Stanford Biology Professor Patricia Jones with student

FAQs and Resources for Students


What is an IDP?

Your Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a planning roadmap customized for your training and goals. It guides you to reflect on where you are now and where you would like to be, and define specific actions toward achieving your goals.

Why do I need/want an IDP?

The IDP process will help you make the most of your training. It will prompt you to

  • clarify medium- and long-term professional goals;
  • identify developmental areas and helpful resources;
  • garner timely support from your advisor;
  • create an action plan for your academic, scientific and professional development; and
  • strengthen your relationship with your advisor.

The IDP may smooth or shorten your path to completing the PhD and/or publishing a high-impact paper.

Am I required to complete an IDP? How often?

Yes. All Biosciences PhD candidates and their advisors are required to complete the IDP form and verify that they meet at least once annually to discuss training and development goals. You are highly encouraged to discuss your academic development and professional plans with your advisor, committee and mentors more frequently, as needed.

When is it due? Why were these deadlines chosen?

First-year students are expected to have their IDP meeting within 30 days of joining their thesis lab to establish a solid working relationship and clear expectations. All other PhD students are expected to complete the IDP process anytime between October 1 and August 1.

These deadlines have been set to

  • provide uniformity across all PhD candidates in Stanford Biosciences; and
  • provide adequate time for evaluation, summarizing and reporting before the new NIH policy encouraging annual IDP meetings for all NIH-supported graduate students and postdocs takes effect on October 1, 2014.

What are the consequences of not completing the IDP requirements by the deadline?

Both students and faculty face adverse consequences in that failure to complete the IDP process by the designated deadlines will

  • jeopardize Stanford's competitiveness for NIH funding; and
  • incur a hold on student registration.

In light of the intrinsic benefits of the IDP, the Stanford Biosciences requirement, and the new NIH policy, we expect this to be a rare occurrence.

I am a sixth year student. Which form should I use?

How do I prepare?

  1. Download the appropriate IDP form to your local computer.
  2. Reflect on and evaluate your progress and goals.
  3. Enter your thoughts into the form's fillable spaces.

You may also find it helpful to:

Do I have to share my completed IDP form with my advisor?

No. The IDP/self-assessment is your personal document, for your reflection and benefit. It is designed to serve as a clear, comprehensive guide for the conversations that you will have with your advisor about your professional plans and development. You are not obligated to show your IDP or leave a copy with your advisor, but strongly encouraged to use it to guide this important conversation. That being said, we believe that in most instances the IDP meeting will be more fruitful if your advisor has had a chance to look over your self-assessment and think about your situation before your meeting.

My advisor is too busy/traveling. What should I do?

Remind your advisor that you both share responsibility to complete the IDP before the deadline. You can hold your IDP and planning meetings anytime between October 1 and the August 1 deadline. Ask your advisor whether you can hold your planning meeting by phone or video conference. Consult with your Home Program office for any additional assistance in scheduling your IDP meeting.

How will the planning meeting proceed? Who leads the conversation?

Using your completed IDP as a guide, you will lead the discussion of your self-assessment, goals and plans. Your advisor will share his/her perspective, and the two of you will work collaboratively to identify specific actions and resources to help you toward your academic/professional goals.

I'm nervous about having this discussion with my advisor. What should I do?

Meeting with one's advisor can be a daunting process, especially if you do not do so very often. If you are worried about this process, career counselors and the IDP workshops are available to help you clarify your plans, prepare for the meeting and feel less anxious. By talking through your concerns and preparing for different anticipated scenarios, you will be better equipped with the skills and resources to navigate the meeting, articulate what you want/need and feel less discomfort when communicating with your advisor.

I'm concerned that discussing my career options may diminish my advisor's view of me, or affect whether I am fairly considered for certain projects and opportunities.

The IDP is intended to enable candid and constructive conversations, so that you may frankly express which opportunities align with your interests and goals, and your advisor can assign projects based on your stated interests (among other factors) rather than an assumption about your interests. Once aware of your goals, your advisor may be able to better guide you toward opportunities that are aligned with your career of choice. It may nonetheless help to reiterate your commitment to science, your project, and completing your PhD, as well as your motivations for completing your degree.

Won't it be awkward to tell the person supervising/mentoring me that I don't want to follow his/her path?

Perhaps. A better, less awkward approach is to explain why you want to follow your chosen path, rather than why you don't want to follow his/her chosen path. Try to focus on the positive reasons attracting you to your desired path(s), rather than the negative reasons driving you away from the path your advisor chose.

What if my advisor doesn't take my IDP and planning meeting seriously and/or they react negatively to it?

You and your advisor share responsibility for successfully completing the IDP. If your advisor has not made time for your meeting or has not responded to requests for feedback, please report this to the School of Medicine Career Center right away.

While this is a common fear, most advisors take their responsibility to the training and progress of their students quite seriously and, as such, most mentoring meetings result in positive changes. If you have not approached your advisor with these issues/questions before, it will be important to both approach the meetings with an open mind and have an idea of what taking the meeting "seriously" means to you. IDP planning workshops can help with this approach and planning process as can meeting with an SoMCC counselor beforehand.

If you've met with your advisor and believe your training goals were not taken seriously, it is helpful to express this sentiment to your advisor with specific ways in which you believe the meetings can be more useful. Counselors at the SOMCC can help prepare you for this conversation as well. You may also find it beneficial to have multiple mentors who can support you with different facets of your training needs.

We understand that misunderstandings/problems might persist, and we are prepared to help. Contact the SoMCC office and we will evaluate your specific situation, assist as best we can and, if necessary, refer you to a faculty member, a staff member, or a student as appropriate for your specific situation.

If you still believe your concerns have not been addressed, your Department Chair, Senior Associate Dean, and/or Ombudsman may be able to help. Finally, in the most serious cases, there are policies which allow students to switch advisors. While this option is not ideal, it may be more fitting to your academic and professional interests.

Why are these meetings documented?

Planning meetings are documented to:

  • ensure that all Bioscience trainees have at least one planning meeting per year that focuses on their academic/professional development;
  • comply with the NIH expectation that IDPs be completed and documented for all NIH-supported graduate students and postdocs beginning October 2014; and
  • anticipate a criterion that will likely affect future NIH funding decisions

Students are expected to initiate the meeting verification via this online form. (First-year students should complete the documentation within 30 days of joining their thesis lab; all other PhD students by August 1.) Advisors will complete the meeting verification by responding to a confirmation email.

How/where do I submit my IDP?

You don't. Your IDP is not collected or seen by anyone. You download the appropriate form, and fill it out on your local computer. Following best practices, you would share your completed IDP form (either digitally or printed) with your advisor before (ideally) or during your planning meeting (although sharing your IDP is not strictly required). You will then use your IDP as a guide during the meeting. Only you and (ideally) your advisor will see your IDP (though you are encouraged to share it with your committee and any other secondary mentors as well).

Who will see my IDP? What about the meeting verification form?

Your IDP and discussions remain private between you and your advisor. (You may want to share your IDP with your thesis committee and/or secondary mentors as well.) The meeting verification form records only the date the meeting occurred; your completed IDP and discussions remain private.

The Office of Graduate Education administers the IDP meeting verification system, including confirmation and follow-up emails and necessary reporting. OGE sees only your identifying info, your advisor name and email, the date you held your meeting and your advisor's confirmation of the date. The content of your IDP and your discussions are not documented; they remain private between you and your advisor.

The online verification system failed. What should I do?

Try to re-submit the record of your IDP meeting. If that fails, please email a description of the error or problem encountered to

Additional Resources

IDP Primer Workshops

These workshops will address common IDP questions and concerns, and demonstrate planning meeting scenarios. Please RSVP via the corresponding link below.

Connecting the value of your PhD with the IDP

May 29, 2015; 12-1:30pm; Alway 114

How might your experience now impact your future? This workshop will feature a panel with graduate students and postdocs reflecting on conversations about career and professional development with their mentors. Even for those not using a formal process in their departments yet, the Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a great opportunity to reflect on your training experience - past, present, and future. We will also explore the value of your PhD as it ties into the IDP process and briefly review Stanford IDP tools and resources. This is open to all graduate students and postdocs across campus but ideal for students or postdocs who have not yet completed an IDP. Register online.

In partnership with the School of Medicine Career Center, Career Development Center, and Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

Individual Development Plans

Communicating with Your Advisor

Finding Mentors

Scientific Training


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Stanford Biosciences student completing Individual Development Plan (IDP) in preparation for meeting

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