Students and postdocs have asked for it–more career guidance. The request has become more frequent as research funding stagnates and trainees are worried about their future job prospects. They want to make sure they have the skills they need to succeed, whether at the bench or by using their science knowledge in a different way. NIH has heard the call.
In July, the NIH took a step to encourage the use of Individual Development Plans for graduate students and postdocs across the US. The Notice posted in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts encourages NIH grantees to develop an institutional policy requiring an Individual Development Plan (IDP) for every graduate student and postdoc supported by any NIH grant, whether it is a training grant or an R01 grant. The notice also asks grantee institutions to explain how they are using IDPs when it submits a Research Performance Progress report (RPPR) for all projects reporting graduate student and/or postdoctoral researchers. The move to encourage IDPs is based on recommendations of the Biomedical Workforce Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, which was tasked with examining the state of the workforce and making suggestions on how to improve career prospects.
NIH is still developing instructions for reporting IDPs in the RPPR-they will be available October 18th of this year. Recognizing that it takes time to implement policies like this, institutions will not be asked to submit information on IDPS until October 1, 2014. With that said, NIH wants schools that already have IDP policies to start reporting as soon as the instructions are issued. It is important to note that the reporting is not a requirement.
The goal of the IDPS is to focus both students/postdocs and their mentors on the career development of the trainees. The IDP can help monitor a student’s progress towards career goals and ensure they have the skills they need to achieve those goals. It can also be helpful in just facilitating that conversation between trainees and mentors, which can often be hard to start or easy to put off in a busy lab.
NIGMS created a list of resources for developing IDPs, as part of the Institutes strategic planning for training two years ago. That strategic plan also recommended that NIGMS grantees be required to use IDPS with trainees.
Since the notice encourages rather than requires reporting on IDPs, it will be interesting to see what transpires in the coming year.