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.

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Career Resolution for 2013: Becoming Skilled & Competent

January 7, 2013

For 2012 we focused on your Career Calendar:  A month-by-month plan to making your career a priority.  For 2013, we will shift gears.  Instead of focusing on a future career, we will focus on the skills you use now as a way to improve your current job performance.  There are  four groups of skills that we think all trainees need to have for success in their careers.  Throughout the year, we will provide advice and point out resources that will help you become competent in these skills.

Communication:  We communicate with people everyday:  Writing papers, sending emails, giving presentations, or discussing ideas in meetings.  In almost every job, the ability to share thoughts and ideas clearly with others is a necessary competency.

Career Readiness & Exploration: Starting your career search requires a strong set of skills:  From preparing for job interviews and writing cover letters, to networking and using social media for finding jobs or opportunities for collaborations.

Leadership and Management:  Any position that requires managing people requires effective teamwork skills.  Are you the president of your student group, or supervising others in your lab?  Then you need leadership skills.  Not only do we need strong people management skills, but you also need project management skills, such as being able to set realistic milestones for your research or thesis, and then hitting those deadlines.

Teaching and Mentoring:  Teaching and mentoring skills help us share knowledge with others, and go beyond the classroom setting.  More experienced employees often share knowledge and information with newer ones, which helps the entire team or organization be more effective.

Of course, there is one last skill set that trainees need, and that would be research skills and knowledge of your specific field.  This includes having detailed knowledge of your research area, how to conduct specific experiments, and being able to apply testable, scientific hypothesis to questions in your field.  While the we cannot provide specific advice for all the different types and fields of research tacking place in NIH labs, we do think it is important that you evaluate your own skills and take advantage of resources and opportunities that allow you to develop your research competencies this year too.