Skip to main content

IDP Essentials for Faculty


An Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a forward-looking process through which graduate students and postdoctoral scholars assess their skills, reflect on their career plans, set goals, and identify next steps.

In this page, we will address key questions about Individual Development Plans from a faculty perspective and offer suggestions for how to incorporate them into your mentoring.

This page accompanies the Faculty IDP Conversation Guide, which offers a suggested outline for a conversation with a mentee about their Individual Development Plan.

What is an Individual Development Plan?

We think of an IDP as a process that makes it easier for students to reflect and plan. In the course of an IDP process, a student will assess their skills, reflect on their career aspirations, set near- and long-term goals, and work with mentors to identify next steps. Ideally, a student will re-engage with the IDP process regularly, often once per year.

There are a variety of different IDP tools, all of which approach the process a bit differently, though all share a basic structure. The Graduate College GradPLAN is designed with University of Illinois graduate students in mind; it is streamlined while also offering a structured path for reflection on the graduate school experience. In particular, GradPLAN has elements particularly useful for early-stage graduate students, as they work to connect their academic experiences with their long-term goals. There are also more discipline-focused IDPs, such as the STEM-focused MyIDP and the humanities- and social-science-focused ImaginePhD, both of which are particularly useful for later-stage students.

IDPs are Good for Students—and for Faculty

Individual Development Plans help students make thoughtful, purposeful progress in graduate school. Reflecting on progress and setting goals can be a messy process, and an IDP gives students structure to engage with and process that on their own, then seek input from mentors.

Built into the IDP process is a positive and forward-looking perspective. By engaging in an IDP, a student is able to chart a path forward (in near- and long-term) that can empower and energize them on their journey through graduate school.

In particular, an IDP can help a student engage in more targeted skill-development. It gives students tools for assessing the importance of particular skills to particular goals, thereby offering clarity about what they need to do in order to make successful progress.

All of this makes for students who are better at understanding themselves, better at advocating for themselves, better at connecting their daily tasks with longer-term goals, and more. And all of that makes for stronger performance in graduate school and more robust relationships with mentors.

How IDP Processes Facilitate Positive Mentoring

Individual Development Plan processes support student-centered mentoring by making it easier to understand and respond to the particular needs and goals of your students. It provides structure and consistency for understanding where an individual student is coming from and where they want to go—even if that student is quiet or less likely to share than their colleagues.

IDPs are a valuable tool for productive and positive conversations. So much of mentoring graduate students, especially if you are their faculty advisor, is about things that are happening right now: research progress, current grant proposals, academic performance, etc. An IDP offers you and your student an opportunity to pause, zoom out, and consider the bigger picture and the path ahead.

And an IDP crucially empowers students to take the lead in those conversations, which we will discuss in the next section.

What Is (and Isn’t) a Faculty Member’s Role in the IDP Process

The faculty member’s most important role in an IDP process is to create the space for a student to lead the conversation. An IDP gives students a framework for understanding their goals and needs, and an opportunity to articulate them to mentors. The discussion stage of an IDP process—which is where faculty mentors come in—should be guided by the student based on what they discovered earlier on in the process. Because of the power differences and dynamics inherent to many mentoring relationships, it can take active work on the faculty member’s part to be present without taking charge. The Faculty IDP Conversation Guide can provide some structure for your conversation while allowing your student to take charge.

A second important role is to think with your student and offer feedback and ideas based on what they share with you. This might look like helping them recognize skill gaps and areas for development they aren’t able to immediately recognize. Or like noticing how impostor phenomenon might be impacting a student’s self-assessment. Faculty have the benefit of more experience, and an outside perspective on an individual student’s path, and this is the perfect opportunity to use both to enhance the student’s IDP experience.

A third important role is to help the student check their progress toward their goals and adjust their trajectory as needed. This might look like helping them recognize skill gaps and areas for development they aren’t able to immediately recognize. Or like facilitating the shift of part of a student’s work to align with newly emergent goals and interests. Or like identifying additional support needs to address new challenges a student is facing, or new resources (like equipment, professional development travel, or additional mentors) to help a student make progress toward a particular goal.

A discussion about a student’s IDP experience is a great opportunity to revisit your mutual expectations in light of increasing independence, new goals or interests, or shifting skill sets.

A student’s primary academic advisor is a natural participant in the IDP process, but other faculty mentors may also be able to provide useful perspective or support. A primary advisor can help by looking for opportunities to connect the student with additional mentors or to encourage students to build a network of mentors to support them.