Guest Blogger – Mark Yates – Careerfocus Essex : Why join a professional Association or Learned Society?

15 Sep 2020

Have you ever wondered about joining a Professional Association or Learned Society? Do you know if there is one relating to what you are either studying or the area you’re working in? This blog will set out some of the reasons joining might be a good idea.

To start with, a couple of definitions will help!

Professional Associations and Learned Societies are about more than books!


Learned Societies

‘Learned societies are academic ‘clubs’ which specialise in a particular discipline, with a membership made up of people who share an interest in that subject. Members can include academics, university researchers, people working in industry, postgraduate and undergraduate students, teachers and even school students and members of the public. Each learned society has its own set of rules on its membership reach, fees and benefits.’

This definition is taken from the wonderful Sarah Blackford’s biosciencecareers blog - which also has a great list of Learned Societies on it, the blog is definitely worth a read!


Professional 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… but for many, membership is voluntary.’

This definition is taken from the fabulous University of Leeds Careers Blog - this one was written by Jess Henderson, and is also worth a read!

So Learned Societies and Professional Associations are similar in that they are aiming to promote knowledge, skills and professionalism in their area of specialism.


So why join?

There will be numerous demands on your time whilst doing your first degree or early career. Including assignments, paid work, being involved in the Student Union, playing sport, building your career and having a social life! And the number of students doing your degree nationally who don’t take an active role is significant too - even if their university has paid for their membership. The same applies with those in their early career. So why should you make the time and take the effort? Hopefully these reasons will help!


A chance to meet new people working and studying in the same area of interest. Apart from the benefits of having a better network, this will help you find out about the range of opportunities that are available, whilst developing your awareness of current issues in the industry. You may also have a chance to get mentored. The Royal College of Organists is a prime example of this!


A chance to get involved and volunteer. There are ample reasons to do this, it will develop skills and experience for your CV, increase the number of people who are aware of you and shows that you are committed to the sector. One example is the British Pharmacological Association, who encourage its members to be ambassadors.


Conferences, webinars, blogs, vlogs. These are often free or very low cost. If you are going to make progress in your career, managing your CPD (continuous professional development) will help you in developing your career further. Organisations will have a range of conferences, webinars and other learning you can access through them. For instance, the British Toxicology Society and the Royal Society of Biology both have a range of CPD events that members can access.


Money! In the shape of bursaries and funding which can be applied for. This can go towards developing your professional experience, attending conferences, undertaking projects or research - all of which will help give you a USP! The Royal Society of Chemistry is a great example of this.


Now what? Planning your next steps.


So what now?

Updating your membership details/profile is a start. There may be a local or regional group that you could get involved in. Or a ‘special interest’ group that focuses on your specialist area. For instance, the British Psychological Society have a large number of regional and specialist branches and the Royal Society of Biology has a range of professional registers that members can join too - check out what your professional association or learned society does for this.

Look at how you can be actively involved in the organisation. This can be on an ad hoc basis or more regularly. It is a great way to get noticed and to keep up to date on current issues and to hear about paid vacancies that are coming up. Getting in contact directly will enable the organisation and you to decide how you can be involved, with the amount of time you have available. Starting small and tentively is acceptable…..

Its worth thinking through how your studies/career are going, and how a more active involvement in your professional association/learned society could help you. They will know that members get involved to help their own career, so don’t be put off by this sounding egotistical! Talking this through with your university careers adviser, lecturer, Principal Investigator or the organisation’s membership secatary will help clarify your thoughts too.

If you want to see a full list of professional associations, take a look at this list and don’t forget the biosciences blog for a list of learned societies.


And Lastly…..

Did you know that you can put the cost of your membership on your tax return? The vast majority of these organisations are on the HMRC approved list! So you can join without it costing you anything in effect.

So, if you’ve read this far, hopefully you can now see the benefits of joining your professional association or Learned Society. What can you do today to make get this happen?


Mark Yates

Member of the Careers Writers Association

Freelance Careers Adviser