Tag Archives: career planning

My Path to Working at an Association

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would one day work at the American Psychological Association, I would have laughed and said, “No way!” I was committed to one day working in a hospital as a pediatric psychologist. But after 8 years as Associate Executive Director of APAGS, I can say that this is a job that I have relished. Who knew?


Developing the APAGS Strategic Plan with the APAGS Committee, Washington, DC, 2012.

How did I get to APA as a staff member? Primarily, it was because I got involved. I served 4 years on the APAGS Committee as Member at Large and Chair of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns. I also was the student representative on the Ethics Code Task Force, revising the APA Ethics Code. After 4 years as a student leader, I took some time off from APA while I started my dream job in a department of pediatrics at a county hospital. I returned to APA leadership a few years later as a founding member of the Committee on Early Career Psychologists, followed by a term on the Board of Professional Affairs. It was halfway through my term on BPA that the AED position opened up at APAGS. My leadership experience at APA and other organizations (primarily Ohio Psychological Association and the Society of Pediatric Psychology) opened up the doors.

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The IDP: A Career Plan That Doesn’t End with Your First Job

Sometimes graduate school and postdoctoral training can feel like being in a long, dark tunnel. At the end is the escape. All you have to do is square your shoulders, pump your arms, and keep making progress towards the light at the end.  Once you burst through, you will find yourself basking in the happy, warm glow of…. Your. First. Job.

But a job isn’t a career.

You want a career – a progressive increase in responsibilities and daily activities that are rewarding, have impact, and make use of your current skills and the new ones you’ll gain along the way. You want a path, not a tunnel.

How much time have you really spent career planning?

One often neglected aspect of graduate school and postdoctoral training is career planning. A goal of your training should be about developing that career path – or more accurately, developing both a path and yourself.  You need to thoughtfully research the type of career options that interest you and that are available. Next you develop the skills, knowledge, abilities, and competencies to land those jobs along your career path.  Luckily you’re not alone and this career plan has a proven process. It’s called an Individual Development Plan, or IDP.

What’s an IDP?

An IDP is a career resource – designed by you – that helps map out your career path. I could spend more time explaining what they are, or how creating formalized plans in postdoctoral training improves outcomes, or how both NSF and NIH require career development plans for trainees.  But consider this, from 2009-2014 there was a 20% increase in psychology doctoral degrees.  Over that same time tenure track faculty positions did not keep up with PhD production. But, wait. The good news is, NSF says that the number of jobs that require science & engineering skills is outpacing the new job creation in the total workforce. This means that there are probably more job options and career paths than you thought.

It all starts with knowledge of IDPs and then yourself. But before you start, here are some helpful tips to help you along your IDP Journey:

  1. Get the big picture first, then attack each step:  Resist the urge to just jump in and spend next weekend doing nothing but career exploration. Make a schedule to watch our five videos and go back and re-watch.  Next spend maybe a week (or two) assessing your skills, and searching for a mentor.  Re-watch the videos as many times as needed to feel ready to move to the next step.
  2. Make a schedule:  Make a regular time to do IDP work – every Wednesday right after a lab meeting, or every Friday after your last patient or client.  Or the first Sunday of each month, when all is still and quite and peaceful.  Whatever works for you, but make it a priority.
  3. IDPs are both curricular and extracurricular: We stress that IDPs shouldn’t pull you away from your current training and work obligations.  Quite the contrary – they help you integrate career opportunities day-to-day, and plan for those you need to find outside the lab, clinic, or office.  A plan will balance your demands and help you progress.

So, what are you waiting for? Get started!

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Garth Fowler, PhD, Associate Executive Director of Graduate & Postgraduate Education and Training in the Education Directorate at the American Psychological Association.