2 Preparing for Success
2.1 Individual Development Plans
An Individual Development Plan (IDP) will help you think about your postdoctoral research and the skills you are developing within the context of your future career, enabling you to plan for that future. IDPs for postdocs were put forward by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in 2003 and have been widely adopted since that time. Many sponsored projects or postdoc offices at academic institutions will have resources in support of developing an IDP, but often it can be up to the new postdoc to initiate development of a plan. This should be done in collaboration with your mentor to maximize alignment between your goals and your postdoctoral activities, and to develop a partnership with respect to your professional development.
2.1.1 Why Plan?
The process of creating an IDP enables you to outline a vision for your future career, whether it be within academia or in another area, and to set milestones to advance your progress toward that career goal. In this way, you can purposefully identify any skills, knowledge and experiences that you would like to enhance. Benefits of creating an IDP include*:
- Helping you inventory your strengths and identify any gaps in your knowledge, skill set, or experience.
- Helping you identify the short-term and long-term goals that can push you toward action.
- Serving as an indispensable communication tool between your mentor and you.
- Providing a visual representation of how to allocate your time working on specific goals.
- Acknowledging milestones achieved along the way, providing a sense of accomplishment and increasing momentum.
- Documenting your development through assessment and reflection
2.1.2 How to Plan
Initial development of an IDP should occur at the beginning of your postdoctoral position, however evaluation of your progress and updates to the plan are an ongoing activity inclusion of you mentor early in plan development is encouraged to enhance opportunities for your professional growth and you might start the conversation during an onboarding meeting with your mentor.
The details and specific elements within a plan will vary for everyone however there are a few key elements that should be contained within an IDP.
- A list of your critical skills, knowledge, and abilities.
- A list of your key weaknesses/development needs.
- A list of your short- and long-term goals.
- An outline of your developmental objectives, what you need to do to reach your goals.
- A list of the strategies you will use to achieve your objectives.
The steps below will help you create a well developed plan.
Identify your career goals
Take some time to think about your short and long term goals. Identify what motivates you, where you passions lie and the types of opportunities you find mostly exciting. These may be research or faulty positions, or they may exist in areas outside of, or adjacent to, academic research. For example, science communication, consultancy, academic administration, K-12 education, policy, journalism. Think also of the type of organization that you would be interested in working with: federal or local government, non-profit, commercial, academic. With this in mind, explore goals within your current position and beyond that will enable you to achieve this career success. These goals may be compatible with several career paths and should not be thought of as restrictive, improving your fit for one job also makes you more qualified for many other jobs.
Assess your skills and knowledge
For your IDP to be effective it’s important that you can honestly assess current strengths and capabilities: You need to be able to articulate your critical skills and development needs. As you go through this list, explore why you consider yourself strong/lacking in a particular area. This will help you identify steps for action in the next stage of the planning process. Additionally, consult others: The ability to objectively review your strengths and weaknesses will benefit from consultation with colleagues, advisors and mentors.
Identify the skills, talents, and abilities necessary for your chosen career path(s). There are many online resources available to help, however you may also talk to individuals within those positions. How do the skills and knowledge you possess align with these these talents? Are there areas in which you need more growth, or others than you would benefit from acquiring?
Plan your professional development
Next, develop a detailed plan for your individual development that extend through the short term (within 12 months) to the mid and long term such that you can project forward 3-5 years from now. Make your IDP specific. Having identified a skill that you need to work on, or experience you need to gain, think about how you will get there. What are the actions you will take?. What strategies will you incorporate to achieve your goals? And, where possible, include scheduling, timelines, budgets and other items that will help you achieve your plan.
Implement and update your IDP
Once you have completed your IDP, you need to take action. Keep you plan accessible and use it to motivate your work, marking off items as you achieve them. You might consider maintaining a portfolio of achievements that align with your plan, and keep your CV updated to reflect your accomplishments. Continuous self-assessment and improvement are central to a useful, effective IDP. As you learn and develop your abilities, set new goals to challenge yourself. Discuss these with your mentor as part of annual or bi-annual check-in meetings.
- myIDP: a unique, web-based career-planning tool tailored to meet the needs of PhD students and postdocs in the sciences.
- Career planning resources from the National Postdoctoral Association
- Example IDPs and other resources from the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at North Carolina State University
- Example IDP template for Postdoctoral Scholars from the University of Minnesota