What is an Individual Development Plan (IDP)?

An individual development plan (or, IDP) is a customized way to assess your professional goals and design a roadmap for accomplishing them. The IDP process guides you to reflect on your ultimate career goals, where you are now, and define specific actions (such as training or networking) toward achieving those goals. An effective IDP can help you make the most of your graduate or postdoctoral training, and assist you as you dedicate your time to developing your research, professional and communication skills.

An IDP will prompt you to:

  • Clarify short – medium- and long-term academic and professional goals
  • Identify areas that need development and locate helpful resources
  • Garner timely support from your mentor and strengthen your relationship
  • Create an action plan for your academic and professional development

Why is an IDP Important?

A thoughtfully completed IDP can serve as a proactive and effective planning and communication tool. The IDP process guides graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to reflect on their career goals in light of their current situation, and define specific actions to achieve goals. An IDP allows graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to identify their professional goals and to communicate these goals to their faculty advisor/mentor.

How does one complete an Individual Development Plan?

There are numerous ways to develop an IDP, several of which are available below. No matter which method(s) you select to create and explore your IDP, the following recommendations will help you to optimize your time and results.

Before taking an IDP assessment:

  • Give yourself 15-20 minutes of uninterrupted time to take the assessment
  • Be reflective and honest with yourself about your skills, interests and values
  • Take the assessment individually

Additionally, make sure that you set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound) goals for yourself:

  • Be honest about your strengths and weakness
  • Be realistic about what can be accomplished in a specific time-frame
  • Hold yourself accountable with an IDP colleague or work-group


  1. The career path matches are one way of thinking about choosing your career. The results are not predictive, but rather serve as a starting place to explore and learn about these career paths. Be open to careers you hadn’t previously considered
  2. Leverage the available MyIDP resources to learn more about the career paths
  3. Answer questions using a range of responses from 1 to 5 to receive the most accurate career path matches

Individual Development Plan Tools

Sciences and Engineering:

myIDP Website: http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/

  • The myIDP website allows you to create a free online IDP profile including: exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values; 20 scientific career paths aligning to your skills and interests; tools for setting strategic goals; and resources to guide you through the process.

Social Sciences/Humanities:

ImaginePhD: https://imaginephd.com/

  • ImaginePhD is a free online career exploration and planning tool for PhD students and postdoctoral scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Humanities and social sciences PhD students and their mentors have long recognized the need for more resources to help bridge the knowledge gap between doctoral education and the realm of career possibilities. ImaginePhD is designed to meet this need by allowing users to: assess their career-related skills, interests, and values; explore careers paths appropriate to their disciplines; create self-defined goals; and map out next steps for career and professional development success.

Best Practices

For Graduate Students

  • Contact the UCLA Career Center and set up an appointment to meet with a career counselor and discuss your next steps.  Career Counselors are trained to help you think through the complicated process of career development and decision making.  They can also help you develop short and long term goals, and strategies for speaking to a mentor about your IDP.
  • Attend events that help you to strategically expand your skills, knowledge and confidence regarding key aspects of your IDP.
  • If your SMART goals are related to article publication, presenting at conferences, applying for fellowships or grants, thesis or dissertation writing, or writing an effective teaching philosophy or research statement, attend workshops at the Graduate Writing Center, and schedule free, one-on-one 50 minute appointments with experienced graduate writing consultants. Visit the Graduate Writing Center Website for more information.
  • Work on creating a network outside of your program to develop professional relationships and external mentorship. There are a number of UCLA and other resources available for expanding your network.

Tips for Speaking to your Advisor/Mentor about your IDP:

  • Complete the IDP and research potential resources in advance of your meeting. You want to come to the meeting with some ideas of how you plan to integrate your plans with your SMART goals. Your advisor/mentor may respond well to receiving a copy of your IDP a few days before your scheduled meeting to have time to review and consider the assessment.
  • Meet with a career advisor to discuss individual strategies for introducing this to your PI.
  • If you have a challenging relationship with your PI, advisor, or mentor, contact the Graduate Student Resource Center to review your individual situation and options. Email gsrc@saonet.ucla.edu to make an appointment for a one-on-one meeting with staff.
  • Share your completed IDP or a relevant portion of the IDP with your advisor.
  • Bring your SMART goals to your meeting – identifying what you plan to work on and accomplish in the coming month, 3 months and year.
  • Be prepared to discuss how the IDP could benefit the your research and degree progress.
  • Manage your expectations around how much your advisor knows about some of the career paths, and try to limit questions about those paths.