What on earth is an Individual Study Plan aka ISP?

Your doctoral education consists on a General Study Plan (GSP) and an Individual Study Plan (ISP). The ISP will rule your doctoral world since it is basically the central document that says how your education will actually and individually be organized. The document will spell out what the University expects from you but it is your opportunity to also write what you expect from the University so you can get quality education. Software that you might need to process your data? Funding to do fieldwork abroad? Additional courses not provided by the University? The ISP is the place where you need to write this down and negotiate it with the University.

Why do we even need an ISP? Isn’t it just another administrative tool that is super annoying to fill in?

It is extremely annoying to fill-in an ISP, however, like we said before, the ISP is a pretty important document since it is the actual plan for your doctoral education. The power of the ISP lays on the fact that it is a legal document so both University and doctoral student can be held accountable. It’s a tool that you can use to monitor that you get what you need to get quality education and complete your doctoral studies. However, remember that you’re also obliged to actually carry out what you have written in the ISP. But don’t panic, of course you have the right to negotiate your ISP whenever there is a need to.

ISP myths…

“My supervisor told me to fill-in my ISP by myself.” We don’t think so! If the ISP is a plan for your education, it is a bit unreasonable to expect you to fill in your ISP without guidance. You should fill in the ISP with the help of your supervisor(s). There are things that you need to decide together like: what courses should your prioritize, when you should go on fieldwork, what tools do you need to analyze your data, etc. Remember that the ISP is not just any document; use your supervisor’s help to get the most of it.

“The ISP is a contract between university, supervisor and student.” Well, actually it isn’t. It is a legal document but not a contract since the main point is to check the quality of education you’re receiving and not assess the doctoral student’s work. Of course, you’re accountable for what you write in your ISP but the main purpose of the ISP is to assess that your doctoral education is being organized properly.

“The ISP is simply filled-in, signed and stored away.” Hmmm… no. The organ checking the ISPs (many times the Supervisor’s collegium) should not only check that you’re not writing anything crazy but should reflect on what the University, Faculty or supervisors need to do in order to provide the doctoral students the tools that s/he needs for her/his studies. Always keep your ISP in mind and remember that the University has the responsibility to follow the plan.

“Career planning and my doctoral studies are the same thing.” Nope. Your education and ISP are related to your General Study Plan: in other words, what is it that you’re supposed to learn and what do you need to produce in order to get a degree in your field. Career planning is something extra that can help you get a job in the future. Career planning is included in our ISP template and we think it’s positive that you start giving it a thought and use the resources the University has to offer so you can make the most of it.

Curious to know more? Check out the Higher Education Ordinance, chapter 6, section 29. Download MaH’s ISP form here in Swedish and English.

This section has been written with information from Aleksandra Popovic, the doctoral student ombudsman at Lund University. Errors are the sole responsibility of the Doctoral Student Union though.