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GSBS, American Chemical Society collaborate to measure impact of individual development plans

National Science Foundation grant awarded to improve career planning for STEM grad students

  GSBS students discuss career options at a myIDP poster session, one of the career planning approaches Cynthia Fuhrmann and collaborators will evaluate with a new grant from the National Science Foundation.

GSBS students discuss career options at a myIDP poster session, one of the career planning approaches Cynthia Fuhrmann and collaborators will evaluate with a new grant from the National Science Foundation. 

Career development initiatives to prepare doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows in the sciences for diverse professional options have been underway for more than a decade. While students talk about how the process can benefit them, there has been little research on the impact of career planning tools and the most effective ways to use them.

Now, with a three-year, $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Innovations in Graduate Education program, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMass Medical School is collaborating with the American Chemical Society on a nationwide project to develop tools for measuring the impact of career development planning for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The project, “Impact Indicators and Instruments for Individual Development Plans” (I3IDP), will evaluate best practices for using the IDP process to help individuals chart their professional growth, and develop a toolkit to help diverse institutions test and enhance their own career planning programs and curricula.

“The toolkit will help us test variations in our use of individual development plans in different settings, so that we can apply the scientific method to hypothesize, test and redesign our teaching strategies—just as we would experiment in the lab,” said co-investigator Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and assistant dean of career and professional development for the GSBS. “This will open up a world of possibilities for research into the use of IDPs in a variety of different educational contexts.”

Dr. Fuhrmann, who joins principal investigator Jodi Wesemann, PhD, assistant director for educational research at the American Chemical Society, brings to the project expertise as a pioneer in the use of individual development plans. A nationally recognized leader in career development curricula for biomedical sciences doctoral students, Fuhrmann co-developed the online career exploration tool myIDP, now used by more than 180,000 scientists. She is principal investigator for the five-year, $2 million National Institutes of Health-funded Broadening Experience in Scientific Training (BEST) grant, with which she established the GSBS Center for Biomedical Career Development. The individual development plan process is the centerpiece of the career development curriculum that is now integrated into doctoral and postdoctoral training at the GSBS.

The American Chemical Society will lead the new nationwide project, which seeks to define core goals and measurable outcomes for the IDP process, develop and test ways to demonstrate changes in students’ actions and attitudes as a result of participating in IDPs, and recommend strategies for identifying how and why IDPs work in specific contexts. Dr. Wesemann and colleagues played key roles in the design and use of ChemIDP, the career-planning tool ACS developed specifically for those in the chemical sciences. Key partners in the project include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, host of myIDP, and the Graduate Career Consortium, host of ImaginePhD, a site modeled after myIDP for doctoral trainees in the humanities and social sciences.

“Bringing together our expertise will bridge the gap across the disciplines,” said Fuhrmann. “We look forward to engaging the broad STEM community to work with us to create a toolkit that anyone in the community can use to assess and improve their educational practices.”

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