What are Learned Societies and Professional Associations?

I’m really proud to say that this week I have been voted in as a Fellow of the Linnean Society. The Linnean Society is a learned society and as a fellow I am entitled to use the letters FLS after my name.

Learned societies and professional associations are like medieval guilds, in that they are non-profit organisations intended to raise standards and help their members. For some modern professions, membership even continues to be mandatory! For example, most top accountancy positions are only available to chartered accountants who have studied accountancy and are members of one of the professional associations. There are some professions where membership of a professional society is optional but starting to become compulsory now. For example, university lecturers in the UK are often expected to work towards becoming fellows of the Higher Education Academy.

The difference between learned societies and professional associations is that learned societies are subject-specific and professional associations are profession-specific. The Modern Language Association is open to anyone in any job who is involved with the study of modern languages. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is just for surveyors, but they might be interested in surveying completely different kinds of land or structure.

For most professions, it is no longer a requirement to be a member of a professional or learned society, but it can still be a great boost for your CV. For example, if you are a grounds person, being a member of the Institute of Groundsmanship can help prove that you are up-to-date with the latest news and best-practice of the industry.

The most prestigious learned societies test their applicants, or only accept applicants who have been recommended. They grant their members post-nominal letters which they can add after their name. For example, as a fellow of the Linnean Society I can now put FLS after my name. These are especially useful societies to join because having those letters after your name in emails or on business cards and leaflets is an immediate sign to those reading that you have been recognised by others in the same profession.

Whether it is worthwhile to join a learned/professional society will depend on your career. For some it is compulsory, for some it is prestigious and useful, whereas for some it is just another cost for you to pay. However, there is usually a place to list your membership on job applications and you can also include it on fliers and business cards if you are self-employed, so if you find yourself looking for work right now, it might well be worthwhile!

Most professional and learned societies will require evidence that you have undertaken or are undertaking some formal training or education in your profession. Doing a course with the Academy for Distance Learning is a fantastic way to prove that you have been trained in your profession, and we even offer courses accredited by, for example, the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers and the Royal Horticultural Society.

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