Professional associations and learned societies provide a wealth of knowledge, opportunities and general helpfulness in career terms for students and recent graduates, yet in my experience, are probably also the least-tapped resource. In this post I will outline what they are as well as some of the ways they can help you.
Professional Bodies & Associations
Professional bodies or associations are representative bodies for specific professional sectors or careers. Some may also serve as a regulatory body for the profession. In some professions it is essential to be a member of the professional body in order to practice (usually when they also have a regulatory function), but for many, membership is voluntary.
Professional bodies are usually non-profit organisations whose purposes can vary, but generally speaking, they seek to further the profession by representing and promoting its interests, sharing good practice and supporting members.
Learned societies are similar to professional bodies but represent academic disciplines or professions rather than more general ones. Like professional bodies, their primary purpose is to promote the academic discipline (or group of disciplines) in question and uphold standards, share good practice and so on.
Joining a professional body or learned society
As mentioned above, membership of a professional body is essential for some professions and in such cases is usually attained through gaining certain qualifications and/or levels of experience. Some examples are law, accountancy, some health care professions and many areas of engineering, to name but a few. Whether membership is voluntary or compulsory, it is still well worth checking out relevant professional bodies and/ or learned societies. Membership will usually cost a fee (this can vary from a few pounds to hundreds) but many offer discounted student memberships. Often, you can still get a lot of value from such bodies without necessarily having to join.
So, how can such organisations help you?
This will vary from organisation to organisation as each will differ in the specifics of what they do. However, I’ve listed some potential ideas below to get you started:
- Networking opportunities: Probably the most widely-applicable of all the benefits listed here. Find out about events, get to know professionals in your target industry, get advice from forums and more. See this article from Guardian Careers by a recent graduate about how useful she found her professional body for networking
- Jobs & work experience: Many such bodies and societies host job listings which often include internships opportunities
- News & updates: Get consistent, up to date information relating to your area of interest – a.k.a that all important commercial awareness, which is essential in every career area
- Grants & funding: Professional bodies and learned societies will often have small grants, bursaries or awards for which you can apply. These are often available for funding to undertake development activities. For example, attending conferences or events, undertaking training, qualifications or work experience
- Directories of members: These might be directories of individual members, organisational members, or both. These can be useful to identify and research potential employers, or to identify potential contacts who may be able to help you with advice on getting into that particular sector or career
- Mentoring: Many organisations have formal mentoring programmes which could put you in touch with an experienced professional in your chosen field
- Status: Being an active member of a professional body or association demonstrates your commitment to and motivation for the profession – key things employers are looking for in potential recruits
- Competitions: Are frequently aimed at those starting out (or looking to start out) in a profession. Prizes might be financial or more about status, but either way winning these can be a great addition to your CV and can raise your profile within your target career area
How to find relevant professional bodies or learned societies
There are literally thousands of such organisations, so tracking down the best ones for you can take a bit of time. However, as demonstrated above, it can be well worth the small time investment. There are various ways to approach this.
- If membership of such an organisation is a requirement for your profession, you will hopefully already be aware of it. For example, your degree course may be accredited by the relevant professional body. If you’re unsure as to whether or not it is required, find out as soon as possible (we can help you with this), as you may need to be working towards certain things in order to be eligible for membership when you graduate
- HMRC have a useful document which lists all professional bodies and learned societies approved by them for expenses purposes. This list is long: Use the ‘find’ function in your browser, and search using keywords relating to your area of interest.
- Total professions list many professional bodies and associations
- If all else fails, you could run some searches in your browser including key words related to your chosen career and/or professional body/ association or learned society etc.
If you’ve found professional bodies or learned societies helpful for your career, please share by leaving a comment below.