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Individual Development Plans for Postdoctoral Fellows

In 2011, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) completed its strategic planning process, and released the document Investing in the Future: NIGMS Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Training.  Recognizing the role of the NIH in supporting professional development for research trainees on NIH grants, NIGMS considered ways to encourage mentoring and training for all fellows, including those funded by research grants awarded to the principal investigator (PI). To improve training outcomes, NIGMS encourages the use of individual development plans (IDPs) for all graduate students and postdoctoral fellows supported by NIGMS grants.

IDPs are becoming more common throughout academia, the government, and industry. Some academic programs and departments, like the University of Pennsylvania Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs, now require all postdoctoral fellows to complete IDPs within six months of starting their positions.

The goals of an IDP are two-fold. First, it encourages fellows to perform a self-assessment, evaluate strengths and weakness, identify long- and short-term goals, and recognize skills needed to enhance their research projects and career development. Just as importantly, the IDP creates ongoing opportunities for postdocs to discuss their professional development with their advisors. Ideally, IDPs serve as tools to encourage mentoring conversations between the PI and the fellow. Once a fellow has crafted the initial IDP, he/she shares it with his/her mentor, and they work together to revise and fine-tune the document. As the fellow implements the plans delineated in the IDP, the mentor oversees progress and offers constructive feedback. Fellows and PIs should meet periodically to revisit the IDP, and work together on revisions that reflect evolving goals over the course of the fellowship.

The Training and Career Opportunities Subcommittee of the Science Policy Committee of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology has created a template IDP (PDF Document, 4 pages) for general use. The document, available online, provides sample questions and outlines the collaborative process between a trainee and mentor to develop, revise, and successfully implement a professional development plan.

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This page last updated: August 9, 2018

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