Taking Ownership of Your Career: Developing an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

February 6, 2014

Silhouetee of a person looking at arrows pointing in different directionsHave you drafted a career plan? Do you know if you have the required skills for your dream job? Figuring out the next step in your career and how to prepare for it can be stressful. But developing a plan, early on in your career, will help guide you through this process of identifying and achieving your career goals.

This year, the OITE will be dedicating its blog to help you develop a Career Success Plan, focusing on a variety of core competencies that are critical for your career development, the first being career exploration and planning. This is where creating an individual development plan (IDP) comes into play. But, what is an IDP? And why it is so important?

An IDP is a personalized document developed to help you define your career goals and implement strategies to help you accomplish those goals. There are many ways to develop your IDP. In fact, some universities, organizations, and/or institutes may have their own IDP documents in place. No matter what stage your career is in (postbac, grad student, postdoc) or what career path you are pursuing, an IDP can help you focus on short and long term goals with an action plan to follow. Remember, that as your career progresses, your plans might change, so you can always come back and review your goals adjusting them to your current situation.

Developing an IDP requires time and effort. So it is important that you not only think thoroughly about your career by doing an honest self-assessment but also, by being committed to applying the strategies established in your plan to reach your goals. To help you build your IDP, we discuss briefly the some important elements of the IDP.

Conduct a Self-Assessment

Self-assessment helps you identify skills, interests and values that are key to finding a career that fits you. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your skills (such as communication and leadership), interests (such as mentoring and designing experiments) and values (such as fast-paced environment and flexibility) will all help you evaluate your needs and priorities in your career.

Explore Different Careers

Once you understand your needs and priorities, how do they relate to possible career paths? With so many career options, you want to make sure that the career path you choose matches your skillset and interests. You might also find a career path that you didn’t think about before but fits your needs. When exploring career options, networking and informational interviewing play a critical role to understand those careers that you are unfamiliar with and learn insights of the job.

Set Goals

Now that you have explored different careers, what is your plan to get there? This is where you should develop your short and long term goals that are SMART. By doing so, you will hopefully establish a timeline to stick to your goal.

Implement Plan

Finally and most importantly, is to put your IDP in ACTION! Remember, you are in control of your own career. If you don’t take it seriously, no one else will.

Even though you can complete an IDP by yourself, you should choose a mentoring team that can guide and advise you through this process. Mentors play a critical part of the career planning process not only because of their personal and professional experiences but also because they can: provide feedback about your skills; help you reflect on your interests and values; and keep you motivated and focused.

* Science Careers has a web-based career-planning tool called myIDP that can help graduate students and postdocs develop their IDP. SACNAS-IDP also provides advice on how to build a IDP for undergraduate students

** Disclaimer: This blog is informational and does not constitute an endorsement to Science nor SACNAS Website by NIH OITE

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Becoming Skilled and Competent: Start an IDP

February 4, 2013

The OITE blog has dedicated this year to being Skilled and Competent.  Keeping with that theme, in February you should assess your current skill set and compare it to your career goals.  What skills will you need to achieve your goals?  Which skills do you already posses and which do you need to improve?  How do you go about improving those skills?  It can all seem a little overwhelming, so it helps to create a plan.  When it comes to creating career plans, there is not better tool than the Individual Development Plan, or IDP.

We’ve blogged about IDPs before, and why they are good ideas.  IDPs have been used by private and government organizations for years. Human Resource managers realized that there often was a disconnect between an employee’s skill set and his/her career goals.  The IDP was used to help employees determine their career aspirations, assess their skills, and set goals to help them become more competent and successful.   In 2002 the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB) introduced IDPs to scientists, by creating an IDP template geared toward postdoctoral scholars.  Since then IDPs have grown in popularity for helping young scientists achieve their career goals.

There are two very good options you can use to create your own IDP.  You can download the FASEB template from the OITE website. There is also a new, free, online resources on the Science website, called myIDP, which was written by career experts at UC-San Francisco, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and FASEB (Editor’s note:  While we suggest you investigate both the FASEB IDP template and myIDP to see if these tools work for you, we are not endorsing FASEB, AAAS, nor myIDP).  No matter which tool you use, you will need to set aside some time to think seriously about your career ambitions, honestly asses your current skills and abilities, and then make time to create short- and long-term goals.

Both the FASEB template and myIDP were written for advanced graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, but the concepts and exercises can be used by anyone, at any career stage.   For those of you in the earlier stages of your science career training, when the IDP ask postdocs about their interest in pursuing, say, a faculty position or industry research, you need to frame the question for your career stage.  It might be more appropriate for you to compare medical school, dental school, graduate school, or entering the workforce directly.   The specific goal of the IDP is to create a career plan that is customized for you – remember, it is an Individual Development Plan. 

The most important thing to remember is to enlist the help of a mentor, or if you are a trainee in the NIH intramural research program you can also take advantage of the OITE Career Services center, when developing your IDP.  While you need to be the driving force behind your IDP, you also need to take advantage of the resources to help you focus your efforts, and get feedback on your progress.  With an IDP, you can then spend the rest of the year becoming competent in the skills needed to fulfill your career goals.


How to be Confident in the Job Search

July 24, 2017

Two of the most frequent questions that fellows ask during career counseling are, “For what jobs do I qualify? “or “Should I apply for this job?”. To answer these questions, career counselors begin with helping fellows to identify and speak assertively about career from their career trajectory that are factual and grounded in reality.  For example,  as a NIH fellow, you will have developed several core competencies which may include research, academic and scientific writing, speaking, grant writing, teaching, mentoring, leadership, management, and ethics training among others.  Also, fellows can speak clearly about their skills, motivations, achievements, values and experience that they have already developed without sounding too shy or overly confident.  In 2012,  Science magazine published a blog article, ” Successful Careers: A Matter of Confidence,”  that goes into more detail about this reality for scientists.

o-CONFIDENCE-facebook

In OITE, our goal is to help you develop more confidence about your career options and the job search and recommend taking the following steps. If you take these steps, you will be able to answer the questions positively and with confidence.

1.Identify and practice talking about your accomplishments, skills, interests and values.

  • Keep an on-going list of accomplishments and skills that you have gained through your education, training, and work.
  • Develop more understanding of factors related to workplace dynamics and communication. OITE offers a leadership workshop series to help. https://www.training.nih.gov/leadership_training
  • Include work, family and lifestyle needs into your decision-making
  1. Update your CV/Resume to reflect accomplishments, your skills and experiences.
  2. Explore various science career pathways in the sciences and note those of interest.

Some of the most common science career paths include intellectual property, science writing, regulatory affairs, outreach and education, technology transfer, science policy, principal investigator and entrepreneurship and academia. One effective way to begin exploration is to complete the myIDP assessment is self-report instrument that asks the test taker to respond to several smaller career scales related to their science related interests, values and skills.  A report is generated that and how these skills match up with the broad spectrum of employment sectors in science. The myIDP also includes overviews of many career paths in science with links to articles, books and professional associations that describe these career paths.

4.Compare and match your experience and skills to the qualifications listed in job ads

  • Begin to read multiple job descriptions and job openings. Underline/highlight key skills and qualifications in the job description that describe the type of experience the employer is seeking.
  • Reflect on your experience to identify skills that match the description and highlight those skills for your resume/CV.

5.Get involved in your institute/center committees, FELCOM, Scientific Interest Groups (SIG).

  • Obtain leadership and teamwork roles and strengthen your communication skills often prized by employers.
  1. Reach out to professionals who work in the career sectors that interest you.
  • Conduct informational interviews Talk to individuals who work in the job sectors and positions that interest you to learn more about specific skills and knowledge that helps them to do their work.
  • Email/ talk with at least 10-15 people to assess the fit for you in specific organizations and job roles.
  • The more people you talk with the more you will understand what specific jobs involve. You will make contacts in the fields that interest you and potentially find out about jobs that you might never see posted
  • Use your university networks, NIH researchers and alumni, professional society networks, andhttps://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/?s=linked LinkedIn to find professionals to talk with.
  1. Schedule a mock (practice) interview with a career counselor, mentor, and/or colleague to practice your skills.

For NIH fellows, feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career counselor for if you need further help getting started or evaluating your approach.  Similar services can be found in your home institution or in the community for readers beyond the NIH.

Anne Kirchgessner MSEd. is a Career Counselor with NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education

 


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Biologist

November 2, 2015

Name: Juliane Lessard, PhD

Job Title & Company: Biologist, FDA, Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Location: White Oak, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: 1 year

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Dr. Maria Morasso, NIAMS

What do you do as a Biologist?
I mostly review pre-market regulatory submissions for in vitro diagnostic tests, which are considered medical devices. My division gets many different types of pre-market submissions (e.g., PMA, 510k) depending on the type of device and the type of test. My supervisor will assign me a submission and I then begin the review process. I work with product specialists, other reviewers in the division, and management to get a good idea of what we need, evaluate performance data to identify any potential safety issues, and determine what we should ask the industry sponsor to provide for us in order to complete the review. I also interact with the industry sponsor directly to clarify issues, request updates to the material, etc. Within a pre-determined time frame, we will decide whether the submission contains any deficiencies too significant for us to continue our review at that time. If so, we issue a hold letter with a list of items that the sponsor needs to address in order for us to continue our review. Or, if there are no deficiencies, I recommend approval or clearance of the submission and if management is in agreement, the sponsor can go ahead and market their product.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?

I do a lot of reading and a lot of writing. There are memos for everything and because I interact with the industry sponsors directly, it is very important to be able to write clearly. There is a highly specific way to write in regulatory affairs, which was a pretty steep learning curve for me coming to the FDA. I read probably a couple of hundred pages a day. It can be easy to get lost in the details, so it is really important to be able to extract the important points from a submission while keeping the big picture in mind. I would say this is very similar to manuscript reviewing for publication in journals.

How did you get up to speed on the regulatory affairs writing style?
The way it is done in my division (and in most other offices at the FDA), I was assigned a mentor who was different from my direct supervisor. In the beginning, that mentor worked with me on all of my submissions. She would edit my language and offer suggestions on how to word things. She would also provide examples for me to look at how certain issues had been addressed previously. This mentor worked closely with me for the first six months and my direct supervisor would meet with me every other week to go over any transition issues. In addition, I completed several months of coursework as part of the Reviewer Certification Program, which is a requirement for new reviewers in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Other than the writing style, what has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
One of the hardest things to adjust to was the amount of reading that I do. I also sit in front of a computer all day. There is no getting up and doing experiments and then sitting back down. A lot of the work is very deadline driven. This wasn’t a problem in the beginning, but now that I have more parallel submissions to work on, it is very important to schedule my timelines well. In the lab, I could just do an experiment next week or not look at it for another month, so my current work is a lot less flexible than time management in the lab.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I really love how diverse the work is and how relevant it is to public health. It is very rewarding for me to know that my work has a much more immediate impact than what I was working on when I was on the research side at the NIH. For example, I can go to the drug store and see some of the over the counter devices that we regulate. Our division reviews pregnancy tests, so when I see those, I think, “Oh, look at that – I am part of the pathway for this product to be on the market in the US!”

What was your job search like?
It started when I met with OITE pretty early on during my postdoc. I did all of those personality tests, but what really helped me was Science Career’s IDP. I knew I didn’t want to go into academia and I was looking for something that was a little more family friendly. One of the top hits from the IDP report was in Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs, and I didn’t know anything about it really. Then I remembered that I had met somebody from the FDA when I was in grad school. I looked her up and found out that she was still at the FDA. She invited me to come over to see the office for an informational interview and she gave me a couple more people to talk to. I started doing a lot of informational interviews in this area. I also used LinkedIn and found several alums not only from grad school but also from my college who now work as regulatory reviewers at the FDA. Most people were really willing to talk on the phone or in person for a couple of minutes. I made up a short questionnaire so I could ask everybody similar questions.

Eventually, one of my informational interviewees showed my resume to her supervisor and I was invited for an interview. I was originally hired as a Staff Fellow, which is a Title 42 direct hire position. After I had my interview, I had to submit a formal application for this position. A Staff Fellow is term-limited (for two years), so I continued applying for review positions in my division through USAJobs after I started at the FDA. After a few tries, I was successful and my Staff Fellow appointment was converted to a more permanent (GS) position as a Biologist.

What resume tips can you share?
One of the things I learned from my informational interviews was to highlight the following skills: time management, critical thinking, writing skills, presentation skills, and team work. For my resume, I tried to incorporate most of these skills into my qualifications summary on my resume. It also helped to highlight a lot of manuscript review experience because that is very similar to pre-market review work at the FDA.

What was your interview like?
It was a group interview. The way our division is structured is that we have several branch chiefs, kind of like lab heads. All of the branch chiefs were there. It was mostly based on my resume and they asked me questions on my background and what kind of lab techniques I was trained in, as well as questions on how I manage my time and why I wanted to work at the FDA. Overall, pretty standard questions and it was only a one round interview.

You have to have a lot of patience with the government hiring process, even with Title 42. For me, I interviewed in May and didn’t hear officially that I was going to be hired until the end of September. I have heard from others that generally the process takes about four months after a successful interview.

You did a lot of research and informational interviews about this field. Now that you are in it, is this work what you anticipated? Any surprises?
The type of work was expected, but the details weren’t. I didn’t realize how many different types of submissions we would get. There is a really big span from engineering to clinical trials to basic chemistry.

In hindsight, would you have done anything differently in your job search?
I would have started earlier. The postdoc helped in terms of the work experience, but not in terms of the technical knowledge. Part of me wishes I had explored this career option in graduate school in more detail.

For somebody, hoping to go down a similar path, do you have any last bits of advice?
My advice to others is to start early because it can take a long time to find an opening and to find somebody who needs a reviewer. Plus, it takes a while to get through the hiring process.


What Are My Transferable Skills?

March 23, 2015

Image of a stick figure with a question mark over head with different colored arrows pointing in different directions.Whether you are seeking a career in academia, industry, government or the non-profit sector, it is important to communicate your skills to employers. There are skills that almost every employer seeks no matter the sector. These often include: analytical, writing, leadership, communication and problem solving skills. Your work as a trainee has given you many opportunities to develop these skills. As emphasized in a Science Careers article, “The Transferable Postdoc,” don’t underestimate these abilities.

You can identify skills that you have already developed which will transfer to your next professional position. If you think about examples that show when you used these skills, you will be more confident about presenting these skills to potential employers.

In a training position, you may have strengthened your skills in a variety of ways. A postdoc experience is deconstructed as an example in the chart below:

Transferable Skill
Application of Skill
Analytical and
Problem-Solving Skills
Designing, planning and trouble-shooting projects
 Writing Skills Writing memos, reports and
papers for publication
 Public Speaking   Skills  Presenting your work in a lab
meeting or at a professional conference
 Communication Skills  Negotiating how to carry out projects/experiments with your
PI and/or colleagues
 Leadership Skills  Mentoring postbacs, graduate
students and other lab technicians

The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) has determined six core competencies and they even created a self-assessment checklist to help you rate your current level. This can help you identify any gaps in your skills set. If you haven’t yet taken time to focus on some of these skill areas, particularly the communication and leadership skills, you can find opportunities now to get involved. Organizations like Felcom, your professional associations and NIH Institutes or Centers can provide good opportunities to develop skills.

• Volunteer to work on a committee or group to plan an event or program.
• Volunteer to mentor postbacs or summer students.
• (Professional Development) workshops and events also provide ways to strengthen skills or learn new ones. At the NIH, the OITE offers workshop on topics that include: teaching science, leadership, how to deal with conflict and many others. Check with your institutions to see what services they provide.

There are many other resources available to help you identify your strengths and skills. Start with myIDP*, http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/. This assessment tool will get you started thinking about skills interests and values, and can help you start planning your next career step with more confidence.

As a follow up, then meet with a career counselor, who can help you with goal setting and career planning as well. If you are an intramural trainee, you can make a free individual appointment with a career counselor by going to: https://www.training.nih.gov/career_services.

 

*Noting this resource does not constitute an endorsement by NIH OITE


Assessing Your Skills, Values & Interests

April 15, 2014

Three overlapping cirlcles. One circle reads "Interests," the other "Values," and the last "Skills"Whether you are a postbac, graduate student, postdoc or clinical fellow, you probably have wondered how to blend your individual interests, values and skills into a satisfying career. Self-assessment is an integral part of an effective career planning process and involves asking yourself about your:


Skills

-How good am I at different lab techniques or giving talks?
-How are my language, mentoring, training, writing and communication skills?

Interests
-What interests me? For example, do I prefer running the experiment or writing up the experiment?

Values
-What is important to me in a job? For example, do I need to have a lot of variety or do I prefer to have a pretty consistent schedule?
-What do I value? For example, do I value having autonomy and independence or do I value being a member of a team?

 

There are many ways to assess your interests, preferences, values, skills and priorities. Here are a few resources to consider:

1. Career Counseling
If you are part of the intramural program at the NIH, schedule an individual meeting with a career counselor in the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) to talk about your career goals and preferences and ways to do some formal self-assessments which will help you develop a plan to reach your goals. Not at the NIH? Check with your institution, graduate program, or postdoc office to see what is available for you.

2. Developing an Individual Development Plan
MyIDP.org is a free site designed especially for PhDs and it provides:
– Exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values
– A list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of which ones best fit your skills and
interests
– A tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year, with optional reminders to keep you
on track

3. Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success
This videocast and materials from this past workshop will help you understand how your personal interests, skills, and values contribute to your future career success. A major theme is taking ownership of your decisions. Important topics include: the importance of career decision making, self-assessment, transferrable skills, networking, defining success, personal needs, work/life balance, and defining short-term and long-term goals.

4. Completing Online Self-Assessment Exercises
There are many free self-assessment exercises to help you identify your goals, values, skills and motivations for work.
a. The LifeWork Transitions site offers many great activities. Step 3 – Redefining Your Self: Passions, Preferences, Purpose is especially helpful in assessing your life and work values.
b. Steward Cooper Coon offers many free online tests, including:
Career Values Test
Motivated Skills Test

5. Attending the Workplace Dynamics Series
The Workplace Dynamics Series offered through OITE is another tool to help you with self-assessment around areas like communications skills, teamwork, conflict and diversity.

Self-assessment is not an easy process and it won’t happen overnight. Give yourself the time, space and energy to be introspective. Knowing your skills, values and interests will allow you to be a more effective job searcher because you will have a sense of roles that would or would not be a good “fit” for you. Having a good idea of your own values and interests can help prioritize your professional goals. This focus will allow you to ask better questions during informational interviews and employment interviews alike.


Overcoming Goal Setting Challenges

January 15, 2014

Image of a chalk board with post-it notes ascedning a stair case reading: Set Goal, Make Plan, Get to Work, Stick to it, Reach GoalRecently, the staff here in the OITE had a dose of our own medicine.  Our boss asked us to complete a document about our professional goals and needs. This document reminded many of us about how we tell trainees to “fill out an IDP”.

For a group of professionals in the career development field, we were all surprised how hard this document was to complete.  Now, we have a whole new appreciation of what our trainees struggle with when we ask them to do the same thing.

A favorite quote from one personal document was: “These goals seem a bit random, because at the moment that is how I feel about preparing for the next step.  A bit out-of-focus and not sure where to go next; I am not sure what I am missing.” Sound familiar??

So why was it so hard for us?

  1. Telling our boss what we want to do next is tough.  No one wants their current boss to think they are unhappy with their current job.  Sometimes one can actually be really happy, but this document makes it feel like you are telling them all of the ways the current position stinks.  And if the boss thinks we are not happy, or are we are thinking of moving on… the boss may think less of us or perceive us as not giving 110%.  So, we struggled with how honest to be.
  2. Not having a clear understanding of where you want to go next, nor what you need to get there.  This is like the interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  We all honestly just want to say, “Happily employed”.  But this question really is at the heart of career development.  What trajectory do you want to go on?  For some of us we feel like we are in unchartered territory, there is no obvious next step.  Therefore it is hard to understand how to prepare for it.
  3. Assessing where you are personally and what you need to work on takes a high level of self-awareness and honesty.  This really means taking a hard look at your strengths and weaknesses and then charting how these will influence your career path.

How did we overcome the challenges?

Taking time to sit and think. This is the type of exercise that takes time, and time is always a limited commodity.  We are all busy.  But, like exercising, this is one of those things you need to do for your personal good.  We all finally had to set a deadline, and for many of us this is the reason we finished.

Find a way to structure your thinking.  For some of us, that was pulling out an IDP document.  Others of us did a personal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).  Some people made lists of items.  Whatever works for you, find a way to give yourself some starting points so you are not just looking at a blank piece of paper.

Asking career mentors.  Hopefully you have heard our mantra of multiple mentors.  Here in the office we chatted with each other (peer mentors) and other staff to put some ideas on the table to discuss the pros and cons.

Realizing that this is just a process, and not a commitment.  The goal here is to have a document to start a career journey, not to make a long term contract to a particular career choice.  By continuing the conversation with a career coach, thinking more, and exploring– this document will morph as we make choices for our futures.

 


Two Part Series: Part 2 – Getting the Most Out of Mentoring Relationships

December 13, 2013

An image of puzzle pieces being drawn by hand. The puzzle pieces read: "Motivate," "Lead by Example," "Mentor," and "Vision" to name a few.In the first part of this series, we talked about how to identify a good mentor. Now that you have done so, how do you cultivate and maintain that relationship? Identifying a mentor is not an easy task; making it work can be even more challenging. In this blog, we will give you some tips to help foster and maintain your mentoring relationships.

Take ownership of your career
Take charge; remember you are the one in control! Think about your career goals in the short-term and long-term. Communicate these goals to your mentors, so they can understand your interests and better guide you on which steps to follow or opportunities to seek to reach your goal. A good mentor will offer advice but not tell you the path to choose; ultimately, that is up to you.

Communicate your expectations
Once you define your goals, it is very important to discuss them with your mentors and work together to develop a plan (such as an individual development plan or IDP) to accomplish your goals. If you prefer structure, you can establish clear expectations for the relationship. For example, you can start by determining how often you will meet (weekly, monthly) and how you will communicate (by email, in person, Skype, etc.). When expectations are set early on, your mentor will then know what you are seeking from the relationship, but you will also know what s/he expects from you. This will help you to effectively manage the relationship and will avoid future misunderstanding.

Respect each other’s time
Be mindful of your mentor’s time! Take full advantage of the time you have with him/her. If you know you are meeting or talking to your mentor, be prepared! Before each meeting, you can send your mentor an agenda of topics you would like to discuss in advance and any questions you might have, which will also help them better prepare for your discussion.

Keep your mentor up to date
Mentors can be anywhere and with the help of technology, you don’t need to be close to each other to stay in touch. Let your mentor know about your progress (the good and the bad). You can tell them about any recent accomplishments or awards, as well as your professional struggles.  It is important to keep the lines of communication open, so your update doesn’t even have to be related to you; you can send them a paper or article that you think s/he might be interested in.

Remember: a mentoring relationship should be a rewarding and educational experience for both of you!  The quality of the output will largely depend on the quality of the input, so be sure to treat your mentoring relationships with the professional respect they deserve. Always be prepared for your meetings and practice good communication, but don’t be afraid to be honest about your interests and/or the new directions you are seeking.

 


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…With a Plan, You’ll Get There

October 1, 2010

Work Train Flat Car, MiniatureLet’s see…what happened first? Traveling to my sister-in-law’s wedding in Baltimore, our train hit a downed tree, causing the brakes to go. The train came to a stop safely, but could not resume service and had to be towed away by another engine.

Hearing the announcement that this process would take several hours, a few passengers and I decided to hop out and share a cab to our final destination, where I had to catch a connecting train.  We got into the cab, and 10 minutes into the drive hit a traffic jam on the highway due to what looked to be a serious accident. We passed the accident and reached the train station about 30 minutes later, but I had missed my connection and needed to transfer my ticket to the next train out of the station. I boarded the new train, and we ended up sitting for an hour, waiting (ironically!) for the passengers on my original train, as Amtrak had arranged a bus (for free) to transport passengers from the accident site to this station.

The train FINALLY pulled away, destined to make it only to the next major station, where we had to sit for an additional hour for engine repairs. The final delay came at the next major city, where we had to “re-hang” some cables that had “fallen off” the engine. (And doesn’t that language just inspire confidence?) Anyway…I made it to Baltimore safely, and in plenty of time to help my sister-in-law with cooking and a few last-minute wedding details.

Undoubtedly, there have been times in your life when you made a plan that did not work out quite as you had imagined—maybe even around travel. Still, having a plan—whether or not you follow it to the letter—may reduce stress about how to get where you’re going.

Drafting a plan for your research may make lots of sense. In fact, you may have already gone through this exercise with your advisor. What about planning for your career? Have you ever considered mapping out a career plan?

The career planning process is similar to developing a research plan. To start, you might consider the rubric developed by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). FASEB calls on trainees and their faculty mentors to work jointly to draft an Individual Development Plan or IDP. According to FASEB, an IDP is meant to assist the trainee with all aspects of professional development as a scientist, including a research agenda and a career plan.

The steps outlined by FASEB in drafting an IDP include the following:

  1. Conduct a self-assessment.
  2. Survey opportunities.
  3. Write an IDP, share with mentor and revise.
  4. Implement the plan, revise as needed.

With your faculty mentor or on your own, begin to draft your own IDP. To conduct a self-assessment, spend some time thinking about what aspects of science you enjoy most. What grabs you? What motivates you? What skills do you enjoy using? To learn more about yourself, your values, and your interests as they relate to potential careers, schedule an appointment with a career counselor at OITE.

For the second step (survey opportunities), explore careers of interest to find a match for your personality, values, and interests. Read through articles on Science Careers to learn more about options for Ph.D.-level scientists. Through your research, find out what you need to be competitive in particular fields.

Finally, identify any gaps that exist between your current skills/training and your career of interest, and develop a strategy for acquiring the skills you need – in other words, draft a plan. Be sure that your plan includes a long-term goal, short-term goals related to your long-term goal, and deadlines. Discuss your ideas with your faculty advisor, mentors, family, and friends. Sharing your plan with other people will keep you accountable and (hopefully) moving forward.

And if you find in the implementation of your plan that your career(s) of interest no longer grabs you, you will still have grown through the process. Revamp your plan, recognizing that this process of tweaking and adjusting will continue throughout your professional life.

Good luck drafting your plan—and here’s to the journey!