One of the key factors that contribute to the successful professional development of underserved graduate students – first generation, BIPOC, women, international, as well as individuals whose identities fall at the intersections of these and more – is equitable access to comprehensive guidance from a team of mentors and faculty advisors. Comprehensive mentoring has the potential to provide underserved graduate students with the social capital they need to explore diverse career paths, particularly in predominantly white institutions. Social capital includes informational resources on career exploration, referrals to professional networks within and outside the academy, advance notice about employment opportunities, and informal apprenticeships.
While funding opportunities, such as needs-based fellowships, are vital to retaining disadvantaged graduate students, social resources are just as important. In other words, faculty—along with university leadership and senior staff who oversee a range of graduate student services—can take advantage of different forms of privilege based on race, gender, ability, or class status by connecting students with the social capital they need. him to prosper. This transforms graduate employment practices based solely on representative diversity into retention strategies based on equity and social justice.
One tool that can facilitate career development for underprivileged students is the Individual Development Plan, or IDP. The IDP is a customized form that helps graduate students set professional, academic, wellness, and personal goals in the short and long term. It is a living document that allows the trainee to track his progress and identify the competencies that still need improvement. An IDP is not meant to be a static assessment of where you are now and where you want to go. We’ve seen a lot of students spend a lot of time creating an IDP and then putting it in a drawer and never thinking about it again. Instead, the IDP development process, which includes self-evaluation and active conversations with mentors, should be iterative. The trainee should review his plans regularly to determine if the plan is still accurate or if his interests and goals have changed as he progresses through his education and training.
Research funding organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation encourage and/or require faculty researchers to use IDPs with doctoral student interns. This practice has gained traction beyond STEM disciplines over the past six years. A quick online search will reveal that the IDP is increasingly becoming a recommended mentoring tool for graduate students in the humanities and social sciences at both the master’s and doctoral levels.
Here are a few of the potential IDPs available to graduate students:
Again, the information in the IDP is less important than the fact that, other than regular research or assessments of academic progress, mentors and trainees are expected to have intentional conversations about career and professional development goals. IDP is one guide to those conversations.
Benefits to non-deserving graduate students
IDP can help support and advance the career development of graduate students in a number of ways. Conversations that demystify certain aspects of career exploration and a subtle approach to graduate socialization in general can facilitate. This is critical for first-generation graduate students whose parents or caregivers have not earned a bachelor’s degree—and who may be entering the middle-class job market for the first time in their lives upon graduation. For one of the authors of this article, Jay, a Chamorro student affairs specialist and sexologist who is the first in her family to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the IDP has been incredibly useful for understanding graduate-level academics as well as future career possibilities.
Career guidance with IDP is also useful for international graduate students who are not familiar with the academic expectations, cultures, and workplace expectations in the United States. And IDP can greatly help young graduate students, including women and individuals identified by women, who can often feel like crooks in the academy not as a result of so-called inherent helplessness but rather of everyday experiences with racism and discrimination on their own. The basis of sex and gender discrimination and the ability to do so. and other types of oppression. Displaced persons can be a reminder that they have agency over their lives, as well as their many strengths, competencies, and accomplishments.
In a recent conversation with one of our students, Guadalupe Tovar Mendoza, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in Astronomy and Astrobiology, she said, “As a first-generation student and Latino woman, IDP has helped me see the bigger picture of the things I plan to accomplish in My life and my career. When you’re in Weed, for example, preparing for your qualifying exams, you can get really stressed out and forget why you were in grad school in the first place.”
Open conversations between mentors and interns help students prioritize wellness, mental health, social needs, and community building as they work on professional development. Preparing for the job market in any industry is hard work, yet graduate students who are not represented often need to connect with affinity groups in person or online in order to feel a sense of belonging and connect with people who share similar life experiences based on identity.
However, mentors may not share the same identities as their trainees. This is especially true in academia, where students are likely to be more diverse than faculty who look to them for advice and guidance. Thus, the other co-author of this article, Bill Mahoney, a white, gender-sensitive senior faculty member uses the IDP to learn more about the interns’ values and interests as well as their research progress and career goals. He then connects the trainees with other mentors and professional groups with whom they share identities to ensure that they receive all the support they need. One mentor simply cannot fulfill all the needs of every trainee, and a trainee’s ability to succeed and thrive is enhanced when he or she is supported by a broad and nurturing community.
Finally, high school is meant to be tough, not toxic, and isolated. It is meant to broaden our thinking and career development within – and sometimes across – our disciplines. But the Academy is not exempt from perpetuating exclusionary practices that negatively affect underserved graduate students. Conversations about the IDP allow the trainee to have a shared vision between the mentor and the trainee, resulting in a sense of security and commitment to a long-term relationship, thus increasing the student’s sense of belonging. Students’ identities and backgrounds, as well as the climate of the institutions in which they study and work, greatly influence their sense of inclusion. When the trainee feels a sense of belonging, his sense of self-worth, achievement and general well-being is enhanced and nurtured.
In short, IDPs are great tools to enable mentors to understand how intern’s identities impact their career and research goals. While the plan is a necessary part of the process, the conversations in which the mentor and mentor learn about each other are the most important component. And when the conversations lead to a shared understanding and vision between the mentor and the intern, everyone can thrive.