FAQ for Faculty, Students and Postdocs: Using an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

What is an Individual Development Plan (IDP)?

The IDP is a written list of goals mapped to a timeline, and includes goal setting for research projects, skills development, and career planning. The IDP is to be written and developed by the trainee, and is to serve as a framework for discussion between mentor and trainee. The IDP is only meaningful if mentors and mentees make full use of the IDP’s potential as a research and career development tool. 


Trainees who complete a written plan report improved productivity and more effective interactions with their mentors with respect to career and research goals. Trainees are aware of the challenges of the faculty job market for biomedical sciences, along with the funding trends within academic science. They are somewhat aware of their other career options, but express a general lack of knowledge of these options. IDPs are a useful tool to help graduate students and postdocs set career goals as well as goals impacting their research and training outcomes. IDPs are also useful to outline the steps trainees need to take to achieve those goals.

What has the NIH asked for?

In July 2013, the NIH issued a notice encouraging institutions "to assist graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to achieve their career goals within the biomedical research workforce through the use of Individual Development Plans (IDPs)."  In August of 2014, that notice was updated. UCSF and other institutions are encouraged to report on progress toward this goal in all progress reports submitted on or after October 1, 2014.

What are PIs encouraged to do in this process?

Institutions (PIs and training programs) are encouraged to report on their use of the IDP process in all progress reports submitted on or after October 1, 2014, using the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR). Do not include the actual IDPs; insteadthe report should outline current practices that document that IDPs are used to help manage the training for those individuals. PIs are encouraged to assign the writing of an IDP to trainees and then to use a summary of the IDP as a basis for a PI-to-trainee discussion about the trainee's goals.

Tools you can use to help your trainees complete and discuss the IDP

  • Appropriate for early stage graduate studentsMy Annual Plan (MAP) was developed by the UCSF Graduate Division. It is a less structured IDP that focuses on big picture plans and goals. We recommend the MAP for students in their first and second years, before their qualifying exams. 
  • Appropriate for late stage graduate students and all postdocs: The myIDP was developed by a team of scientists and career advisors including some staff from UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD). In addition to setting goals for research projects, it encourages exploration of a full range of career options, and involves a 4 phase process:  Self-assessment, Career Exploration, Goal Setting, Implementation. We suggest myIDP for postdocs, and for students who have passed their qualifying exams. More information is at: myidp.sciencecareers.org.

Reporting your use of the IDP

The OCPD has created wording that may be edited to fit your interpretation of the requirements in your RPPR. This text is for guidance only; it must be adapted to your specific program and practice. Program administrators and PIs can view sample wording for Reporting Your Use of the IDP.

Certifying the completion of IDPs, using the myIDP website

In response to the NIH's call for institutions to require IDPs for all their trainees, the myIDP website was developed to assist with institutional compliance. A 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 PI’s or administrative officials to determine which sections of the myIDP need to be completed to comply with the new requirement. We hope this helps make myIDP more useful in supporting your efforts to facilitate the careers of your graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. View a sample Completion Certificate.

More information

  • OCPD offers training seminars for graduate students and postdocs on how to create an IDP. See our next upcoming programs.
  • In her July 23, 2013 blog, Sally Rockey, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, provided guidance about NIH's intentions with regard to IDP's.
  • In his September 7, 2012 Editor's Letter in ScienceBruce Alberts made note of the importance of career planning for members of tomorrow's biomedical workforce.
  • For more information about what an IDP is, see this article from ScienceCareers.
  • For questions about IDPs, contact Bill Lindstaedt at [email protected] 

Upcoming Events