Individual Development Plans
Throughout your training, have you ever wondered about what is truly needed to be a research leader and thought about what are your career options after finishing your degree? Were the feelings associated with that question overwhelming? You are not alone. When we talk to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows (PDFs), there is a common struggle with identifying career options (within or outside of academia), and learning how to transition into those careers following training.
Studies have shown that active career management increases career success. In fact, it has been shown not just to help you identify and best prepare for your career(s) of choice, but also to help you in the immediate term as it has been linked to shorter time-to-degree completion and higher success in receiving external awards.
CIHR encourages you to create a well thought out plan that incorporates your personal values, strengths, skills, experiences and helps you identify any skill gaps that you may have.
What is an Individual Development Plan (IDP)?
An IDP is a tool that supports graduate students and PDFs in actively preparing for the career(s) of their choice by exploring career paths, establishing career goals, and identifying skill gaps, culminating in an action plan to achieve their career goal(s). The use of the IDP presents an opportunity for self-evaluation, and also allows graduate students and PDFs to map their progress over time. Finally, IDPs serve as a communication tool between trainees and mentors (supervisor or other mentor(s)) regarding the training outcomes and expectations of both parties.
Questions for Each IDP Step
Questions for conducting a self-assessment:
- Where am I now?
- Am I developing a variety of competencies across research, communication and transferable skills?
- Which activities have I performed in relation to developing each skill?
- Which skills are important for me to develop?
- What are my passions and values?
- Regarding professional development and networking opportunities:
- What activities am I interested in or do I already participate in?
- Who do I already know who can assist me with my career goals?
Questions for assessing the potential and interests of the trainee:
- When I review my trainee’s skills, passions, values and established network, do I see any gaps, strengths or trends?
- What possibilities do I see to support my trainee’s development?
- Do I see any alignment with any other career paths?
- What resources, opportunities and networks could be valuable in my trainee’s development? Can I facilitate access to them? If not, who could?
Questions for exploring career opportunities:
- What careers are available to me, and which ones am I most interested in pursuing?
- What are the requirements for these careers? What skills do I have and which ones will I need to develop for pursuing my careers of interest? For each skill, do I show a “fit” or a “gap”?
- Are my passions and values aligned with each career and its activities?
- Could my networking activities by adjusted to pursue these careers?
Questions to assist looking for appropriate career opportunities for the trainees:
- Does my trainee show a strong match with the careers they are exploring? Do I see potential for other careers?
- What are the job opportunity trends in the sector(s) of interest (academic and non-academic) of my trainee?
- So my trainee can further explore or pursue these career options:
- What resources and experiences can I provide access to?
- Who within my network of peers, collaborators, other partners and industries can I provide access to?
- Are there professional development opportunities available for my trainee to further explore career options or develop job-search skills?
Questions to help determine goals:
- Where do I want to go career-wise?
- What actions could I take to develop the skills necessary to pursue the career(s) I am interested in? How can I turn these into goals?
- How long will it take to accomplish these goals? In what order should they be completed? Should any be divided into smaller goals?
- Which networking activities should I prioritize?
Questions to explore potential goals with the trainee:
- Are my trainee’s goals well thought-out, relevant to their career choices and aligned with their passions and values?
- Does my trainee correctly identify the skills needed to pursue their career(s) of interest?
- Which conferences and/or networking opportunities could benefit my tainee? Which ones does my trainee want to attend and explore further?
Questions to outline a plan of action:
- Does my action plan define how I will reach my goals (as well as the objectives within each goal)? Are the components of my action plan SMART:
- What will work best for me in my environment:
- Explicit step-by-step plan?
- A higher level plan?
Questions to refine a plan of action:
- Has my trainee written goals and objectives that are SMART? Are they challenging but attainable? Are the timelines realistic?
- How can I support my trainee? How can I facilitate skills development? How can I encourage success in achieving their goals?
- What mentorship can I provide?
- What access to resources or experiences can I facilitate? (e.g. lab access, opportunities to make presentations)
- Who in my network can help my trainee?
Plan Refinement and Implementation
Questions to help review, revise and implement your plan:
- What insights does my mentor(s) have?
- How can I leverage my mentor(s) to identify and facilitate opportunities to develop skills, acquire experiences and expand my network?
- How can I use my IDP and related discussions about it to support my progress toward my career goals, noting that the IDP is a living document and may evolve as I develop?
- How will my mentor(s) and I use my IDP to track my progress? How often will we meet?
- Do my mentor(s) and I both agree on my IDP?
Questions to support the plan refinement and implementation of the trainee’s IDP:
- Based on my review of my trainee’s IDP, can I bring forward any insights?
- What am I able to commit to in order to best support my trainee and facilitate the implementation of their plan?
- How can I encourage my trainee? How can I manage expectations and increase their confidence to reach their goals that may evolve as they develop?
- How will my trainee and I use the IDP to track progress? How often will we meet?
- Do my trainee and I both agree on this IDP?
- IDP Form (Version 2)
NB: This is an example of an IDP form which was developed based on the requirements for active career management. Alternative IDP forms exist, and we encourage you to use the form that works the best for you.
- IDP Training Modules and Resources
These modules have been developed for trainees and mentors.
- Other resources
Online tool created by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to help graduate students and PDFs define, structure, and achieve career goals.
UK based non-profit organization that aims to develop researchers throughout the world by providing training resources and other programs, including an online course on professional development planning which can help in the development of your IDP.
- IDP Form (Version 2)
- Date modified: