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


  • 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
  • Leverage the available MyIDP resources to learn more about the career paths
  • Answer questions using a range of responses from 1 to 5 to receive the most accurate career path matches

Individual Development Plan Tools

Assessment Tools

Career Exploration

Career Planning

  • Beyond the Tenure Track: Weekly organizer for job searching
  • Jobs on Toast: Blogs and podcast interviews to learn how to market yourself
  • The Professor Is In: Job application and interview guidance
  • myIDP: STEM-focused Individual Development Plan. 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.
  • Imagine PhD: Humanities and social science-focused. 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 Postdoctoral Scholars

After taking an IDP assessment:

  • Attend events that help you to strategically expand your skills, knowledge and confidence regarding key aspects of your IDP.
  • 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.

Important Information about Discussing your IDP with your Mentor (PI):
You should prepare the IDP in advance: 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 career development plans with your research goals. Your 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.

  • Bring your SMART goals to your meeting – identifying what you plan to work on and accomplish in the coming month, 3 months and the coming year
  • Be prepared to discuss how the IDP could benefit the work of the lab and your productivity

You should lead the IDP conversation: Using the completed IDP as a guide, lead the discussion of your self-assessment, goals and plans. Your mentor should share his/her perspective and make suggestions, and ideally you will work collaboratively to develop a specific action plan to pursue over the next year.  This meeting could be coordinated as part of the required annual review for postdoctoral appointments. Remember that you can also highlight your accomplishments and progress since the last meeting in addition to the areas you have identified for development.

  • Manage your expectations around how much your advisor knows about some of the career paths, and try to limit questions about those paths.

If your mentor seems resistant to the IDP: While this is a common fear, most faculty mentors take their responsibility to the training and progress of their students quite seriously. If you have not approached your mentor with these issues or questions before, it will be important to approach the meetings with an open mind and have an idea of what taking the meeting “seriously” means to you. IDP planning workshops can help with this approach. UCLA has created IDP training workshops both for the trainees and the mentors, so your faculty mentor may be interested in IDP-related mentorship training or resources.

Additionally, you may point out to your PI that:

  • An annual IDP is a new requirement for NIH-funded trainees (started in October 2014);
  • Postdocs who define their goals and plans early on are better able to identify and participate in professional development opportunities, making them more productive and successful in the long-term; and
  • Clarifying career goals and expectations with their mentor/PI will lead to better communication, planning and more successful outcomes; and
  • The postdoc labor contract requires PIs to participate in an IDP process if requested by the postdoc. In addition, postdocs may request a written assessment of research goals and progress expectations for the coming year. For more information, see Article 9 of the UC-UAW Contract.

For Faculty AdvisORs and Mentors

What is an Individual Development Plan?

An Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a graduate student- and postdoc-driven planning and assessment tool customized to each graduate student’s or postdoctoral scholar’s developmental stage and goals. When graduate students or postdocs complete an IDP, they receive an assessment of their skills, progress, goals, and action items. This process in turn helps graduate students and postdocs to better guide their progress meetings with faculty.

There are significant benefits to using an IDP process with your graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. An IDP:

  • Establishes a foundation for a solid working relationship with your graduate students and postdoctoral scholars
  • Sets clear expectations for the future
  • Assesses progress, skills and professional development needs, clarifying career goals and expectations, which will lead to greater productivity and success in the long term
  • Sets academic and professional development goals and action plans for achieving them

Indeed, the 2005 Sigma Xi Postdoc survey of US postdoctoral scholars showed that postdoctoral scholars who created a written career plan or IDP with their mentors were 23% more likely to submit papers, 30% more likely to publish first-authored papers, and 25% less likely to report that their mentor did not meet initial expectations.

If You Mentor a Postdoc:

The postdoc labor contract requires PIs to participate in an IDP process if requested by the postdoc. In addition, postdocs may request a written assessment of research goals and progress expectations for the coming year. For more information, see Article 9 of the UC-UAW Contract.

Faculty’s Role in the IDP Process:

  • Your graduate students and postdocs may set up a meeting with you to share their IDP summary report with you.
  • During the meeting, it may be helpful to think about your student or postdoc’s progress, competencies and areas for improvement in light of his/her academic and professional goals. You might also review the IDP related events on this site and at grad.ucla.edu/careerhub for any that are relevant to your advisees needs.
  • Using the completed IDP as a guide/framework, students and postdocs are encouraged to lead the discussion of their self-assessment, goals and plans. In this way, they are empowered to take ownership of their training and professional development.
  • Your role is to add your perspective to their proposed plan, and the two of you will work collaboratively to identify specific actions and resources to help your student achieve his/her academic/professional goals.
  • If a student or postdoc seeks advice regarding alternative career paths or careers and goals outside of your area of expertise, you may:
  • Connect students and postdocs to a professional network that includes individuals in the areas of their interests, especially with alumni from their program
  • Recommend identifying a second mentor in their field of interest
  • Refer graduate students (not postdocs) to career counselors and resources at the UCLA Career Center
  • Encourage exploration of the varied career and professional development resources also available on campus through the Professional and Career Development Website
  • Acknowledge that each individual has her or his own goals, ideas, values, and circumstances. The right path for one person is not necessarily the right path for another.

A Note for the Biological Sciences:

Bioscience Ph.D. training provides outstanding preparation for careers in many different fields, including teaching, pharmaceutical research, biotechnology, law and regulatory issues, or government and non-profit policy groups. The scarcity of faculty positions relative to the supply of PhDs means that many of our students may pursue non-academic careers.

Many faculty members are already utilizing the IDP process with their graduate students and postdoctoral scholars within their department. The Science Careers myIDP website is one tool that can provide structure to the process.

New NIH Policy on IDPs:

The new NIH policy encourages institutions to develop IDPs for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars supported by NIH awards. Starting Oct. 1, 2014, NIH began to encourage grantees to report the use of those IDPs on the progress report.

The Science Careers myIDP website has been modified to assist with institutional compliance.  A new feature of myIDP will allow users to print out or send a certificate to any email address documenting their progress in creating an IDP.  The certificate will have a checklist that reports which sections of myIDP have been completed and whether there has been a discussion with the mentor.  This will allow administrative officials to determine which sections need to be completed to comply with the new requirement.

Articles and Resources:

Information on this website regarding postdoctoral scholar benefits are based on the previous UAW Bargaining Contract [ratified on 10/17/16]. For the most current information, please refer to the recently ratified contract: https://ucnet.universityofcalifornia.edu/labor/bargaining-units/px/contract.html.