Individual Development Plans (IDPs)

Effective or Just More Paperwork?

By now, you’ve certainly heard of Individual Development Plans, or IDPs. Prominent members of the scientific community have advocated for widespread adoption of career goal planning practices [1]. There have been fervent efforts to develop and analyze IDP tools for biomedical trainees [2], [3], [4], [5], [6].

Trainees who complete a written plan report improved productivity and more effective interactions with their PIs with respect to career and research goals. Trainees are aware of the challenges of the faculty job market for biomedical sciences, along with the funding trends within academic science. They are somewhat aware of their other career options, but express a general lack of knowledge of these options. IDPs are a useful tool to help graduate students and postdocs set career goals as well as goals impacting their research and training outcomes. IDPs are also useful to outline the steps trainees need to take to achieve those goals.

The research so far is clear: appropriate implementation of IDPs has immense benefits for trainees, faculty, and the entire lab. 

What is the Best Method for Implementing an IDP?

But how does one appropriately implement IDPs for their trainees? You probably (hopefully) recognize that your trainees are all different; they have different work and communication styles and they are at different places on their doctoral/postdoctoral path. It is unrealistic to expect there to be a single method for IDPs that works for every single person in your lab.

Whatever method you choose to implement, there are some important aspects of an IDP that you should pay close attention to:

  • trainees need to be the ones to set goals, but they may need your help
  • goals should be specific, not general
  • goals should be written down
  • milestones should be defined to keep trainee accountable to tracking progress toward goals
  • the process should be iterative
  • just making an IDP is not enough; trainees should have an annual conversation with you about their IDP
  • constructive feedback (both positive and negative) is highly recommended

The exact method you use and what you call the process do not matter. What we stress is that you have at least an annual conversation, which includes the bullet points above, with each of your trainees. Depending on where your trainee is in the course of their education and training, different methods can be implemented. Below are some suggestions to get you started.

Reporting your Use of IDPs

The OCPD has created wording that may be edited to fit your interpretation of the requirements in your RPPR. This text is for guidance only; it must be adapted to your specific program and practice. Program administrators and PIs can view sample wording for Reporting Use of the IDP.