The Individual Professional Development Plan (IPDP): A Career Management Tool


In the August 2008 issue of Graduate Connections, we introduced you to the “Next Stage” approach to professional development, which requires you to “think ahead, look ahead, and . . . act ahead” of the stage you currently occupy.

If you’re planning a career in academia, you’ll need to understand what is expected of new faculty, how institutions of higher education differ depending on their missions, and how an institution’s mission might influence faculty roles and responsibilities. If you were to think “next stage,” you might participate in the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) Program which would introduce you to the full scope of faculty roles and responsibilities – including teaching, research, and service – and learn how the expectations for these responsibilities often differ in different campus settings.

Likewise, if you’re exploring a non-academic career path, such as becoming a scientific writer, policy analyst or foundation executive, you’ll need to determine the skills and knowledge to develop before you take the next step. Conducting informational interviews with people who are currently doing the kinds of jobs you'd like to do is a great method to identify your strengths and development needs as part of building a career plan.

Create an Individual Professional Development Plan

No matter which path you take, we suggest creating an Individual Professional Development Plan (IPDP) to help you plan for your future. An IPDP is a written plan outlining your career goals and the steps you need to take to meet those goals. An IPDP helps you focus your professional development by creating a career “action plan” for skill development and career management. It provides a means for you to document your development, through assessment and reflection, allowing for continued growth and development – and is an excellent tool you can use to identify, organize, and plan for the next stage. Get started with a planning template for graduate students.

Five Key Tasks

Creating an IPDP comprises the following:
  1. State your professional activities and roles. Identify your current roles and responsibilities as a graduate student. Identify your teaching, research and service activities, professional memberships, campus or department involvement, and undergraduate advisory functions. Then assign each role and activity to one of four developmental categories: discipline, instructional, career or organizational development.
  2. Assess Skills and Knowledge. List your skills and knowledge. Identify the strengths you have acquired. What areas are sufficiently developed and what areas should benefit from additional learning? Write down your existing skills and knowledge as well as those areas that require attention in the four development categories found in the IPDP.
  3. Set Goals. Write your professional and personal goals. Ask yourself: Where do I want to go? What areas of my work do I want to develop? Write down the overall goals you want to accomplish in the short term (next year), mid-term (next 1-2 years), and long-term (3-5 years). Determine how your goals fit with your knowledge and skills. You can then assign each goal to one of the four developmental categories above.
  4. Create an Action Plan. Determine how you’re going to get where you want to go. Write down the skills and knowledge you want to develop, then identify strategies or action steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goals. It’s helpful to create a timeline for starting and completing work on your stated goals.
  5. Document Your Development. Track your development through your accomplishments. Use personal statements; feedback from faculty advisers, peers, and undergraduate students; your curriculum vitae; the outcomes from your coursework and/or research; and other samples of your work to measure your progress towards the goals you established. Revisit your goals occasionally to determine whether you need to develop additional skills or knowledge to achieve them. An academic portfolio is one method for collecting evidence of your achievements.

Continuous self-assessment and reflection are central to a useful, effective IPDP. Because your professional development is a life-long task, you’ll want to reflect on how you’re doing. Does your plan reflect your goals? Are your goals clear? Have you gathered the right “evidence” and documented your development to reflect new learning and growth? You might consider keeping a journal, finding a peer with whom to share your progress, or organizing a discussion/ support group where you can get feedback.

Completing an IPDP requires a minimal investment of time and energy, but the return on your investment can be significant. Beyond clarifying your future, an IPDP allows for future planning and introspection, and will help chart your development to ensure achievement of the Next Stage.

For additional reading. If you’re interested in the challenges and opportunities you’ll face as a new faculty member, check out these resources:

The Top Ten Things New Faculty Would Like to Hear from Colleagues, from Tomorrow's Professor reading list.

What Colleges and Universities Want in New Faculty, by Kathrynn A. Adams.