Individual Development Plan – Tips for Mentors

The Individual
Development Plan

…for mapping your academic and professional development

Tips for Mentors:

Challenge and Support for Your Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Researchers/Scholars


Getting started:

  • Point your mentees to online resources.  The Graduate School will email all graduate students and postdocs about Individual Development Plans and refer them to these resources.  That said, a personal message from you, the mentor, will demonstrate that you encourage use of IDPs for academic planning and professional development and are willing to talk with them about their IDPs when they are ready.
  • Familiarize yourself with the above online resources.  In summary, the IDP process involves: assessment of skills, interests, and values; writing goals and setting specific implementation steps; discussion of the IDP with the mentor or mentoring team; implementation of the plan; and review of the IDP on a regular basis.
  • When they’re just getting started, encourage your mentees to attend the Creating Your Individual Development Plan workshops hosted by the Graduate School each semester, or take 10 minutes to listen to the narrated slideshow about writing your IDP.
  • Encourage your mentee to join small-group IDP peer sessions hosted by the Graduate School; email Amy Fruchtman ( for more information about these meetings. 
  • Give your mentees time to develop IDPs on their own, and encourage them to meet with you when they’re ready.
  • Respect that there may be some parts of the IDP that your mentees may choose to keep to themselves.  Developing an IDP is a process that asks individuals to deeply assess skills, interests, and values.  Some of what they discover and choose to explore may be personal.  By articulating to your mentee that you accept that they may choose to disclose some parts of their IDP to you but not all, you give them the space to be more candid and introspective throughout the process.  

Once your mentee is ready to discuss the IDP:

  • Be open to providing feedback.  Ask your mentee the method and frequency that he or she would prefer to get feedback, e.g. if you two should schedule regular meetings to talk about progress, or if email check-ins would be preferred.  At a minimum, you should meet individually with your mentee about his/her IDP once per year.
  • It is likely that your mentee will want to discuss goals and implementation steps related to academic, research, and professional initiatives.  Be positive and encouraging.  You can improve a mentee’s self-confidence by making sure he or she has appropriate preparation or training to achieve goals, access to role models, and explicit encouragement to build confidence in his or her ability to achieve the goal (Locke and Latham, 2002). 
  • Challenge mentees to set important goals and commit strongly to them.  Encouraging your mentee to strive for challenging goals will boost his or her confidence, which leads to stronger goal commitment (Locke and Latham, 2002).  
  • Encourage mentees to set specific goals, with specific timelines and specific implementation steps.  Talk with them about having strategy for implementing the IDP.  Having a plan for when and how they are going to achieve their goals will increase likelihood of success (Gollwitzer, 1999).  
  • If your mentee has set a goal that he or she doesn’t know how to implement, your guidance can be invaluable.  If the goal is beyond what you can help with, encourage your mentee to tap other experts, assembling a mentoring team with various perspectives, expertise, and connections.
  • Consider the difference between learning goals and performance goals.  Learning goals aim to develop skills or increase knowledge, and performance goals describe a performance metric to be met.  The IDP may be a mix of both types of goals, but if you suspect that a mentee has set a performance goal prematurely when a learning goal may be more appropriate, encourage him or her to adjust the plan to build basic skills and knowledge first and define performance goals second (Seijts and Latham, 2012).
  • Support them in prioritizing their identified goals.  This includes encouraging mentees to sort through the level of importance and urgency of the goals they have generated.
  • Talk with your mentees about strategies for combating factors that distract them from carrying out their goals (Gollwitzer, 1999).  For example, once your mentee has set a goal and implementation plan, ask her what distractions she imagines could hinder her progress, and then challenge her to describe she specific actions she will take to counteract those distractions.
  • Be sure that your mentees are allowed to set some – or all – of their own goals.  Many programs will choose to structure IDPs around academic learning outcomes or professional competencies, and this is a good approach to making sure that graduate students and postdocs are getting what they came for.  However, the IDP process should also give them space to explore and set their own goals.  

After you have met with your mentee:

  • Follow through with what your mentee indicated was his/her preferred method and frequency for feedback, e.g. monthly meets to check in on progress.  At a minimum, you should talk with your mentee about his/her IDP once per year.
  • Log the meeting in the online IDP Reporting System.  In order to help you and your mentees keep track of conversations you’ve had about the IDP, the Graduate School has developed an online tool for logging these interactions.  This tool will also assist PIs and grants administrators to verify that IDPs are in places.  


Contact the Graduate School: Bill Barker, Director, Research Policy,; Alissa Ewer, Professional Development,

Additionally, the following faculty members are available to talk with you about their experiences using IDPs:

  • Dr. Alan Rapraeger, Professor, Department of Human Oncology; Director, Office of Postdoctoral Studies, School of Medicine and Public Health –
  • Dr. Zsuzsanna Fabry, Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Cellular and Molecular Pathology Graduate Program Chair –
  • Dr. David Wassarman, Professor, Cell and Regenerative Biology; Chair, Graduate Program in Cellular and Molecular Biology –
Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: a 35-year odyssey.  American Psychologist, 57, 705-717. 
Gollwitzer P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist, 54, 493-503.
Seijts, G. H. & Latham, G. P. (2012). Knowing when to set learning versus performance goals.  Organizational Dynamics, 41, 1-6.

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