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Creating an Individualized Development Plan for Postdocs

Postdoc researchers have particular professional needs, which are different from grad students’ and faculty needs. As institutions and mentors, acknowledging that can be an important first step to providing these professionals meaningful opportunities that will benefit their careers and reflect in their work with institutions. 

An inherent paradox can exist between postdocs and their mentoring faculty. Faculty view their new colleagues as capable and self-directed, and don’t often view them as needing a lot of guidance. Yet, postdocs often come into a position directly from their graduate work, and don’t always know what it is they need training in. The mentor plays an important role in identifying what skills a new faculty member would need that were not covered in graduate work, and the mentee now has the flexibility to determine what skills they have that can be built on or improved.

May be a text graphic that shows faculty careers and industry careers that could influence the outcomes of an IDP.
Consideration of actions and outcomes when preparing an IDP.

Professional development plans are created in collaboration between postdocs (mentees) and their supervisors (faculty mentors). The document is objective, and it is personalized to each postdoc. It is a plan with intentional actions and outcomes to support postdocs’ skills and professional development growth. Ideally, the creation of a plan facilitates communication between the mentors and mentees, to be sure each is clear on the other’s goals. It is common for funding agencies to request an IDP for the postdoc part of a project, which can be written before a postdoc is hired, and amended once the individual goals of the successful candidate are considered.

Text graphic that says "How do we determine our IDP? 1. Do the work of my department. 2. Do the work of other departments. 3. Find a job. 4. Fill gaps and get support."
Considerations for implementing individualized development plans for postdocs.

Online Workshop Offered

In collaboration with the NMSU Postdoc Association, our team hosted an online workshop on creating an individual development plan. Barbara Chamberlin and Matheus Cezarotto shared how they used this personalized document to support their partnership. As part of the workshop, they encouraged mentors and mentees to think about what a successful postdoctoral experience would look like, and craft a plan for the postdoc’s next career step, such as in a faculty career. 

Areas of Consideration

These general areas are useful for discussion, to help mentors think about the different outcomes a postdoc needs. They gave examples of how these guiding structures shaped Cezarotto’s postdoc plan. 

  • Succeed in the work of their home department: In Innovative Media, faculty write grants, conduct research, and develop interactive tools. They also engage in professional service – something graduate students are rarely asked to do. Cezarotto’s postdoc plan described activities he could do that would build skills in those areas:

  • Participate in monthly faculty meetings.

  • Review grant opportunities monthly, attend university PI academy, and contribute to development of at least two grants with department faculty.

  • Conduct at least one program evaluation of a developed product, and submit to a journal.

  • Sit in on all design sessions for media. 

  • Succeed in the work of other departments (if it differs from the home department): Though our department is research and outreach and not academic, our faculty don’t teach classes. However, both Chamberlin and Cezartto wanted him to gain teaching experience to prepare for future jobs. They included:

  • Interview at least four faculty members outside the department to better understand their work

  • Present research at conferences.

  • Investigate the potential of additional course instruction outside of the department. 

  • Fill gaps and get support: Some postdocs need more experience in public speaking, want to improve writing skills, or would benefit from sitting in on job selection committees. Honest conversations between mentors and mentees can find areas of professional development. 

  • Find a job: Searching and applying for positions within academia can be arduous. In Cezarotto’s plan, Chamberlain suggested he spend an hour each week reviewing job postings and applying for jobs. That gave him access to the varying terminology of positions, fields and college structure, as well as time to commit to improving his application package. 

The postdoc plan should be a simple starting point: it won’t cover all of the tasks the postdoc will do, but a strong plan should articulate the items that might easily be overlooked in the workflow of deadlines and other tasks. It should be drafted collaboratively, reviewed and revised if needed, at least twice during the duration of the postdoc. 

For Cezarotto and Chamberlin, the postdoc experience yielded an excellent outcome: Cezarotto applied for an assistant professor position in the department and was the successful candidate. Both gained valuable experience in reviewing best practices for mentoring.

Resources from the Online Training

Written in collaboration by: Matheus Cezarotto, assistant professor, and Barbara Chamberlin, professor, NMSU Innovative Media Research and Extension

To learn more about IDP and this workshop, contact:

Matheus Cezarotto, PhD

Assistant Professor



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