October 2012

Introducing myIDP: an interactive, online career-planning tool for scientists

Signposts graphic taken from the myDIP website

It comes as no surprise to most graduate students and postdocs that, even after years of rigorous scientific training, landing a tenure-track academic position is not easy. Nor is it the norm. In fact, data show that less than half of all biomedical researchers are employed in academia, and less than 15 percent will wind up in tenure-track positions three to five years after they obtain their degrees. What may come as a surprise is the number of nonacademic career options available to those with doctoral-level scientific training. Now, a new interactive career and professional-development tool is available to help research trainees make sense of and prepare for the many career options available to them.

Called myIDP, the tool is designed to help graduate students and postdocs in the sciences create individual development plans, or step-by-step plans for identifying and reaching their career goals – whatever they may be. This free online tool walks users through the process of assessing their proficiencies in a host of science-related skills and knowledge areas, including research and technical skills, communicating to scientific and lay audiences, managing and leading people and projects, navigating peer review, and career planning. Because skills are only a part of the picture, myIDP also includes exercises to help users assess their science-related interests (Do you like designing experiments and reading papers in your field but hate writing grants and serving on committees?) and their career-related values (How important is it for you to work in a team? Be the boss? Have a stable salary and benefits?).

After a user has completed these self-assessment exercises, myIDP provides him or her with a list of 20 common scientific career options ordered from best fit to worst fit based on how the user’s skills and interests match each career. The match is calculated by comparing the user’s skills and interests to those that career advisers knowledgeable about job opportunities for scientists say are needed for each option.

myIDP also has an extensive list of resources for those interested in the different career paths, including traditional research positions in academia and industry as well as options with which trainees may be less familiar, such as research administration, regulatory affairs and science policy, just to name a few.

In addition to providing guidance on exploring these career options, myIDP helps users set career and professional-development goals. A summary report presents those goals in chronological order, and the application allows users to sign up for automated reminders to help them meet their goal deadlines. A series of articles providing a more in-depth explanation of each component of myIDP will be published in Science Careers and linked to the relevant pages of the Web module.

myIDP is based on the Individual Development Plan for Postdoctoral Fellows, a four-step career-planning framework developed by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in 2002. The goal of FASEB’s IDP is to help scientists identify their short- and long-term career objectives and professional-development needs and to create, in conjunction with their mentors, written plans for meeting those goals.

The process has received considerable attention in the research-training community: The National Postdoctoral Association recommended the IDP as a best practice in postdoctoral training; the National Institute of General Medical Sciences endorsed the IDP; and, most recently, the National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director’s Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group recommended that the NIH require IDPs for all NIH-supported graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. In addition, the majority of postdoctoral offices surveyed by FASEB reported that they recommended that postdocs develop IDPs.

Perhaps most importantly, postdocs who develop IDPs benefit. A FASEB survey revealed that it helped postdocs assess their skills and abilities and identify the skills they need to advance their careers. Reflecting on the transition from graduate school to postdoctoral training, one postdoc noted, “You are responsible for your own progress. An IDP helps outline key questions to answer and allows you to prioritize goals for the near future.”

myIDP was co-developed by scientists at FASEB; the Medical College of Wisconsin; the University of California, San Francisco; the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Science Careers with support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

FASEB is proud to have played a role in developing this important new tool and hopes that the resources provided through myIDP will encourage more graduate students and postdocs to develop career and professional-development plans.

“As a community, we must do more to help our trainees prepare for a broader range of scientific careers,” said FASEB President Judith Bond. “It is our hope that training institutions and faculty advisers will encourage their graduate students and postdocs to use myIDP and that it will help trainees communicate with their mentors about their career plans.”

To access myIDP, visit http://myidp.sciencecareers.org.


Photo of Jennifer A. HobinJennifer A. Hobin (jhobin@faseb.org) is director of science policy in FASEB’s Office of Public Affairs.

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