Individual Development Plan (IDP)

Grad student IDP form
Postdoc IDP form

What is an Individual Development Plan (IDP)?

According to the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), an Individual Development plan or IDP is “a tool to help individual students assess their career goals and track their professional development as scholars and professionals during graduate school.” [1]

And according to the AAAS [2], an IDP is designed to help you:

  • identify long-term career goals that fit with your unique skills, interests, and values,

  • make a plan for improving your skills,

  • set goals for the coming year to improve efficiency and productivity, and

  • structure productive conversations with your mentor(s) about your career plans and development.

Why create an Individual Development Plan (IDP)?

In a report on the professional development of STEM graduate students [1], CGS found that PhD students “receive little or no preparation in skills and competencies needed to thrive in non-academic careers”, and that current graduate programs “are too narrowly focused on academic research skills at the expense of developing professional and personal skills valued by employers both outside and inside the academy.”

Development of skills other than those related to research are crucial, especially for the students who are not interested in academic careers. An IDP is a valuable tool that helps students identify the skills to develop and make a plan to acquire them during their time in grad school.

Read more about the skills that are important for a job after grad school here.

What are the important skills to develop?

Although the skills may vary according to discipline and/or employer, CGS [1] reported that employers would like to see improvement in the following areas:

  • Cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural communication and teamwork

  • Communication skills: writing, speaking and presenting to both technical and general audiences.

  • Time, budget, personnel and project management.

  • STEM-specific skills gaps related to NEWT included:

    • Analytics and data science

    • Statistics and computational skills, especially “big data”

    • Lab safety

    • Information systems

Examples of specific actions to develop these and other skills can be found here. NEWT and the four partner universities offer resources to develop or improve most of these skills.

How to develop an IDP?

An IDP can be developed in different ways, but a good model to follow is AAAS’s myIDP. The general idea is to set career goals, define the skills that are needed to achieve them, and make a plan to acquire those skills and get effective mentoring through the process.

Another option is to use the forms developed by NEWT for grad students and postdocs. These forms are meant to be flexible and adaptable to your and your advisor’s needs. Once you have developed an IDP, make sure to discuss it with your PhD or postdoc advisor and other mentors.

If you are a student or postdoc at ASU, explore the Preparing Future Faculty and Scholars program (PFx).

If you have questions or feedback regarding IDPs, please contact Jorge Loyo.


[1] Denecke, D., Feaster, K., & Stone, K. (2017). Professional development: Shaping effective programs for STEM graduate students. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools. Access the full report here.