Making Sense of Your SelfAssessment

This is the fifth article in a series designed to help you create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) using myIDP, a new Web-based career-planning tool created to help graduate students and postdocs in the sciences define and pursue their career goals. To learn more about myIDP and begin the career exploration and planning process, please visit: .

By now, we hope you have worked through some of the myIDP tool, and you might be wondering, “I’ve compiled a lot of really interesting self-assessment information about my , my , and my … but how will these data be useful to me?” The purpose of this article is to help you answer that important question by providing guidance about how to use your self-assessment information to begin the process of considering which of your many career options might provide the best fit.

When you decided to pursue a Ph.D., were you envisioning spending your days writing grants and papers, managing people and resources, driving scientific agendas for your team, and delivering presentations at journal clubs and international conferences?

This step of the myIDP process is intended to narrow your career options to the one or two choices that align best with your unique sets of skills and interests and that satisfy your career-related values. These options are likely to provide the most satisfying and rewarding careers for you over the long term. Subsequent articles in this series will discuss ways of positioning yourself for success in these careers.

Why spend time considering skills and interests?

It’s almost certain that you’ve been using your skills and interests for years to make career decisions, even if you haven’t done so consciously. It’s likely that you decided to pursue a Ph.D., for example, because you found your science classes engaging and performed well in them. Probably, you tried research during college and learned that you liked it and were good at it. So, the pursuit of a research-based Ph.D. seemed like the logical next step for someone who enjoys research and excels at it. See? You’ve been through this process before, though perhaps not systematically.

Unfortunately, the process is about to get harder because you now need to make decisions about career paths you may not know much about. How much did those early experiences in science teach you about the daily work of an academic researcher? Not much, probably. When you decided to pursue a Ph.D., were you envisioning spending your days writing grants and papers, managing people and resources, driving scientific agendas for your team, and delivering presentations at journal clubs and international conferences? More likely, you were thinking of days spent in the lab pursuing important scientific questions. 

And what about all those other science-related jobs? What’s it like to be a research administrator or to work in regulatory affairs?

These are important questions—and it’s important to get the answers right. Dissatisfaction may arise if you perform tasks that don’t interest you day after day, or if you don’t have opportunities to do the things you most enjoy. And without the right complement of skills, you may not be able to land the job you want—and even if you do, you may not perform up to expectations, which could lead to conflict, unhappiness, and failure.

Values: Even more important than skills and interests?

In order to be satisfied, your values must be aligned with your career choice. Your skills and interests could be a perfect match—but if the job you have trained for does not provide the tangible outcomes you want the most (earnings level, time freedom, location, and so on) or the intrinsic rewards you seek (prestige, the satisfaction of being an expert, the rush of discovery, the feeling that you are making a difference, and so forth) then you will not be happy in your career.

Using skills, interests, and values to narrow your career options

Here, we offer a step-by-step process to help you identify career options that involve tasks that you are good at and enjoy doing while also providing the rewards and outcomes you need.

    You may wish to go beyond the resources we have provided, consulting books and other Web-based resources. For example, industry-specific salary tables might help you determine whether a path is likely to fulfill your income goals. Finally, go out and talk to people about the career paths you’re most interested in. Network and conduct informational interviews with people in the field, or at a specific company of interest to you. One-on-one conversations can help you learn more about workplace climate and family friendly policies, for example.

    Remind yourself why you’re doing this!

    The diagram to the right illustrates the overall goal of these exercises: To find that small subset of all the possible career options that will engage you in the most interesting tasks, take advantage of your best skills, and provide the rewards you most need from your career. Working through the six steps above may require a lot of time and effort, but we promise it will be worth it!


    The authors wish to thank the people below for their input in the development of the career-matching component of myIDP. These professionals, who specialize in careers for Ph.D.-level scientists, completed extensive surveys regarding the required skills and common tasks of each career path in myIDP. These data formed the basis of the career matching calculation in the Career Exploration section of myIDP. 

    Michael Alvarez, MD Anderson Cancer Center Jim Austin, AAAS Lisa Balbes, Author, Nontraditional Careers for Chemists Lori Conlan, NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education Teresa Dillinger, University of California, Davis Stephanie Eberle, Stanford University Toby Freedman, Author, Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development Dara Grant, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Briana Keller, University of Washington, Seattle John Lombardo, Medical College of Wisconsin Kim Petrie, Vanderbilt University Melanie Sinche, Harvard University Lydia Soleil, Georgia Gwinnett College Molly Starback, Duke University Joe Tringali, Tringali and Associates Ryan Wheeler, The Scripps Research Institute

    The authors also wish to thank H. Garrison, J. Boscardin, and M. Clifford for helpful discussions of statistical analyses required for the career matching calculation. J. Boscardin’s time was in part supported by the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health (NIH), through UCSF-CTSI Grant Number UL1 RR024131. The contents of this project are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIH.

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    Develop your career label so that it works in your favor