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Writing Postdoctoral Mentoring Plans

Mentoring Plans

The NSF and NIH define a postdoctoral scholar as:

An individual who has received a doctoral degree (or equivalent) and is engaged in a temporary and defined period of mentored advanced training to enhance the professional skills and research independence needed to pursue his or her chosen career path.

A mentoring plan for a postdoctoral scholar should be customized to the research program and needs of the individual. Mentoring plans often include the development of an Individual Development Plan (IDP), programs or structured mentoring activities in areas such as grant writing, teaching, and other professional topics and periodic assessment of the postdoctoral scholar’s progress toward his or her career goals.

NSF Mentoring Plan Requirements

NSF grant proposals including funding support for postdoctoral researchers are required to include a postdoctoral researcher mentoring plan as of January 2009. This requirement in Section C.2j of Chapter II of the January 2011 Grant Proposal Guide reads:

Each proposal that requests funding to support postdoctoral researchers must include, as a supplementary document, a description of the mentoring activities that will be provided for such individuals. In no more than one page, the mentoring plan must describe the mentoring that will be provided to all postdoctoral researchers supported by the project, irrespective of whether they reside at the submitting organization, any subawardee organization, or at any organization participating in a simultaneously submitted collaborative project. Proposers are advised that the mentoring plan may not be used to circumvent the 15-page project description limitation. See GPG Chapter II.D.4 for additional information on collaborative proposals.

Examples of mentoring activities include, but are not limited to: career counseling; training in preparation of grant proposals, publications and presentations; guidance on ways to improve teaching and mentoring skills; guidance on how to effectively collaborate with researchers from diverse backgrounds and disciplinary areas; and training in responsible professional practices. The proposed mentoring activities will be evaluated as part of the merit review process under the Foundation's broader impacts merit review criterion.

Resources for Developing Mentoring Plans for NSF

The NSF discourages the use of boilerplate language for the postdoctoral researcher mentoring plan. Each mentoring plan should be tailored to meet the needs of the particular research program and discipline. The mentoring plan may be no more than one page in length.

The mentoring plan can cover how the faculty member and postdoc will set goals for development during the postdoctoral period, the types of activities to achieve these goals and the process for evaluating progress.

These mentoring activities (PDF) can be incorporated into a postdoctoral mentoring plan.

Illinois Resources for Postdocs

The University of Illinois is committed to the career and professional development of postdoctoral scholars and has many resources to serve them during their time on campus.

The Postdoctoral Affairs Office at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign serves postdoctoral scholars and their faculty mentors by enhancing the postdoctoral experience and cultivating professional development opportunities. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a sustaining member of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), so all postdocs and faculty members are eligible for free affiliate memberships that include access to mentoring and professional development resources on the NPA website.

Postdoctoral scholars have access to professional development resources including workshops on teaching strategies from the Center for Teaching Excellence and individual appointments with writing consultants through the Writers Workshop. The Postdoctoral Affairs Office offers professional development workshops specifically for postdoctoral scholars on topics like science writing and preparing grant proposals.

Job search preparation and career advising for postdocs are provided by the Graduate College Career Development Office, the Roy J. Carver Biotechnology Center Career Services, the School of Chemical Sciences Career Counseling & Placement Services and Engineering Career Services.

External Resources on Developing Mentoring Plans

  • Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) statement on mentoring plans and sample plans
  • Mentoring plan resources from the National Postdoctoral Association