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How can Learned Societies and Professional Associations Help my Career Planning?

By Joe O'Brien, on 4 August 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Glyn Jones, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

Learned societies and professional associations can play an important role in helping with your career prospects. This blog will highlight suitable initiatives you can get involved with as an undergraduate or postgraduate student.

What is a learned societies or professional associations?

Learned societies and professional associations are organisations that exist to support and promote subjects or professions within a particular sector.

Membership organisations often run events and conferences, offer travel awards and bursaries and sometimes manage journals within their sector of interest.

What areas do they exist in?

Learned societies are prominent in academic disciplines, especially amongst the sciences, but many associations also work within the arts and you’ll find that the majority of professional industries will have some kind of professional association affiliated to it.

When researching your potential future career options it’s worth looking for a professional body in your sector of interest.

Do I need to pay to become a member?

To enjoy the whole range of initiatives offered by an organisation, you may need to become a member. There are often many different types of membership plans, such as reduced or free membership for undergraduate members. We would recommend exploring what the have to offer!

It is worth noting that some resources may be available to non-members, such as on the careers section of a website. Be sure to take a look at what you can access online for free before committing to paying for membership.

How can they be beneficial?

  • Events

Learned societies and professional associations often run events based on a particular area of interest within that discipline, or on a career pathway within that industry. Due to the current situation, many events have moved online, so recordings of previous sessions may also be available.

Here is a selection of some events provided by some life sciences learned societies to give you a taster of what might be on offer:

It may also be that these organisations seek volunteers to help with (virtual) events or contribute to online content e.g. blog, news articles. By getting involved in these events you may gain valuable experience that can help demonstrate your skillset.

Benefit to you: Builds your knowledge and skills within a particular area of interest through attending events or contributing to the work of a learned society or professional organisation.

  • Networking

Events run by learned societies and professional associations can be useful places to network with those working in a field of interest. This opportunity may enable you to grow your professional network outside your usual circles e.g. within UCL or London.

It’s not only through attending events that you can grow your networks either. You may wish to keep an eye on regular contributors to the work of the society, such as committee members and student representatives. Another way to identify networking opportunities may be through specific interest groups, or geographical groups affiliated with these organisations. For example, the British Society for Immunology have a list of their Regional and Affinity Groups. You can use these to identify potential networking opportunities.

Benefit to you: You have an opportunity to network with different individuals who you might not otherwise meet. This can give you a different perspective of the industry outside what you would normally hear about.

  • Careers Resources

Often learned societies or professional associations have careers sections on their websites. These may offer advice on possible career pathways within the industry or provide details of qualifications needed for a career in your field of interest. An example might be the British Psychological Association’s Become a Psychologist webpage. As well as careers information, you may find case studies on such sites, which can provide information and real life examples on a range of professionals working in the industry.

Benefit to you: By using this focused careers information relating to your area of interest, you may find much more detailed/specific information compared to broader careers advice sites, such as Prospects.

  • Funding / Developmental Opportunities

Summer studentships are common amongst some learned societies, a list of examples within the life sciences has been collated on the Royal Society of Biology’s website. The application process may require you to approach an existing member of the society who would act as your supervisor. You would then work together to submit an application for the studentship. Each organisation will set out its own requirements and application process, so it’s worth researching exactly what is needed for the application. Alternatively, you may find that such organisations offer student prizes that are great to put on your CV, or possible financial awards that can be used to contribute to travel costs.

Benefit to you: Making the most of these funding opportunities could enable you to gain experiences that you may not be able to afford otherwise. Check the requirements to understand if you (or your potential supervisor) need to have been a member of the organisation for a certain amount of time before applying to make sure you qualify.

Next steps

This blog has highlighted some potential benefits you could gain from getting involved with learned societies or professional associations, particularly focusing on benefits for undergraduate and postgraduate students. Why not look for an organisation that works in your field of interest on the Directory of Professions. Then explore their websites to see what benefits they can bring to your journey.

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