How many mentors in academic science are well-versed in the career path one takes to be a science policy analyst? Scientific consultant? Sales and marketing? Unless the mentor has undertaken a side venture of their own, chances are that their experience outside academia is limited. This can be a frustrating situation for both the mentor and their trainee who wishes to explore these non-academic career paths. Bruce Alberts, editor of Science, and Jim Austin, editor of Science Careers think that they have developed a tool to help both mentors and trainees who find themselves in this situation.
An IDP is an “individual development plan,” assembled by a student or postdoctoral fellow to assist in career discussions they have with their mentor. The U.S. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology put forth the recommendation 10 years ago for every postdoctoral fellow to assemble an IDP in consultation with their advisor. Several institutions, including the NIH, took up this mantle and began requiring postocs to develop an IDP.
An IDP is a tool to help any employee in any field understand their own abilities and ambitions, and to help them set and achieve career goals based upon that understanding. On September 7th, Science and Science Careers launched a new web tool called “myIDP” to help trainees world-wide improve their career exploration and planning.
The myIDP tool is simple: a series of three questionnaires asses a trainee’s skills, interests, and personal values. The questionnaires ask the trainee to rank each item on a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being “highly deficient” or “unimportant,” and 5 being “highly proficient” or “essential.” After completing the assessment, trainees are given a list of twenty careers in scientific fields, ranked according to the percentage skills match and percentage interest match. These careers include careers from academic, industrial, policy, education, and many other fields. As someone who has fairly strong career ambitions, I found this assessment to be incredibly accurate: my top-choice career was listed second, and my last-choice career was listed 20th.
After seeing where different careers rank, trainees are given links to online resources, and a section to record any notes about these resources. They are encouraged to attend events, network, and finally, make a “Plan A” and “Plan B” career path. Once a career path is chosen, the trainee sets a series of goals for their career, skills they wish to develop, and projects they wish to complete. The trainee then identifies a “Mentor Team” of people that can help them attain these goals. Now, the IDP is complete and can be printed or shared with others.
It should be noted that myIDP is not a magic bullet to cure all of our career planning woes. Several websites and blogs evaluated the tool after its release, to mixed reviews. One tenure-track faculty did not even see “Principal Investigator” ranked in the top 15 career options! My personal experience with myIDP was positive, but for those who are unsure of their skills, interests, or values, the tool may be less effective. As always, trying new things in your professional development will help you achieve a better understanding of these metrics. It also helps to take the assessment instructions seriously: be honest with your answers, and try and use the entire spread from 1-5. Ranking every choice as a 3 will not elevate the signal above the noise, so to speak.
Talk with your mentor or trainee about developing an IDP, whether you use the myIDP website or not. The experience will be rewarding and valuable, and will help everyone stay on-track for success.
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