Postdocs: Planning for Success and Developing an “Individual Development Plan (IDP)”

During the July “Postdoctoral Writing Suite” at UMBC, there was discussion about developing Individual Development Plans, or IDPs, as a tool for assessing skills, charting goals, and facilitating communication with your postdoctoral mentor. The IDP, developed by Dr. Cynthia Fuhrmann (formally of UCSF, joining UMass Medical School August 2013), has been used by both graduate students and postdocs, but increasingly, Offices of Postdoctoral Affairs are adopting this tool as means of adhering to regulations for postdoctoral mentoring that have been established by NSF, NIH, and other agencies. The National Postdoctoral Association is a strong advocate for the IDP, and PROMISE will be discussing it more during the August 16, 2013 “Postdoctoral Writing Suite” at the PROMISE Summer Success Institute.

Here are some of the resources that were shared during the July 12, 2013 “Postdoctoral Writing Suite” at UMBC:

Think about how you want to structure your career:
Dr. Judith K. Pollack ( discussed the key features of the “Flower Exercise”
(geography, values, special knowledge, responsibility and salary, working conditions, people environments, my favorite skills) REFERENCE: What color is your parachute:
Work on Your Individual Development Plan for Postdoctoral Fellows:
 We discussed the concept of the IDP, disseminated copies of FASEB’s “Individual Development Plan for Postdoctoral Fellows,”  and went through the four steps to execute the IDP process. The main page that discusses IDPs, with resources from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) can be found here:
NOTE: While IDPs were initially developed to assists postdocs in the life sciences, the process can be adopted by postdocs and their mentors in all disciplines.  Today, we have staff and postdoctoral representation in the room from math & physical sciences, social sciences, humanities, life sciences, and engineering. We strongly advocate spending time to develop an IDP, it is a tool that can be used to optimize your postdoctoral appointment. 
Consider the online module for developing your IDP:
 You can begin to develop your IDP today! We’ve encouraged our participants to start this process this morning, with a goal of completing the process, including the discussions with their postdoctoral mentors by October 30, 2013.
PDF of the IDP, 14 page document: 
Several Offices of Postdoctoral Affairs have adapted this form to fit their particular needs. Our office is still new, so we’re encouraging our participants to use this form, as originally developed by Dr. Fuhrmann. The PROMISE AGEP and the IDP were discussed and presented in the same session of the 2013 National Directors of Graduate Studies in Pharmacology and Physiology meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, June 2013.   

Develop your goals so that they match your

ideal performance for an annual review:

 It’s always good to have an eye on the goal. If you know how you will be evaluated, you know what to target. This morning, we discussed a key question, “How many papers am I expected to write in this time period?” In some cases, your mentor will give you an actual number. Should you try to reach that number? Yes! However, the process of developing scholarly research and submitted your work for publication is the important piece of the puzzle. Here are some tips that came out of our session:
  • Develop several ideas, not just one. Look at your work and have a brainstorming session. Think of 15-20 ideas related to how your can publish your research. Think about techniques, algorithms, subject pools and demographics, target populations, experimental methods, types of organisms, etc. Once you have several ideas, based on your own work, your own developing areas of expertise, your own existing data, and new studies that you will be conducting over the next several months, you should begin to write. This can be a running list that can be modified over time.
  • Do not plan to solely publish out of your dissertation during your postdoc. You can (and should) have some publications that come from your dissertation, but your postdoctoral mentor is also expecting publications from work that comes out of her lab or his research area. Faculty often hire postdocs to assist them with getting papers out in their respective fields. They want an independent thinker who can work efficiently and effectively on a project, and produce results.
  • Target above the expectation. If your postdoctoral mentor expects you to have 8 papers within a 2-year period, shoot for 12. It’s ok to aim high. Remember that you should plan on a constant schedule of “submission, revision, and resubmission.” Most papers need to be revised, and a rejection in one journal doesn’t mean that the idea is dead. You may need to do an additional experiment, or add some statistics to your study, but you may be able to resubmit your work to the same journal or a different journal that is more suited to your methodology. If you have been “scooped” or if you can’t salvage that paper, go on to the next idea. If you need 8 and target 8, but 3 are rejected, you’ve missed the mark and only have 5 to showcase your productivity. However, if you need 8 and target 12, but 3 are rejected, you have 9, which exceeds the expectation.
  • Diversify your publication portfolio. You can have some high impact journal articles, some book chapters, some conference proceedings (based on conferences that are respected in your field), and some short articles in other periodicals. however, the bulk of your scholarly portfolio should be in peer-reviewed sources.  Review the CVs of your postdoctoral mentor and other colleagues in the department
Target a date for completing your IDP with your postdoctoral mentor: Due date for UMBC’s postdocs: Wednesday, October 30, 2013. 
Find the Web of Knowledge so that you can look at target journals and impact factors:
Earlier in the week, Dr. Kevin Omland discussed “Impact Factor” of journal articles. Participants from various schools in our PROMISE AGEP as well as other AGEPs were also present, e.g., Midwest Crossroads AGEP, North Carolina OPT-ED. We were happy to have them. Please see Dr. Omland’s resources and the link to his slides from the “Impact Factor” session as well as the “Demon of Perfection” session:
You should also check with your university’s library for subscription to WEB OF SCIENCE and WEB OF KNOWLEDGE so that you can research information about your target journals and their impact factors. The general Thomas Reuters page with a master list of reputable journals can be found here:
Postdocs in the University System of Maryland, are invited to participate in the 2013 PROMISE Summer Success Institute, where there will be another Postdoctoral Writing Suite on Friday, August 16, and several career building resources and career mentors for postdoctoral fellows on Saturday, August 17, 2013
Good luck to all new and continuing postdoctoral fellows!
“You need a game plan”

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Categories: Academic Preparation, Postdoctoral Affairs, Writing Suite

Author:Renetta Garrison Tull

Dr. Renetta Garrison Tull is the Associate Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives at UMBC: An Honors University in Maryland (, and Professor of the Practice in the College of Engineering & IT. She is Special Assistant to the Sr. Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs & Director of Graduate and Professional Pipeline Development for the University System of Maryland (12 institutions). She is the Founding Director of PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) –, and Co-PI for the USM LSAMP. Her research is on global diversity in STEM and she is an international speaker, covering nearly all continents, for groups and conferences such as the World Engineering Education Forum, the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies, and the Pacific Sciences Congress. Her personal website is: Connect with her on Google+ Follow on Twitter: @Renetta_Tull;

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6 Comments on “Postdocs: Planning for Success and Developing an “Individual Development Plan (IDP)””

  1. Yvette Williams
    July 18, 2013 at 10:24 AM #

    Great information about preparing an IDP! Thanks, PROMISE!


  2. August 7, 2013 at 2:18 AM #

    It’s amazing to go to see this website and reading the views of all colleagues about this article, while I am also eager of getting experience.


  3. drjudithpollack
    October 21, 2013 at 12:57 PM #

    On 10/09, we had a follow up session on IDP, and we spent some time discussing how to be more engaged in our scientific community, locally or nationally, and how to develop professional affiliations. It’s never too early to start developing these relationships!

    Here are a list of questions that can guide you in your planning:
    1. Have I formed relationships with mentors, peers, and other scientists? Can I improve them?
    2. Who are key contacts, in addition to my PI, for helping me think through ideas and career plans?
    3. Do I ask questions and enter into discussions in seminars, conferences and journal clubs?
    4. Am I presenting my research results effectively and authoritatively?
    5. Do other scientists recognize me at local and national meetings?
    6. Am I involved in local and national meetings by joining committees, chairing sessions, or other volunteer opportunities?
    7. Am I applying for the right grants, fellowships, or programs to enhance my career?



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