocs required to use the standard UCSD IDP form?
No. While we encourage the use of UCSD’s standard form, grad students and postdocs are also welcome to find and use other IDP forms that meet their needs. However, we ask that each IDP contain at least the following information:
- Career Objective(s)
- Mentor information: Name and Institution (including Department if UC San Diego faculty)
- Skill Assessment
- Annual Plan with at least 5 goals
If a grad student in Department A is funded by an NIH grant whose PD/PI is in Department B, which department is responsible for tracking the student’s IDP completion?
In this case, Department A would be responsible for tracking the student’s IDP completion. The use of IDPs will always be tracked by the student’s home department, regardless of which department is funding the student. However, we encourage academic departments to share information with each other to ensure that home departments are always aware of the funding that students are receiving.
How is an IDP different from the trainee’s annual evaluation?
While trainees and mentors may choose to work on an IDP and an annual evaluation at the same time of year, the two documents are fundamentally different. Here are three main differences between the documents:
- The annual evaluation is primarily past-oriented – what has the trainee accomplished in the last year? In contrast, the IDP is future-oriented – what will the trainee accomplish in the next year?
- Annual evaluations generally focus only on trainees’ academic accomplishments: advancing to candidacy (for graduate students), publishing papers, analyzing data, etc. The IDP, however, may have a mix of both academic and non-academic goals. For example, a graduate student who wants to become a science policy consultant for the government would have an annual evaluation that still focused on her academic achievements, but her IDP might include finding a mentor who currently works for the government, practicing conveying scientific ideas to legislators, etc.
- The annual evaluation is written by the mentor, while the IDP is written by the trainee with input from the mentor.
Who should join the UCSD IDP Listserv?
The listserv is intended for faculty and staff, not grad students and postdocs. To join the listserv, please click here.
NIH IDP Policy
UC San Diego IDP Policy
AAAS Science Careers’s myIDP This includes goal setting, skill, interest and value assessment and career exploration for STEM PhDs.
- For videos on how to use myIDP, visit UCSF's Office of Career and Professional Development YouTube channel
FASEB’s Postdoctoral IDP [PDF]. One of the original IDP formats.
UC San Diego Division of Biological Sciences’s Grad IDP [PDF]
Social Sciences and Humanities IDP [PDF] from University of Wisconsin-Madison
SkillScan - Online interactive tool that will help you to identify your greatest strengths and transferable skills in your career development.
Developing a Strategic Vision for Your Career Plan- Quintessential Careers
Career Expectations for PhDs - From the Royal Society for doctoral students, but applies to postdocs as well.
Beyond "Finding Good Mentors" to "Building and Cultivating your Mentoring Team” - From National Postdoctoral Association.
Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists [PDF] From the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching (Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professors Program).
National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) A nationwide consortium of biomedical professionals and institutions collaborating to provide all trainees across the biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social sciences with evidence-based mentorship and professional development programming.
Resources for Each Phase of the Mentoring Relationship For mentors and mentees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Questions and comments about IDPs for Postdoctoral Scholars can be addressed to Ginger Hazen firstname.lastname@example.org or (858) 822-5915 in the Office of Postdoctoral and Visiting Scholar Affairs.