Posted: October 12, 2017

An Interactive Competency Approach to Career Exploration and IDP Implementation


Background: The paucity of academic positions has resulted in increasing numbers of Biomedical Science PhD graduates pursuing careers outside of traditional academia. A process known as the individual development plan (IDP) has been developed as a tool to guide trainees to reflect on their skills, knowledge, abilities (SKAs) as well as their values and interests in order to explore, find and prepare for compatible career paths. Aim: Our experience shows variable levels of trainee engagement throughout the IDP process. Thus, we sought to create a process to improve trainee involvement, particularly in the reflective aspect of the IDP, which allows trainees to find career compatibilities in an unbiased setting, understand the required competencies and to take steps to achieve them. Methods: Our approach consists of: (1) Completion by trainees and professionals of abbreviated IDP surveys (modified from; (2) Generation of graphical representations of their answers (trainee and professional “fingerprints”); (3) Blind comparison by trainees of their fingerprints with those of professionals whose identities are temporarily hidden Blind comparison by trainees of these fingerprints; (4) Completion of worksheets identifying most and least compatible SKAs, values and interests; and (5) Disclosure of the identities of the professionals with opportunities for interactions. Outcomes: 116 trainees responded to the online IDP survey, of which 97 completed the process. Wilcoxon rank tests for the differences between pre- and post-activity scores for 69 students who completed both surveys revealed positive change and significance for 8/10 questions (p < .01). Conclusions: Overall, our results strongly suggest that this approach had a positive impact on trainees’ attitudes towards their career preparation and decreased their anxiety. Follow-up: Identify; (1) robust fingerprints for different careers, by administering our IDP to a larger set of professionals and (2) areas of variation within each career, due to individual approaches and roles.


Self-Assessment, Career Counseling, Diverse Career Paths, Competency Based Education


Jose M. Barral, MD, PhD, The University of Texas Medical Branch

David W. Niesel, PhD, The University of Texas Medical Branch

M. Kristen Peek, PhD, The University of Texas Medical Branch

Bret T. Howrey, PhD, The University of Texas Medical Branch

Garth A. Fowler, PhD, The American Psychological Association