Academic and Professional Development

Building Your Plan


Individual Development Plan

Purpose of the Individual Development Plan

The Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a tool designed to assist with:

  • identifying professional goals and objectives;
  • assessing an individual’s skill set relative to their career goals; and
  • developing a plan to acquire the skills and competencies needed to achieve short- and long-term career objectives.

While the IDP is not new, its recognition as a best practice in professional development is fairly recent. The Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB) was an early proponent of using IDPs for postdoctoral career planning. Dr. Philip Clifford, Associate Dean of Postdoctoral Education at the Medical College of Wisconsin, played a key role in drafting and promoting the FASEB model of the Postdoctoral IDP.1 Because of its demonstrated usefulness in fostering professional development, the IDP is increasingly recognized as an important instrument for postdocs in a broad range of positions, and could also be beneficial for graduate students. A well-crafted IDP can serve as both a planning and a communications tool, allowing graduate students to identify their research and career goals and to communicate these goals to mentors, PIs, and advisors.

IDP: Effective Tool for Professional Development

Findings from a 2005 Sigma Xi Postdoc multi-campus survey of US postdoctoral scholars underscore the importance of the IDP for career planning and professional development.2 According to the survey, postdocs reporting the highest levels of oversight and professional development are more satisfied, give their advisors higher ratings, report fewer conflicts with their advisors, and are more productive than those reporting the lowest levels. The survey results also indicate that crafting an IDP at the outset of the postdoctoral appointment may contribute to better time management, more efficient resource use, and more focused effort.

Specifically, the survey found that, compared to their peers without a written plan, postdocs who begin their appointment with an IDP developed in collaboration with their advisors:

  • Are 23% more likely to submit papers to peer-reviewed journals
  • Publish first-authored papers at a 30% higher rate
  • Submit grant proposals at a 25% higher rate
  • Are 25% less likely to report that their advisor did not meet their initial expectations

By defining their career goals early on, graduate students are better able to identify and participate in professional development opportunities, such as teaching, exposure to non- academic careers, and training in proposal writing and project management, targeted toward achieving their specific objectives. They are also better able to clarify their career goals and expectations with their advisor, mentor, and/or PI which in turn leads to better communication, better planning, and more successful outcomes.

Outline of the IDP Process

The development, implementation, and revision of IDPs require a series of steps to be conducted by graduate students and their mentors. These steps are an interactive effort, and so both the student and the mentor must participate fully in the process.

Basic Steps For Graduate Students For Mentors
Step 1 Conduct self-assessment  
Step 2 Write an IDP. Share IDP with mentor and revise Review IDP and help revise
Step 3 Implement the plan. Revise IDP as needed Establish regular progress review
Step 4 Survey opportunities with mentor Discuss opportunities with student