The Individual Development Plan (IDP)


Establishing good communication between postdocs and mentors is critical for a successful relationship. The Individual Development Plan (IDP) serves as a communication tool between postdoc and mentor, and provides a planning process that identifies both professional development needs and career objectives. The IDP opens communication, identifies expectations, establishes objective criteria for success, recognizes the importance of training and service, and is flexible to allow new opportunities to be pursued when they appear. The IDP should include defined time and resources devoted to research and career development activities independent of the mentor's research.

Two recent reports (the NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Report and the NIGMS Strategic Plan) have brought renewed attention to the value of career planning for scientists.  IDPs have been suggested as particularly useful tools for assisting in the career development of science PhDs. In response to this need, a interactive, web-based tool that will help postdocs set and achieve long-term and short-term career goals was launched in September 2012:  myIDP ( Created with support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, myIDP helps postdocs and graduate students in the sciences develop a step-by-step plan for reaching their career goals.

myIDP provides:

  • Exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values
  • A list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of which ones best fit your skills and interests
  • A tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year, with optional reminders to keep you on track
  • Articles and resources to guide you through the process.

There is no charge to use the site, and postdocs can return as often as they like to access the tool.  They can also print out portions of their IDP for further one-on-one or group discussions with their mentor or fellow postdocs.

As part of the launch, an editorial was published in the front of Science Magazine on Friday September 7, written by Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science, and Jim Austin, Editor of  ScienceCareers also published the first of 11 articles targeted at helping postdocs and graduate students use IDPs for for their career advancement.

myIDP was developed by Cynthia Fuhrmann, Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Massachusetts Medical School; Jennifer Hobin, Director of Science Policy at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB); Bill Lindstaedt, Director of the Office of Career and Professional Development at UCSF; and Philip Clifford, Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professor of Anesthesiology and Physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr Clifford spoke to Duke postdocs and grad students about IDPs on March 28, 2012. The title of his talk was "Planning for a Successful Career in Science", and you can find the video on the Duke Postdoc Services YouTube Channel.