MD Anderson Cancer Center - UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Part I

Talking head (Andy)

The scientific job market has changed considerably in the past few years and scientists at all levels must continually develop and refine their knowledge and skills to grow professionally and scientifically.  Taking time to consider and discuss each trainees professional desires and aspirations, at least once a year, is the basis of the Individual Development Plan (IDP) process.  An IDP starts with an annual conversation between a mentor and trainee and is transformed into an action plan consisting of realistic steps the trainee can take to help them build a desired skill, better use their existing talents, or prepare for a career goal. 

Did you know that roughly 80% of students that receive a PhD in Biomedical Sciences pursue careers in non-academic environments?  This means that most students do not follow in the career path of their mentors.  So, to enable both students and their mentors to best chart a path for an individual student’s development needs, we are introducing the Individual Development Planning process.  Importantly, an IDP recognizes that we all are unique and have different strengths, developmental goals, and career ambitions.  Therefore, this process is highly tailored to each individual trainee.  The IDP starts with a self-assessment, performed by the trainee, using IDP worksheets.  This self-assessment will enable the trainee to structure productive conversations with their mentor about career plans and development.  The next step is a one-on-one meeting with the mentor that should focus on short-range plans including setting goals for the coming year to improve efficiency and productivity as well as skills improvement.  Long-term career goals that fit with the trainee’s unique skills, interests, and values should also be considered in this meeting, and a plan should be discussed that will help the applicant develop the requisite skills to enable movement toward the trainee’s goals. 

Part II

Mock interview:

Narrator (Andy):  The individual development plan enables students and their mentors to speak openly about the student’s strengths and career aspirations.  This allows the mentor to help formulate real, practical approaches to help the trainee reach their goals.  A worthwhile IDP discussion addresses each of these four points:

[Show on screen while talking]

  1. Goals and Motivations
  2. Talents and Strengths
  3. Development Needs
  4. Development Activities

…and always has roots in the first one.  Let’s see what an IDP conversation can look like:

[Office scene:  both parties are already seated]

Andy:  So let’s get started. 

Marenda:  Okay. 

Andy:  So, I have the science careers IDP career assessment here and would like to ask you a few questions. 

Marenda:  Alright.

Andy:  Where do you see yourself career wise after completing graduate school?

Marenda:  Well, I’m not really sure.  I know that I like science, which is why I decided to go to graduate school, but I guess I haven’t really thought about anything beyond graduation. 

Andy:  Okay, well that’s what I’m here for.  What are your goals?  What do you want to get out of your graduate education?

Marenda:  Well my current goal is to just graduate [laughs nervously]…but since we are talking about it, I guess I could really see myself in a classroom setting teaching undergraduates about science.  I don’t have a lot of lab experience, but I know I really do like teaching….and I know I’m really good at it. 

Andy:  Okay.  That’s a start.  What else are you good at?

Marenda:  Well, that was kinda the big one.

Andy:  Well, let’s look at your IDP and see how your career interests and values match up.

[looks at IDP]

Andy:  So, according to your assessment, teaching seems to suit you well.  It says here that your strengths are ……. and …….  But you also have strengths in ….. and ….., so have you considered ……. as a career path?

Marenda:  No, not really…… but now that you mention it, I do enjoy ….. and ….But to be honest, I probably wouldn’t want to pursue it as a career choice.

Andy:  Okay.  Well, we have several teaching opportunities here at UTHealth and at surrounding Universities that we partner with for assistantships.  Would it be valuable for you to get more experience in these areas by volunteering as a TA? 

Marenda:  Yeah, I mean I think it would. 

Andy:  Well, one thing you may want to consider when choosing a lab is to have a conversation with your mentor about their willingness to support you in this area.  Additionally, many undergraduate institutions like for their applicants to have up to several years of teaching experience before they are considered for full time positions.

Marenda:  Sounds great!  So, if I’m going to get more involved in teaching opportunities and continue to do research, how is that going to work?

Andy:  Well, this is where you would have to sit down with your mentor and discuss what your expectations are as well as theirs.  Once you come to an agreement, my suggestion would be to follow up with me so that I can provide you with a comprehensive list of the TA opportunities that we have available.

Marenda:  Okay!  This was great!

Narrator (Andy):  The IDP process is a proven way for students and mentors to talk about getting engaged and energized in their work.  Here are the goals that came out of this discussion

[show example of IDP print out with notes]

What’s important is that an IDP leverages a student’s strengths and provides challenges for development…and remember, this isn’t an endpoint, but part of an ongoing process.