Individual Development Plan

The Columbia University IDP program will assist NIH-funded graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with the development and implementation of individual development profiles.

The program has been designed for NIH-funded graduate students and postdoctoral trainees, with a particular goal of reaching graduate students in the third and fourth year of training and postdoctoral researchers in the first two years of training. However, the program will be applicable to non-NIH-funded graduate students and postdocs, particularly those in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) fields.

For information about Columbia's program, please visit:

What is an IDP?

An IDP begins with a self-assessment. A student or postdoc would assess their own skills, interests, and values in a systematic way aimed at revealing strengths and areas needing improvement. The self-assessment also allows trainees to begin to understand how their skills, interests, and values should align in choosing the best possible career fit. Upon completing the self-assessment, the trainee should conduct career exploration activities with the goal of narrowing down their career interests into a small number of potential career paths. The final part of the IDP is the actual planning segment. Trainees would devise plans for career development that will allow them to reach their career goals. Generally, these plans should be crafted such that they could be accomplished over 6-12 months with objective ways in which completion of each plan could be evaluated.

How was the IDP model developed?

Over the past several years there has been an increasing focus from grant funding agencies on assessing and improving graduate student and postdoctoral training. One leading example has been provided by the NIH, which commissioned a working group to specifically look at the current state of the biomedical workforce and the current training model. The working group generated a widely-read report which concluded that significant improvements were needed in biomedical graduate and postdoctoral training in order for biomedical research careers to remain a desirable career path in the future. The working group formulated a series of recommendations aimed at addressing areas needing significant and immediate attention. Many of these recommendations were adopted by the NIH in an implementation strategy to be fully in place by 2015. One of the specific changes was a call for all NIH funded graduate students and postdocs, regardless of funding mechanism, to develop and utilize Individual Development Plans (IDPs).  The NIH released a notice about this new policy (link is external) in July 2013 and a revised policy (link is external) in October 2014.

Why is it critical that graduate students and postdocs develop and implement an IDP?

In the biomedical sciences in particular, there has been a strong emphasis on training graduate students and postdocs to ultimately obtain faculty positions in research-intensive universities. For a long period of time this training model worked well, with large fractions of trainees selecting this career track and reaching this career goal. However, the reality facing today’s biomedical trainees is quite different, with only a small portion of trainees obtaining tenure-track faculty positions. Where are the majority of trainees employed? PhD trained life-scientists are commonly employed in research and non-research positions in industry, governmental agencies, non-profit organizations as well as non-tenure track positions in academia. Most trainees utilize their research training in their penultimate career, and employers from an array of sectors highly value a life science trained PhD candidate. With these career realities in mind, it can be appreciated that significant career development beyond traditional academic biomedical training is needed for many students and postdocs to be competitive in the evolving job market. Developing and implementing an IDP allows a trainee to identify potential career fits, establish career goals, and devise plans to reach these goals in a timely manner. An IDP also provides a convenient mechanism for a faculty member to discuss with their trainees their career aspirations and provide feedback and assistance to their trainees in reaching these goals. 

In addition, optional workshops will assist trainees in the completion of an IDP. Program participants will provide elements of their IDPs to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences or the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs to ensure compliance and are encouraged to share portions of their IDPs with their faculty mentors.  Following the IDP seminar series, a monthly career panel and networking reception will allow trainees to learn about a variety of career opportunities both within and beyond academia. Postdoctoral researchers may also join peer mentoring groups to discuss their IDPs, career goals, and career exploration activities, and to receive support and feedback from their peers.