Individual Development Plan

Starting an Individual Development Plan

An Individual Development Plan helps with self-assessment, planning, and communication:

  • An IDP can help you communicate your professional development and career planning needs and intentions to others including your mentor, which can lead to helpful advice and resources.
  • You can use the IDP to make sure you and your mentor’s expectations are clearly outlined and in agreement so that there are no big surprises, particularly at the end of your training.
  • The current job market is challenging and research has shown that individuals who perform structured career planning achieve greater career success and satisfaction.

The onus to engage in the IDP process is on you – although your mentor, PI, or others may encourage and support you in doing so. The IDP itself remains private to you, and you choose which parts to share with which mentors. Through the IDP process, you may decide to identify various mentors to whom you can go for expertise and advice.

For a quick intro to IDPs, take about 10 minutes to listen to this narrated slideshow about writing your IDP, or read the transcript.

How do I start?

We recommend using one of the following IDP tools. Each includes a self-assessment of skills, interests, and values; goal-setting guidelines; and reference to skill-building and career exploration resources.

Alternatively, your program may ask you to use a different IDP tool tailored to the learning objectives or core competencies of your field.

  • ImaginePhD is a career exploration and Individual Development Plan tool for the humanities and social sciences. It is a free online resource that facilitates career exploration by inviting users to evaluate and reflect on their own skills, values, and interest and to investigate related career opportunities.
  • The UW–Madison IDP is flexible and appropriate for all disciplines. This IDP form integrates the DiscoverPD professional development framework – click here to get started.
  • myIDP is an interactive IDP tool developed by AAAS for Science Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines.

While these IDP tools are designed to be a one-stop resource to completing your IDP, you may also benefit from the following resources.

  • Read tips for discussing your IDP with your mentor, below. And if your mentor needs help getting started, share this one-pager: IDP Summary for Mentors.
  • Attend a workshop on creating an IDP tailored to graduate students and postdocs. (If you can’t attend, you can still browse workshop materials: slides / handout: SMART goals.)
  • If you are a postdoc, request a confidential individual career advising session with the Office of Postdoctoral Studies including one-on-one advice on implementing and sustaining your IDP.
  • Read about IDPs from AAAS. These articles will refer you to myIDP, but even if you choose to use a different IDP template, the general information about planning, goal-setting, assessments, and making career-related decisions will be informative.

If you are supported by NIH funding, your PI will be asked by the NIH to describe IDP use in their NIH Research Performance Progress Reports. The IDP Reporting System is no longer in use.

Who can I consider my mentor for the purpose of discussing the IDP?

Discussing your IDP with your mentor(s) is an important step, as a way to obtain important support, expertise, and advice. Keep in mind that you are not limited to discussing your IDP with just your faculty advisor, PI, or supervisor. The IDP may be an opportunity for you to identify various new mentors. Remember that the IDP remains private to you, and you choose which parts of the IDP to share with whom.

The term mentoring has been used to describe many different types of relationships in the research training context. This includes academic advising, research or laboratory supervision, evaluation, informal support and career coaching. In its most general sense, mentoring is a “dynamic reciprocal relationship” between an advanced career incumbent and a less-experienced professional (protégé) aimed at promoting the development and fulfillment of both.1,2,3 It is designed to support the career and psychosocial development of the mentee.4

1 Healy C.C. & Welchert A.J. (1997). Mentoring Relations: A Definition to Advance Research and Practice. Educational Researcher 19(9), 17-21.
2 Palepu A., Friedman R.H., Barnett R.C., Carr P.L., Ash A.S., Szalacha L., & Moskowitz M.A. (1998). Junior faculty members’ mentoring relationships and their professional development in U.S. medical schools. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. 73(3), 318-23. Epub 1998/04/04.
3 Sambunjak D., Straus S.E., & Marusić A. (2006). Mentoring in academic medicine: A systematic review. Journal of the American Medical Association, 296(9), 1103-15.
4 Ehrich L.C., Hansford B., & Tennent L. (2004). Formal Mentoring Programs in Education and Other Professions: A Review of the Literature. Educational Administration Quarterly. 40(4), 518-540.

Tips for mentees

Preparation

  • 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?

Troubleshooting

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 and/or NSF funding are required to have an IDP. Point out that your discussion will help meet that NIH/NSF 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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How do I start?

We recommend using one of the following IDP tools. Each includes a self-assessment of skills, interests, and values; goal-setting guidelines; and reference to skill-building and career exploration resources.

Alternatively, your program may ask you to use a different IDP tool tailored to the learning objectives or core competencies of your field.

  • ImaginePhD is a career exploration and Individual Development Plan tool for the humanities and social sciences. It is a free online resource that facilitates career exploration by inviting users to evaluate and reflect on their own skills, values, and interest and to investigate related career opportunities.
  • The UW–Madison IDP is flexible and appropriate for all disciplines. This IDP form integrates the DiscoverPD professional development framework – click here to get started.
  • myIDP is an interactive IDP tool developed by AAAS for Science Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines.

While these IDP tools are designed to be a one-stop resource to completing your IDP, you may also benefit from the following resources.

  • Read tips for discussing your IDP with your mentor, below. And if your mentor needs help getting started, share this one-pager: IDP Summary for Mentors.
  • Attend a workshop on creating an IDP tailored to graduate students and postdocs. (If you can’t attend, you can still browse workshop materials: slides / handout: SMART goals.)
  • If you are a postdoc, request a confidential individual career advising session with the Office of Postdoctoral Studies including one-on-one advice on implementing and sustaining your IDP.
  • Read about IDPs from AAAS. These articles will refer you to myIDP, but even if you choose to use a different IDP template, the general information about planning, goal-setting, assessments, and making career-related decisions will be informative.

Who can I consider my mentor for the purpose of discussing the IDP?

Discussing your IDP with your mentor(s) is an important step, as a way to obtain important support, expertise, and advice. Keep in mind that you are not limited to discussing your IDP with just your faculty advisor, PI, or supervisor. The IDP may be an opportunity for you to identify various new mentors. Remember that the IDP remains private to you, and you choose which parts of the IDP to share with whom.

The term mentoring has been used to describe many different types of relationships in the research training context. This includes academic advising, research or laboratory supervision, evaluation, informal support and career coaching. In its most general sense, mentoring is a “dynamic reciprocal relationship” between an advanced career incumbent and a less-experienced professional (protégé) aimed at promoting the development and fulfillment of both.1,2,3 It is designed to support the career and psychosocial development of the mentee.4

1 Healy C.C. & Welchert A.J. (1997). Mentoring Relations: A Definition to Advance Research and Practice. Educational Researcher 19(9), 17-21.
2 Palepu A., Friedman R.H., Barnett R.C., Carr P.L., Ash A.S., Szalacha L., & Moskowitz M.A. (1998). Junior faculty members’ mentoring relationships and their professional development in U.S. medical schools. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. 73(3), 318-23. Epub 1998/04/04.
3 Sambunjak D., Straus S.E., & Marusić A. (2006). Mentoring in academic medicine: A systematic review. Journal of the American Medical Association, 296(9), 1103-15.
4 Ehrich L.C., Hansford B., & Tennent L. (2004). Formal Mentoring Programs in Education and Other Professions: A Review of the Literature. Educational Administration Quarterly. 40(4), 518-540.

What are some tips for mentees?

Preparation

  • 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?

Troubleshooting

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/NSF funding are required to have an IDP.  Point out that your discussion will help meet that NIH/NSF requirement and a section of the annual NIH progress report.
  • Make it clear that the IDP is important to you.
Your 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.

Frequently asked questions

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Does the completed IDP need to be submitted to the mentor, PI, or grants administrator?

No, the IDP remains private to the grad student or postdoc. They may choose to share all or part of the IDP but are not required to do so.

Are grad students and postdocs required to use one of the IDP templates referenced above?

No, the UW–Madison IDP template, Imagine PhD, and myIDP are given as two options. Other formats may be just as effective and grad students, postdocs, mentors, and PIs are encouraged to use whatever format best facilitates the professional development of the grad student or postdoc.

What if a grad student or postdoc doesn't have a mentor?

All graduate students are required to have a faculty advisor; this person may also be their IDP mentor but not in all cases. Most postdocs will have a PI or program director under which they are funded; this person may also be their IDP mentor but not in all cases. The IDP process may be the impetus for graduate students and postdocs to seek additional mentors, offering an advantageous variety of perspectives and guidance.

Does the policy apply to medical, vet med, law, or pharmacy students?

This policy does not apply to those who are enrolled exclusively as medical students, vet med students, law students, or pharmacy students. However, the requirement does apply to NIH-funded graduate students or postdoctoral researchers, which include dual career MD/PhD students, NIH-funded MDs in a postdoc appointment, and MDs who are completing a PhD. If you are uncertain about how this applies to you, or to students on your grant, please contact the Graduate School (Alissa Ewer, alissa.ewer@wisc.edu) for assistance.

Do you have a question that's not listed here?

Please contact Alissa Ewer (alissa.ewer@wisc.edu).

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