If you are feeling lost in the next steps of your professional development or just need help organizing your goals, then an individual development plan (IDP) is for you!
In short, an IDP is a self-reflection about certain aspects of your professional life, such as skills that you possess or want to cultivate, your interests within your field, and personal values. Then, after this assessment, an IDP can help you set goals in the short- and long-term in order to strengthen areas you want to improve or reach certain achievements. In the professional world, an IDP is like a customized contract between you and your employer about professional development, ensuring that you continue to progress in your career. However, an IDP can be super beneficial during graduate school to not only keep you on track for your goals, but also help you realize what career goals you might have.
The first step in any IDP is to perform a self-assessment of your skills (both technical and transferable), your interests within the context of a career, and where your values lie.
- Usually, the skills being assessed are within the categories of scientific knowledge, research, management and leadership, and professionalism, to name a few. Know your strengths and weaknesses so you can understand where to focus on improvement.
- The interest assessment is focused on how you would prefer to spend your time in your career. Do you enjoy written or oral communication of science and want to do that regularly? Do you see yourself working with a large group of people and managing them? How often would you want to do work-related travel? All of these (and many, many more) are important questions to ask yourself when deciding what type of career you would like to have.
- Lastly, there is the assessment of your values. These range from the societal impact of your work to whether a flexible schedule is make or break for you. Take a moment to truly think about what is important to you.
Ultimately, skills can always be learned or improved upon. However, if your values and interests do not align with a particular career path, then further consideration may be needed of whether that is the right trajectory for you.
After you have made a critical assessment of your skills, many IDP resources provide you with career prospects that most align with your skills and interests. Within these career fits, they usually give testimonials from current professionals in those fields and how they reached that career. You can also find information on how your skills and interests compare to others in that profession to see where you should focus your improvement goals. This section allows you to explore the many career paths available to you.
Set Goals for Success
Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, and how they align with your chosen career path, you can start to set goals for yourself to advance in these areas. These goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and timely. These goals can be oriented toward career or professional advancement, research project completion, skill development, or evening networking. When outlining your goals, make sure to not only be SMART with them, but set a metric for keeping track of progress and holding yourself accountable for each of them.
Get Out What You Put In
An IDP is personally driven, you are only going to take from it as much as you put in. If you are consistent with reflecting on your goals and actively working toward them, you are setting yourself up for success. It is generally recommended to review your IDP annually, but if you include multiple short-term goals, it is better to review monthly or quarterly to ensure progress in those areas. Finally, to keep yourself accountable, it is advised to review your IDP with your boss, PI, or mentor annually as a way to more generally ensure your success in the self-identified areas. This guidance is invaluable to not only check progress but also to be realistic in the timeline of goals and which ones to prioritize.
There are a number of resources available to create and update your IDP. Free IDP sources for STEM students include myIDP (https://myidp.sciencecareers.org/, broad STEM focus) and ChemIDP (https://chemidp.acs.org/assess-yourself, chemical sciences focus), which provide exceptional self-assessments and goal tracking systems. An additional resource is The Versatile PhD (https://versatilephd.com/, STEM and humanities options) which can be accessed through your institution if they subscribe. All of these resources offer self-assessments, goal trackers, and career exploration. Use these as the launching point of your IDP, and over time make more personalized additions to fully facilitate reaching your career goals!