Saturday, December 22, 2012

myIDP: a SMART career development plan

Science Careers recently launched the myIDP website (here), which helps you define your Individual Development Plan, a blueprint for the next steps of your career in science. Though bare bones the site is brilliantly designed so that anyone can use it at any level of their scientific career from undergraduate to professor. The site starts with a questionnaire about yourself, your professional skills (communication, teamwork, level of focus, etc) and your values, and ranks different career options based on your answers. Interestingly I was almost evenly split between a academic staff scientist and a Principal Investigator, which is good because I am a staff scientist at the moment and I'll be a PI shortly...
If you are interested in exploring different careers you can go through the Career Exploration section or go directly to develop your Plan. You can set long term goal about career advancement or more specific goals about developing skills or finishing projects. The most important thing is that they have to be SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Actionable, Relevant, Time-bound. While "Get tenure" is certainly a career advancement goal and may be attainable, you need to break things down in little steps: "Apply for R01", "Teach X course to graduate students", "Publish paper #1", "Publish paper #2", and so on and so forth. Each of these larger goals can be broken into smaller goals with closer deadlines and with clear end-results. For each goal you have to define an accountability plan, which makes you really think about how to break things down. One of my goals has always been to "Read more papers" especially outside of my field, but sometimes there is just so much to do in the lab that skimming the weekly table of contents of major journals seems enough. So to make it doable I wrote "Read at least 4 new articles a week", which I know is not much, but some weeks feels like an achievement. I have a weekly reminder in my Asana schedule which needs to be checked off to make me accountable. And then there's finishing papers, lab renovations, grant deadlines and the likes which will come to you in a handy summary email every month.

After the planning, there is the implementing and for the Implement Plan you have to define your mentoring team. You not only define who your mentors are, but also what specific mentors are for: there may be people you talk to for job search advice, people you need to write letters for you, people who must teach you techniques. It is surprising how many mentors you can find and this exercise helps you identify areas where you may not have a specific mentor and where you may want to find one.

I like checking things off lists and when you ask yourself where you want to be in 5-10 years it's nice to be able to plan it out on paper. Early in my postdoc, I went to a grant writing seminar and they told us how you have to plan out your fellowship from the first year: early fellowship grants in year 1-2, career development awards in year 3-5, papers, job search. It stuck with me and I found it very useful advice, as sometimes I have seen colleagues miss opportunities because they did not think about the deadlines or time-limits involved.

In closing, thumbs up for myIDP. I'll do my best to have my techs, students and postdocs use it.

Remember to go to the Management page for more Career Development tips.
Photo credit: Sten Pose, Wikimedia Commons


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