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Individual Development Plans, or an IDP, can be an essential tool that postdocs can use to think about and plan for their future career, whether in an academic setting or another career path. An IDP should be developed in cooperation with your mentor, but you can also use the tool on your own to consider your current skills and how these align with your career goals. Furthermore, you can use an IDP to explore options that may have never occurred to you before.  Postdocs and predocs alike are strongly encouraged by the NIH to have IDPs, and predocs and postdocs on NIGMS-funded grants may even be required to keep one - usually in cooperation with their faculty mentor - as part of being funded via that grant or fellowship. In "Next Gen PhD," author Melanie Sinche both discusses the history of IDPs (originating from a FASEB committee meeting in 2001), and tells stories of how postdocs and predocs have used and benefited from the use of IDPs to start and grow their careers (Sinche, 143).


How Do I Structure an IDP?

An IDP can take different forms.  There are different models that can be used, but central to an IDP is a balance between taking inventory of your strengths, needs, and interests now, and what your measurable goals are for the future.  To do the former, a certain level of reflection is necessary.  Some times you can reflect on your own, to see what interests you, what you are good at, and/or what you need to do well now.  Other times taking some sort of inventory can be helpful for you to do this.  To do the latter (goals for the future), it usually helps to create short-term and long-term goals.  When setting goals, it helps to make them clear, doable, and measurable.  An easy method for creating solid goals is setting SMART goals.  Either by searching for "SMART goals" or following this link, there are many sources of information online about how to create SMART goals. 

In addition to creating SMART goals, think about short and long term goals, or short, medium, and long-term goals.  Sometimes having short term goals can help us make early achievements, which can motivate us as we try to meet our medium and long-term goals.  Short term goals will seem more achievable, because they are designed that way; long-term goals may require certain short and medium-term goals to be met first.  This may seem elementary, but sometimes when goal setting, it can be easy to set an initial goal that is actually a long-term goal, and then the goal-setter cannot meet it and can become instantly discouraged.  Dividing your goals this way can help you meet goals now AND later.

If you would prefer a template (including some additional guiding information), myIDP is a great resource.  MyIDP includes self-assessments that allow you to start your personal and career development planning based on three inventories that let you know your current interests, strengths, and needs, then prompts you to set short and long-term career goals while exploring different career options.


Who Is Involved in Writing an IDP?

An IDP can be either formal or informal.  Formal IDPs are usually required by a grant agency, department, institute/center, or other body, and involve both the faculty mentor and the postdoc/predoc.  A good formal IDP has built-in check-in points where the mentor and trainee meet and discuss the trainee's progress towards the goals in the IDP and how the mentor can help.  An informal IDP can be written by a postdoc/predoc, on their own, to structure one's own career development journey.  Sometimes this is necessary if there is not a formal IDP process in place, and sometimes an informal IDP lets a trainee create multiple IDPs as part of exploring multiple careers.

If you have questions about how to structure or write an IDP, please contact the IU School of Medicine Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at!