Individual Development Plan (IDP)

"If you don't know where you are going, you'll probably end up...someplace else."

Individual Development Plans (IDPs) (PDF) provide a planning process that identifies both professional development needs and career objectives. We suggest using the free website myIDP Science Careers as a guide.

There are three desirable outcomes from creating an IDP. First, the process aids in identifying long-term career options and helping establish milestones along the way. Second, it defines short-term goals which will focus current performance and give a clearer sense of expectations. Third, the IDP can also serve as a tool for communication between graduate students/postdoctoral fellows and their faculty mentors.

Adapted from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)'s Science Policy Committee.
Open AllClose All
  Outline of the IDP Process

The development, implementation and revision of the IDP requires a series of steps to be conducted by the graduate student/postdoctoral fellow and their mentor. These steps are an interactive effort, so both the graduate student/postdoctoral fellow and the mentor must participate fully in the process.

Basic Steps

...for Graduate Students/Postdoctoral Fellows

...for Mentors

Step 1: Conduct a self-assessment Become familiar with available opportunities
Step 2: Survey opportunities Discuss opportunities with grad student/postdoc
Step 3: Write an IDP and share with mentor to revise Review IDP and help revise
Step 4: Implement the plan and revise IDP as needed Establish regular review of progress and help revise the IDP as needed


  Execution of the IDP Process

Following this step-by-step outline of the IDP process will guarantee successful and beneficial use of it. We highly recommend using the free website myIDP Science Careers.

Graduate Students/Postdoctoral Fellows

Step 1. Conduct a Self Assessment

  • Assess your skills, strengths and areas which need development. Formal assessment tools can be helpful.
  • Take a realistic look at your current abilities. This is a critical part of career planning. Ask your peers, mentors, family and friends what they see as your strengths and your development needs.
  • Outline your long-term career objectives. Ask yourself:
    • What type of work would I like to be doing?
    • Where would I like to be in an organization?
    • What is important to me in a career?

Step 2. Survey Opportunities with Mentor

  • Identify career opportunities and select from those that interest you.
  • Identify developmental needs by comparing current skills and strengths with those needed for your career choice.
  • Prioritize your developmental areas and discuss with your mentor how these should be addressed.

Step 3. Write an IDP

The IDP maps out the general path you want to take and helps match skills and strengths to your career choices. It is a changing document, since needs and goals will almost certainly evolve over time as a grad student/postdoc. The aim is to build upon current strengths and skills by identifying areas for development and providing a way to address these. The specific objectives of a typical IDP are to:

  • Establish effective dates for the duration of your grad school tenure/postdoctoral appointment.
  • Identify specific skills and strengths that you need to develop (based on discussions with your mentor).
  • Define the approaches to obtain the specific skills and strengths (e.g., courses, technical skills, teaching, and supervision) together with anticipated time frames.
  • Discuss your draft IDP with your mentor.
  • Revise the IDP as appropriate.

Step 4. Implement Your Plan

The plan is just the beginning of the career development process and serves as the road map. Now it's time to take action!

  • Put your plan into action.
  • Revise and modify the plan as necessary. The plan is not cast in concrete; it will need to be modified as circumstances and goals change. The challenge of implementation is to remain flexible and open to change.
  • Review the plan with your mentor regularly. Revise the plan on the basis of these discussions.


Step 1. Become Familiar with Available Opportunities

By virtue of your experience you should already have knowledge of some career opportunities, but you may want to familiarize yourself with other career opportunities and trends in job opportunities (refer to sources such as National Research Council reports and Science career reviews; see also Resources: Career Opportunities at the end of this document).

Step 2. Discuss Opportunities with Grad Student/Postdoc

This needs to be a private, scheduled meeting distinct from regular research-specific meetings. There should be adequate time set aside for an open and honest discussion.

Step 3. Review IDP and Help Revise

Provide honest feedback - both positive and negative - to help graduate students/postdoctoral fellows set realistic goals. Agree on a development plan that will allow graduate students/postdoctoral fellows to be productive in the laboratory and adequately prepare them for their chosen career.

Step 4. Establish Regular Review of Progress

The mentor should meet at regular intervals with the graduate student/postdoctoral fellow to assess progress, expectations and changing goals. On at least an annual basis, the mentor should conduct a performance review designed to analyze what has been accomplished and what needs to be done. A written review is most helpful in objectively documenting accomplishments.

  Annual Review Example

The IDP Process can be continuously used throughout your career by reviewing it annually.

  • What progress has been made in implementing your plan?
  • Has your plan changed? If so, provide details.
  • What do you intend to accomplish in the coming year?