Frequently Asked Questions about the IDPGENERALFOR TRAINEES
- How long does an IDP take?
- Who will see my IDP?
- Do I have to discuss all my career goals with my advisor?
- Which format should I use for the IDP?
- Should my IDP include every professional goal and activity?
- What is my role in developing the IDP?
- Do I need to submit my trainees IDPs to the university or to NIH?
- Who will track my trainees’ completion of their IDPs?
An Individual Development Plan, or IDP, is a written plan for goals and actions for the next year. Like a personal strategic plan, an IDP helps early-career researchers set long- and short-term goals and establish an action plan for achieving these goals. By writing down the plan and revisiting it annually, trainees are more likely to accomplish those goals and tend to have greater success and satisfaction . Completing an IDP can also foster communication and feedback between trainees and mentors, as well as assist trainees in carving out time for career exploration, professional development, and work-life balance.
The general steps to complete an IDP are:
- Conduct a self-assessment of: values, interests, skills, strengths, and areas for improvement;
- Identify long- and short-term work and life goals; and
- Write down a plan with actions that are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific Measureable Action-oriented Realistic Time-bound).
At each step it can be helpful to discuss your IDP with an advisor, mentor or supervisor.
The IDP was first adapted for use with postdocs by FASEB. Use of the IDP is a practice recommended by the National Postdoctoral Association and has recently been mandated for all trainees supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. The original FASEB IDP template has been adapted in many ways over the years. The most widely-used version is myIDP, an interactive online tool hosted by the AAAS at ScienceCareers.org. Many institutions, like Stony Brook, are also developing their own local resources and procedures to support trainee IDP development on their campuses.
Stony Brook does not currently have an IDP policy requiring IDPs for all graduate students and postdocs, but strongly encourages the use of the IDP by all early-career researchers to help them maintain progress in their research and career and to foster their transition to independence. Some supervisors and graduate programs, however, may have their own local requirements or guidelines for IDPs. Importantly, the NIH now expects all supported trainees to have an IDP in place and all NIH principal investigators (PIs) are expected to report on this in annual reports. It is the responsibility of the PI to track IDP compliance for his or her trainees. Students and postdocs are encouraged to talk with their advisors or supervisors about developing an IDP.
An IDP is an individualized plan for meeting short- and long-term goals, and therefore trainees need to take ownership over their own IDP. The usefulness of an IDP can be enhanced through feedback from one’s mentors, so trainees and their mentors are encouraged to use the IDP as a communication tool. There are a number of tools and resources available for trainees to develop their IDP within this toolkit, including the Planning Your Path series of workshops.
An IDP doesn't have to take long, particularly if you've already performed a self-assessment of your interests and goals. The critical part of the IDP is that you write down your actionable goals for the next year to guide your work. A template can help you with this. You can also attend a workshop which can walk you through the steps.
The only person who will see your IDP is you, unless you choose to share it with someone. An IDP can be a useful tool for communicating about your career and professional development with your mentors, so you are encouraged to find a way to seek feedback on your IDP.
An important benefit of the IDP is its use as a tool for communicating about your career and professional development with your mentors. The level of detail about your career goals you choose to share is up to you to ensure that your conversation is useful.
There are many different formats and templates around. One popular one is to use the online, interactive Web tool myIDP.sciencecareers.org. myIDP was developed for the biomedical sciences and includes some career exploration tools embedded in its self-assessment tool. Other templates are available here in the IDP Toolkit. You can also complete your IDP during a Planning Your Path to a Satisfying Career workshop. You should choose the format that best suits the way you plan and organize your activities and career.
An IDP should be comprehensive enough to be useful, but doesn’t have to include everything. One way to limit it is to set goals and activities for just the next year and then revisit your plan at the end of that year.
Trainees are responsible for developing their own IDP. You can support your trainees by discussing the IDP process with them, encouraging them to complete one annually, and offering to provide constructive feedback on their IDP. Be aware that trainees can be reluctant to share their career plans when they may not align with traditional expectations, and so may only choose to share part of their IDP if at all. You can also invite the IREP Office to conduct an IDP workshop for your trainees. Contact the IREP Office for details.
No. If your trainees are supported on your NIH grant, you only need to report on the existence of their IDP. Neither the NIH nor Stony Brook will be collecting the IDPs.
Mentors are currently responsible for tracking their students’ and postdocs’ completion of IDPs where this information is required to be reported to NIH.
Davis, G. 2009. “Improving the Postdoctoral Experience: An Empirical Approach.” In R. Freeman & D. Goroff (Eds.). Science and Engineering Careers in the United States. Chicago: NBER/University of Chicago Press, 100