Science Magazine

“My” Individual Development Plan

There has been a lot of excitement about myIDP (Individual Development Plan) offered by Science CareersIn case you haven’t heard about this, myIDP is an interactive web-based career-planning tool developed to help graduate students and PhD level scientists determine potential career paths beyond the traditional tenure track scientist.  By answering a series of introspective questions regarding your scientific skills, interests and personal values, myIDP will match these to potential career opportunities and help you develop a career plan to reach your goals. 

I’ve read a lot of promising comments about this program, so I decided to take the time and create a career plan for myself.  While I have been working in product development for almost 1 year already (I’m stating this in the interest of full disclosure), I thought it might be interesting to see if I chose the best career for myself.   Who knows?   It’s never too late to mix things up.    

When you first go to myIDP you’re asked to create a new account with all the basic information including a username, email address and password.  Once an account has been created, you’re greeted with a flow chart explaining the steps to creating your individual development plan. 

The first step is a self-assessment designed to identify skills, interests and personal values.  Honest, introspection is required to answer these questions since the responses are used to help identify relevant career paths.  Each category contains several subcategories with a series of questions.  Questions are answered on a simple 1-5 rating scale.  Once you have completed each subcategory, responses are summarized into a table.  This table helps you to easily identify skills that need improvement and interests important to a future career. 

Once the self-assessment is complete, you are transitioned to the career exploration tab.  myIDP compares the answers to your self assessment to characteristics important to roughly 60 different career paths.  These careers are then ranked from best to worse fit based on how well they match your skills and interests self assessment.  Clicking on a specific career path, you are provided with numerous articles, books and even professional societies to join that will help you to learn more about each career.  An event planner lets you keep track of meetings or other gatherings for networking.  There is even a guide on how to conduct an informational interview with an industry expert that can help you better determine the pros and cons of a particular career path.

With a long term career goal (or two) selected, you have the option to create career, skills and project goals.  This feature helps you to set and achieve small steps to reaching your career goals.  These are turned into a 12 month planner to keep you on track.  Consider it your yearly committee meeting with yourself.

Finally, you can create your mentor team to provide you with personal and professional guidance.  Ideally, your PI should be involved in this process (I’ll touch on that later), but you should also try to have mentors from different backgrounds to provide unique perspectives.  This is essential for obtaining invaluable personal and career advice that will be essential to you meeting your goals. 

Overall thoughts?  This is an extremely intuitive and highly beneficial program that I strongly suggest for all graduate students and postdocs.   Of course, the earlier into your PhD career that you start this program, the more time you will have to develop a network that can help guide your career path.  It would be great if your PI was involved in every step of this process, and myIDP strongly suggests you include your PI in this career development training.  Unfortunately, some PI’s are more open to their students pursuing alternative career paths than others.  I’ve met plenty (and have worked for) PI’s that feel the only true path for a PhD is in academia and they will do little to nothing to help you advance outside of academia.  If this is the case, you will need to be more proactive and find a network of individuals willing to support you in alternative career goals. 

So, how did the myIDP match to my current product development career path?  Well it ranks fourth on the list.  Interestingly, the intellectual property career path (patent agent / attorney and technology transfer specialist) ranked just above product development.  That’s something I never considered as a career and know very little about this path.  But with the myIDP informational resources, I know where to learn about this career.  My number 1 and 2:  sales and marketing (medical liaisons or sales representatives) and science policy (public/government affairs or think tanks).  While I did consider some potential opportunities in sales and marketing, I really didn’t want to be on the road for extended periods of time away from my family.   Surprisingly though, entrepreneur was ranked rather low on my chart…don’t tell my RateMyPI.com co-founder.  

Speaking of RateMyPI.com, look for us to go live in a matter of days.  We’re just finishing some BETA testing.  Hopefully we can be instrumental in helping you meet your career goals as well.

P.S.  Happy National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week!

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2012 Postdoc Experience Survey

The results of the Science Careers biennial postdoctoral survey were released this past week.  In case you’re unfamiliar with this survey, Science Careers sent emails to 38,000 current and recent PhD’s worldwide asking them to rate and discuss criteria essential to a successful postdoctoral experience. 

What’s the take home message of this year’s survey?  Answer: the struggling economy is the driving force behind the results.  Ten percent of respondents were unemployed at the time of answering this survey.  Similar to the unemployment rate in the EU and slightly higher than the current 8.3% unemployment rate in the US.  This is probably the major reason why “advancement opportunities / career options” was selected as the most important factor, with  “funding / grants”,  “employer / situation”, “networking”,  and “mentoring” rounding out this year’s top five attributes to a successful postdoctoral research experience.   

One can easily make the case that any of these factors are integral to career success.  But I did notice a common theme; the importance of having a principal investigator able and willing to enhance these factors.  A PI to introduce you to network contacts for career advancement.  A PI that can teach you the ropes of successfully obtaining grant funding.  A PI that creates a comfortable work environment and helps you further your scientific career.   After all, isn’t that part of the responsibility of being in a tenure-track position; to nurture the growth of future scientists?

Principal investigators willing to train the next generation of scientists do exist.  This is evident in the success stories of several survey respondents interviewed for this article.   The difficult part is finding them and convincing them to take the time, energy, resources and money to train a young scientist even when the career choice is outside of academia.  But, what do you do when your PI is less than helpful?  That’s when you need to be proactive and create your own network of collaborators.  And today social media has made it easier than ever to keep in contact with collaborators and colleagues.  They can help you get a foot in the door for a potential job opportunity. 

Remember, it’s your career…take control of it.

The article can be found here, and it’s great reading for every scientist looking to further their careers.  If you have any other ideas for networking or what makes for a successful postdoc experience, please leave your comments below.

Follow us on Twitter @RateMyPI for blog updates.

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Early Independence Award

Science Magazine ran an article today that I thought would be great to share with the readers of RateMyPI.com.

In 2011, the NIH started a program called the Director’s Early Independence Award.  This award was designed to fast track scientist directly out of graduate school to independent research positions, essentially skipping post doctoral research.  Recipients of this grant are awarded $250,000 per year for a total of five years to essentially manage their own laboratories at a host institution.  Host institutions are required to provide laboratory space and equipment, but the NIH advises against appointment to tenure-track positions.  This allows the awardees to focus on research without hearing the tick-tick-tick of the tenure timeline. 

This program started in response to the increasing age where researchers achieve a tenure-track position.  Currently, the median age to achieve research independence is 37.  Achieving scientific independence at such a late stage in life dissuades many young scientists from pursuing careers in academia and greatly reduces the lifetime earning potential of extremely intelligent individuals.

The biggest hurdle facing this program is helping transition awardees away from institutions where they earned their PhD’s.  It becomes difficult to gain a sense of independence when your graduate school advisors are just a few doors away.  After five years of going to them for advice, it becomes difficult to break that pattern and start standing on your own two feet. 

This is where RateMyPI.com can help.   By providing a portal to locate the best institutions and research groups to help progress your careers, we help remove the uncertainty of moving across country, or even out of country, for a career opportunity.

The 2013 Early Independence Award deadline is approaching.  Please visit the NIH website to learn more about this amazing opportunity for young scientists. 

Kevin Hascup

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