Map Your Success with an Individual Development Plan

Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.

A close up photo of two people's hands as they work on a document that is in between their computers.

With summer winding down and fall semester on the horizon, now is a great time to take stock of your academic and professional progress. What goals have you’ve accomplished thus far? What do you wish to achieve going forward? How will your education get you there?

One of the best practices to help track your progress is to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP). An IDP is a document that you complete with the purpose of furthering your career and professional development. IDPs allow you to structure your growth; they are a living document (much like a resume) that you should revisit at least once a year to update based on your development and changing aspirations. Creating an IDP will also allow you to consult with other people such as advisors, professors, and peers to get another perspective on where you’re going and how best to get there. IDPs can help you conceptualize past the classroom and strategically break down paths of growth with your career in mind. 

Creating an IDP

The first step to creating an IDP is to take an online self-assessment, which will help establish what skills you already have, which ones you want to acquire, and how these skills will help you further your career of choice. There are many different self-assessments out there, but our favorites are ImaginePhD (for humanities and social sciences) and myIDP (for biological and physical sciences). 

After you’ve gotten your results from the self-assessment, use them to complete the Graduate College’s IDP form. Fill in goals you wish to achieve for each of the six goal categories – communication, teaching (if applicable), scholarly development, professional development, career preparation, and other areas of personal or professional growth. These goals should be SMART-oriented, meaning specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-limited. For each goal, you should list your objectivesstrategiesoutcome, and timeframe

Ex: You want to learn the basics of Adobe Illustrator (objective), with the purpose of creating logos for small businesses (outcome). A good way to learn this is to use LinkedIn Learning videos to teach yourself the software (strategy). You want to achieve this goal by the time you graduate, which is this fall (timeframe). 

Structuring your goals this way and actually writing them out will help you conceptualize a reasonable, step-by-step way of achieving them. Giving yourself a timeframe for completing your goals will also help keep you on track and moving forward.

Consulting with a Mentor

A student consulting with his mentor at his computer.

One of the best aspects of writing your goals out in a structured document like the IDP is that you can share it with other people. Consulting with a respected mentor such as an advisor, professor, or even a peer is essential to the IDP process. Nobody can grow if they are living in an echo-chamber; consulting with someone whose opinion and expertise you trust can help show you other strategies to achieve your goals and offer another perspective on your overall growth. The mentor is there to help guide you through your experience, and they can also help with networking, revising the IDP over time, and reinforcing those deadlines you create for yourself. 

IDPs are an incredibly helpful way to structure your growth through your academic career; they allow you to take abstract thoughts or aspirations and form them into a concrete plan with goals, methods to achieve them, and ways to check back in overtime to stay on the right path. 

For more information on IDPs, check out the IDP webpage, the Graduate College’s IDP form, or reach out to Virginia Dennis (, the student services program manager for the Graduate College.