Individual Development Plans (IDPs) Are For Everyone

The Individualized Development Plan (or, IDP) has long been used outside of science to help professionals better understand what their professional goals are and what skills, knowledge, and experience they need to achieve those goals. It’s a very effective career planning tool. Over the past decade, this career planning tool has been increasingly used with science professionals, particularly with doctoral students and postdocs, and its use is now required for NIH-funded pre- and postdoctoral training. This has been in part because of the development of myIDP, a science-oriented online IDP tool hosted by the Science Careers website.
The myIDP tool uses a four-step process to help you identify the career goals that match your interests and strengths and develop a step-by-step plan to reach those goals. An advantage of myIDP over other IDP development tools is that it has an algorithm to calculate match scores between your self-identified strengths and interests and a panel of 60 different career paths. This is helpful information that faculty mentors are often not well positioned to provide (since they are most familiar with their own faculty career path). An important limitation is that there are many more careers in science beyond just these, and that any list of career matches should be considered a starting point for further consideration.

We will be developing more in-depth content regarding the development and use of IDPs. However, until that content is available, we want to provide a few resources that describe the usefulness of an IDP in career planning and help you better understand how to use IDP planning for your career stage and situation.

Resources to make and use IDPs

For graduate students and postdocs, and faculty mentors who will be helping them

  • myIDP: Science-specific, online tool most appropriate for graduate students and postdocs.
    • “You need a game plan” (Science Careers, 2012): This article specifically describes why the myIDP tool is useful and introduces how it works.
    • “myIDP – a test run and quick evaluation” (Balanced Instability, 2012): This blog post describes one scientist’s experience testing out myIDP on behalf of his (her?) trainees. Unlike many other articles about the tool, this is useful because it discusses some potential limitations of the tool output (although the blogger still concludes that myIDP is a useful tool as a starting point).
  • UC San Diego Standard IDP form (from UCSD Office of Postdoctoral and Visiting Scholar Affairs website): This MS Word document is provided for the UC San Diego community of graduate students and postdocs, but it’s certainly useful outside that community, too. This tool is downloadable instead of exclusively online, which some prefer. This is an example of an IDP provided by one institution – check your institution’s website to see if they have also provided one.
  • “Faculty Guide to Individual Development Plans (IDPs)” (UMass Medical School website): This is a useful overview of IDPs geared toward faculty who are mentors of graduate students and postdocs who may be required to complete an IDP. Given the recent implementation of the NIH requirements for IDPs, many universities have developed a faculty guide similar to this one – so check your institution’s webpage, too. This is not a useful resource for faculty wishing to make IDPs to support their own career progress.

For undergraduates

  • “Building your Individual Development Plan (IDP): A Guide for Undergraduate Students” (SACNAS News, 2013): This article on the SACNAS website is one of very few resources to point to IDP development tools for undergraduates. Dr. Bosch has extensive experience working with science undergraduates to help them develop IDPs, and the article links to some samples of the tools she uses, including an overview of how to develop an IDP for undergraduate scientists (this is the central focus of the article), a sample goals worksheet, a sample skills assessment, a list of undergraduate core competencies, and a list of professional development competencies.

For any professional in academic science interested in developing an IDP for their own career (faculty, staff, etc)

  • “Individual Development Plan for UCSF Faculty” (from UCSF Academy of Medical Educators, Faculty Resources website): This PDF is developed by UCSF to support its faculty, but the template is generally adaptable to any academic science setting.

Career Exploration opportunities

  • ASBMB Career Symposium (offered annually)

What are your thoughts on or experience with IDPs? Tell us in the comments below! If you know of any content or resources that should be included here, email me at

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