Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Individual Development Plans

Many institutions encourage the use of an Individual Development Plan (IDP) to guide conversations between faculty and their lab members (postdocs, grad students, technicians, undergraduates). There are a variety of examples available on the web. After reviewing a number of these, I've collated what I found most helpful to create this document that my lab will use as a standard form for conversations about career goals and training needs:

Individual Development Plan

Instructions: Please create a duplicate copy of this document and fill out whatever parts are most helpful to you, to a level of detail that suits you. This document is for you first and foremost, so is not meant to be onerous busywork, but rather to give you a chance to reflect, plan, and discuss the insights and plans with your mentor.




Reviewed and discussed with ____<mentor name>________  on  _____<date>________.

Trainee signature:__________________

Mentor signature:__________________


  1. What type of job do you aspire to have in 5-10 years?  Why? What do you find rewarding about this choice?

  1. What do you see as an alternative job path, if you have any in mind? What situations might move you to adopt this alternate path?

  1. As far as research, what long-term scientific outcomes do you wish to achieve in your career (if any)

  1. What skills / knowledge / products has your previous training and work given you that help you towards achieving goal (1) or (2)?

  1. What do you see as your primary weaknesses that limit your ability to achieve your career aspirations?


For each of the following points, describe your current strengths, and what needs to be improved or what skills do you lack, but feel are needed? The following may include coursework needs/plans.

  1. Discipline-specific conceptual knowledge (e.g., literature reading). What fields are you most familiar with, and what fields / topics are you weakest in but feel you need to master? We will use this to plan some reading assignments.

  1. Laboratory skills (if applicable)

  1. Field work skills (if applicable)

  1. Computational biology skills (if applicable)

  1. Statistical analysis 

  1. Graphical presentation of data

  1. Writing manuscripts

  1. Grant writing

  1. Oral presentation & conference attendance. Have you given posters/talks at conferences? What was this experience like? What could be improved? What conferences do you feel you should be attending, and why?

  1. Networking: what do you need to improve your academic network. Who should this network include, and why, and how will you connect with these people?

  1. Leadership, mentoring, and project management

  1. Responsible Conduct of Research:  Ethics, Animal Care, Data Archiving, Open Code, Permitting, etc.

  1. Professionalism: What professional development skills do you feel you lack or need to know more about?

  1. What are you doing to improve the social / cultural setting in which you work, including promoting Diversity Equity and Inclusivity?

  1.  Health and wellness. What do you do to maintain a healthy work-life balance to decrease the risk of burnout? You do not need to list specifics, but you should reflect on how you maintain personal physical and mental health, and healthy relationships with friends, partners, family, and colleagues.


Goals should be SMART:






  1. List and briefly describe your research goals for the coming 12 months. What biological questions are you asking, and what product(s) do you hope to generate? 

  1. List and briefly describe your training goals for the coming 12 months, given your self-assessment above. What are your priorities for improvement, and how do you plan to achieve those improvements? These may include readings, professional development courses, etc.

  1. How will we determine, in 12 months, whether you are successful at these goals?

  1. For Graduate Students, what courses do you plan / need to take?

Optional: Mock Job Application

For postdocs: You may wish to develop a draft job application for a generic job that you anticipate applying for, and share that with your mentor and fellow lab members for feedback. A typical job application includes:

  1. A coverletter, one page, briefly articulating who you are, your expertise, and why you are applying for this position.

  2. A 2-3 page research statement articulating your past achievements, ongoing work, and ending with a 5-year vision for your research directions. Citations and figures may be included.

  3. A ~2 page teaching experience and philosophy statement, covering your approach to teaching, the courses you might be qualified to teach, what you have taught in the past, any pedagogical training experiences, and experience mentoring undergraduates or others.

  4. A 1-2 page Diversity statement articulating what you have done, are doing, or plan to do to advance diversity and equity in the classroom, lab, and science more broadly.

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