Individual Development Plans (IDPs)

With all the time you put into your academics and research, how much time do you spend planning how to leverage your experience into a career? Not all students and postdocs get the same level of guidance when it comes to career advising and developing skills necessary for the workplace. And while students can take advantage of numerous professional development opportunities, they rarely get advice on which opportunities will be most helpful for them. This is where an Individual Development Plan comes in.

What is an IDP?

Two graduate students review a printed document.

The purpose of an Individual Development Plan (IDP) is to “explore career possibilities and set goals to follow the career path that fits you best” (as defined by Science Careers’ myIDP website). As part of creating your IDP, you’ll assess your skill set in terms of your career goals. Assessing your skills means taking a realistic look at your current abilities. Ask your professors, friends, lab mates, work supervisor, family and colleagues to evaluate your strengths and the areas you need to develop. With that information in hand, you can create a plan to develop the skills and proficiencies you need for your career of interest.

Even if you have no idea what you want your future career to be, that’s OK! Part of the purpose of an IDP is to start thinking about the career options for your discipline and evaluate which options would be a good fit for your skills, traits and work style. 

When should I create an IDP?

A student flips through a book in the Classics library.

You should start now. The point of an IDP is to guide your professional development. So, as you grow and develop, your IDP will, too. At the very least, you should evaluate your IDP once a year: Have my career goals changed? Is there a new career I’d like to investigate? Are there new opportunities out there I can leverage? Where do my skills stand? Given my changing career goals, what skills or competencies should I develop?

So even this is your first year of graduate education, you can start the process of exploring career possibilities and developing key skills. Keep in mind that you can always work on developing soft skills, as these skills will make you stand out in an interview and shine in any workplace. Next year, with a better idea of what career you do (or do not) want to pursue and some specific feedback from your professors, you can update your IDP with a more concrete plan. 

How do I get started?

  • If you're early on in your academic program, jump start your self-assessment with the Graduate College's Career Skills Assessment (docx) and Career Values Assessment (docx) worksheets.  
  • If you've already passed candidacy, begin by taking one of two online assessments, based on your field (myIDP for Biological and Physical Sciences or ImaginePhD for Humanities and Social Sciences). The self-assessment will help you reflect on your skills, interests, and values. 
  • Based on your results, use the Graduate College's IDP form (docx) to develop and write your goals. There are six categories of goals listed on the attached document. You may or may not write goals in each area. You may write more than one goal in a specific area. You should write your goals based on your individual skills, interests, and values in the areas you need to develop more and even areas of strength. 
  • Schedule a meeting with a trusted advisor or mentor to discuss your initial draft and to get feedback to help you hone your goals and career plans. 
  • Meet with your advisor/mentor and talk through your IDP. Ask them to provide some assessment of your skills and goals. Are your goals and timeframes realistic and attainable? Are you missing anything? Ask them to help you prioritize your goals. What should you be working on now and what is really a future goal?
  • Optional: Share your IDP with other faculty and/or more senior graduate students to get additional feedback and advice.
  • Revise your IDP as needed from your meeting(s).
  • Share your revised IDP with your advisor/mentor and have them sign it. Sign it yourself.
  • Put your IDP into action! Follow the steps in your plan. Start making progress on achieving your goals.

You should review and revise your IDP at least once a year. What progress have you made on your goals? Has anything changed in regards to your career plans? What new goals should be set for next semester/the upcoming academic year? Do any goals need to be revised or changed? 

Update your IDP, being sure to note the progress you have made, and revise/change/add goals as appropriate. Share your updated IDP with your advisor/mentor and meet to get feedback. Both you and your advisor/mentor should sign the IDP after each review.  

Who do I go to with questions?

Do you have questions about the IDP process? Email Virginia Dennis, student services program manager for the Graduate College. 

Forms and Resources