The Individual
Development Plan

…for mapping your academic and professional development

Tips for Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Researchers/Scholars:

Discussing Your IDP with Your Mentor


  • Give your mentor advance notice that you want to discuss your IDP.  If you just spring it on your mentor, he or she will not be prepared, and feedback and advice will be less constructive.  
  • Bear in mind that the IDP is a new activity for many people, and they are learning how to navigate it as well.  You should be prepared to explain the process and direct mentors to the resources that are available to help them prepare.  If your mentor is unfamiliar with IDPs, send him or her to the UW-Madison IDP website or print the IDP Summary for Mentors.
  • Approach your mentor at a time when you feel he or she would be most responsive, for example, when the lab is less busy or you have made some progress in your research. Ask other members of your group/department for advice on approaching your mentor.
  • Ask your mentor if you can have a meeting, or a portion of a meeting, to discuss your IDP.  That way you can both focus on it without getting distracted by other projects.
  • Send your mentor your draft IDP in advance of your discussion so that he or she can review it and prepare for the meeting.  
  • Remember that it is your plan and you do not have to share all of your goals. You might want to consider introducing some of your goals to your mentor gradually over time.
  • Do not assume you know what your mentor knows. Take advantage of your mentor’s experience and contacts. If you are planning to leave academia, for example, your mentor may be able to connect you to someone he or she knows who works in the area you plan to pursue.

 Questions you may want to ask your mentor to start the conversation about IDPs

  • Why were you interested in being my mentor? What did you hope we would both gain from the relationship?
  • How would you describe your relationship with your own graduate/ post-doctoral mentor? What did you like/ dislike about that mentoring relationship? Did you discuss career planning with your mentor as a graduate student or post-doc?
  • What skills do I still need to learn?  How can I best learn those skills? Discussing this IDP might help us create and prioritize a list.
  • What aspect of my training do you expect me to learn from you and what aspects do you expect me to learn from others or on my own? Reviewing this IDP may help us figure that out together.
  • Are there ways I can help you to better mentor me?  Would reviewing my short and long-term goal help?
  • Do you have a specific list of expectations you want me to meet and a timeline? Could we discuss how those fit into my overall career development plans?


Mentor seems reluctant to discuss your IDP

  • Do not assume that your mentor’s reluctance relates to you.  He or she may not know about the process and you may need to educate your mentor about the value of the IDP.
  • Remind your mentor that the university recommends that all graduate students and postdoctoral researchers utilize IDPs.  Those graduate students and postdoctoral researchers supported by NIH funding are required by the university to have an IDP.  Point out that your discussion will help meet that requirement and a section of the annual NIH progress report.
  • Make it clear that the IDP is important to you.

You are nervous that your mentor will not be supportive of a career choice outside of academia

  • Remember that you are not the first person to make that decision.
  • Spend some time ahead of your meeting to think about why you have made that choice and be able to articulate those reasons to your mentor.
  • Find out if other students or postdoctoral researchers your mentor knows have entered the career you plan to pursue and present them as success stories. 

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