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Faculty Conversation Guide

Your graduate student just completed an Individual Development Plan (IDP). Now what?

The IDP asked your student to reflect on their skills and goals as they started to map out what they want to accomplish in the next year. This is a perfect time for them to check in with mentors for guidance, and your student will have identified some of what they want to discuss with you.

In the conversation guide below, you will find a suggested outline for a meeting to discuss a graduate student’s Individual Development Plan. Your student should take the initiative to lead the conversation, but they may need your help as a guide and an experienced mentor.

Skills & Strengths – 15 minutes

In the IDP, your student engaged with a list of key skills often developed in graduate school, then identified areas of strengths and areas in need of further development. Graduate students are often primed to be highly self-critical, consider ways to emphasize their strengths before identifying gaps and needs.

  • Ask them what they learned about their strengths while doing the IDP.
    • Share your own observations about the student’s strengths and skills. How have they impressed you in the past? How have you seen them contribute to your department, research group, or other communities using their skills?
  • Ask them about the skills they think they need to develop in. During the IDP process, they rated skills by their own confidence in them, and they reflected on whether those skills were essential or not. So invite your student to share their those skills that they think are essential but in which they do not feel confident—their most significant areas for improvement.
    • Ask follow-up questions to clarify why they feel a skill is essential. This gives them a valuable opportunity to see connections between skills and their use in academic and professional contexts, and to get feedback on those connections from someone with more experience.
    • Provide perspective, as needed. Are they feeling low confidence in skills they are actually quite strong in? Are there other skills you think are essential they need to focus on, as well?
  • Check in with them to see if they have any questions about skills. In the process, your student may have identified skills they have questions about, whether related to its importance or to the way that skill is used in your discipline.

Long- and Short-Term Goals – 15 minutes

In the IDP, your student reflected on their long-term career interests, as well as their goals for the near future. This conversation with you can provide much-needed feedback and perspective as they consider what they want to accomplish during graduate school and beyond. For fields where research is highly collaborative, this can also be an opportunity to discuss alignment and tensions between the needs of the research group and the student’s individual interests and goals.

  • Ask open-ended questions about their career aspirations. What kinds of work are they currently interested in doing beyond graduate school, and in what kinds of contexts? How could they see using the strengths you just discussed in different fields of work?
    • Students may have assumptions about what your expectations are for them and their career, so asking open-ended questions can reassure them that you will be supportive of a range of career goals.
    • Students may not have clear or concrete career plans, and even firm career aspirations can shift over time. The goal here is not for students to commit to anything right now, necessarily, but instead to open a conversation that will help you guide them toward opportunities and networks that will be useful to them.
  • Ask about the goals and plan they began sketching out as part of the IDP process.
    • This is a piece they may need significant support with, so draw from past experiences with students to make suggestions and provide perspective. This part of the conversation is likely to flow naturally into the next section.

Next Steps – 15 minutes

One of the main purposes of the IDP process is to prepare students to have a conversation with their mentors about what they can do in the near future to develop toward their goals. In this part of the conversation, help your student map out the concrete activities that will move them closer to their goals.

  • Given the student’s goals and the areas they have identified for improvement, what are some recommendations you have for what to spend time and energy on in the next year?
    • Focus where possible on concrete opportunities or activities (not just “you should work on your public speaking”), and help your student tie them to both skills and goals.
    • Are there opportunities that you can open up for them in their work with you, or that you could connect them with in your department or discipline? Could they engage in a different part of the research process (e.g., grant-writing)? Are there new methods or techniques they might try? Are there potentially useful service or outreach opportunities?
    • What opportunities might the student pursue on their own? Could they explore doing an internship? Should they consider taking a course in a different department?
  • Discuss how your student could expand their network to align with their goals and/or the areas they want to develop in. Robust professional and academic development for graduate students includes fostering a network of mentors to support them in a variety of ways.
    • Who could you connect the student to? Are there faculty (here or elsewhere) with expertise or perspectives the student would benefit from? Do you know any alumni working in fields or professions of interest to the student?
    • Help the student brainstorm other mentors or networks they could reach out to, including alumni, student organizations, student support units on campus, or other resources.

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