Graduate Education Advisory Board recommended assessing
the need for an Individual Development Plan tool for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. As a result of research
funded by NSF I-Corps L funding (NSF 1514274), ACS found
that graduate students and postdoctoral researchers would
benefit from a field-specific IDP and, in response, developed
ChemIDPTM, an interactive career-planning tool which was
launched in 2016. ACS also discovered that those who used
an IDP considered it most beneficial when coupled with guidance and feedback from a mentor.
ChemIDPTM facilitates the discovery of each individual’s
personal “Career Sweet Spot,” which is located at the intersection of values, personal strengths, and job market opportunities. The online tool follows a standard IDP process that
includes four modules: Self-Assessment, Career Exploration,
Goal Setting, and Skill Strengthening. The field specificity for
chemical scientists is achieved through the latter three modules.
• The Self-Assessment module facilitates reflecting on per-
sonal values and rating yourself with regard both to a variety
of technical skills and competencies in the chemical sciences
and to more general professional skills, as well.
• The Career Exploration module highlights roles, responsibilities, and salaries for more than 45 different careers in five
career sectors (Academia, Entrepreneurship, Government,
Industry, Nonprofit) where individuals with degrees in chemistry or chemical engineering have found satisfying careers.
• The Skill Strengthening module allows users to access
strategies and resources based on the professional or technical skills they choose to improve.
• The Goal Setting module cross cuts all fields and encourages users to complete their career plans by defining SMART
(Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals. It
also helps them track their progress and adjust their career
goals over time.
Currently, more than 3,000 users benefit from
ChemIDPTM, and in the autumn of 2018, ACS launched an
updated version of this career planning tool.
The ACS NSF I-Corps L findings further suggested that it
is useful to revisit the career plan at least once a year to maxi-
mize the IDP’s efficiency. Anecdotal evidence from faculty
mentors in the chemical sciences suggests that discussions
with their mentees were more productive when the latter
completed IDPs (e.g., ChemIDPTM) before the meetings oc-
curred. This observation suggests that completing an IDP may
help graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to gain
clarity regarding their goals and progress toward them and
to identify possible challenges and barriers standing between
them and their goals prior to a mentoring meeting. A well-
thought-out IDP that has been shared may additionally help
mentors tailor advice.
Despite an interdisciplinary consensus that IDPs, when
used properly, provide a framework for helping graduate
students achieve their career goals, there is little alignment
among STEM disciplines and institutions about the specific,
measurable outcomes of IDP use. This inhibits the availability
of reliable effective practices for IDP use and its wide adop-
tion among educators.
It is exciting that ACS recently obtained additional NSF
funding (NSF 1806607) to help define core goals for the IDP
process used across STEM disciplines and to develop tools
that measure the impact of IDPs on the professional develop-
ment of graduate students in STEM. Those project outcomes
will catalyze the generation of evidence regarding the effec-
tive use of IDPs—evidence needed to scale the use of the IDP
process, support and inform additional investments in career
planning and graduate education, and foster growth in the
field of Ph.D. career development. Ultimately, results from this
project have the potential to improve educational outcomes in
higher education and to better prepare the U.S. workforce.
There is a large community out there that is interested in
helping you and other graduate students and postdocs. So, take
advantage of the resources (in particular, ChemIDPTM) they
have developed to help your mentors give you the support you
need to rule yourself and truly have the experience that:
“I am, indeed, a king, because I know how to rule myself.”
“Best wishes to all who strive to master themselves!”
Joerg Schlatterer, Ph.D., is the
manager of the ACS Graduate and
Postdoctoral Scholars Office. Prior, he
served as a program director in the
NSF Division of Graduate Education
in Arlington, VA. Dr. Schlatterer received his Ph.D. from the University of
Heidelberg. He loves dancing Argentine
Tango, playing music, and taking long
walks with his wife Sarah.