I currently work for one professional body and volunteer for another, so you won't be surprised that I think professional standards and vocational qualifications are important things. Both organisations (the CIPD and the IoIC) are dependent upon lots of people agreeing with me in order to function. But I don't believe this because I am involved in professional bodies – rather, I am involved in professional bodies because I believe this.

At what point did that belief start to emerge? I can pinpoint it very clearly: it was during the application process for my Postgraduate Diploma in Internal Communication Management – run by Kingston Business School at the time, and now bulked up to a full Masters and run by the IoIC and Solent University.

A decade before this, I'd twice given up the chance to study at university. After getting four decent A-levels I was expected to be the first person in my family to go. And I guess, if you count a month at one university and a couple of weeks at another, I sort of did… though I think it's much fairer if we give my sister that honour. It wasn't for me at the time – I struggled to cope away from home and felt lonely and lost. So, those brief attempts aside, I went straight from school to work.

Over the next ten or so years, I steadily worked my way towards a comms career via being a sales assistant in a record shop, a finance administrator and a fundraiser. Those are all jobs that give you some transferable skills that are useful in comms, and I'd always had some natural aptitude for writing and design, but they are by no means enough. As I wrote in my post on professionalism in IC last year, I often had very little idea what I was doing. I applied for the course at Kingston to help me address some of that (and – to an extent - the feeling that I'd missed out by not studying after school).

Since I didn't have an undergraduate degree, the course director (Liz – who is both lovely and full of knowledge) asked me to complete a test assignment before I could be enrolled. It was on the role of line managers in effective communication. As well as the question she wanted me to answer, Liz sent me a couple of research papers and a reading list of other useful sources. I was a bit nervous about the academic writing, which I'd never done, but as I started reading I discovered a wealth of interesting things – about the size of line managers' influence on the employee experience, about when they are the right channel for sharing information (and when they are not) and about their particular role in helping to localise information in organisations with diverse sub-cultures. I also had to say what these things would mean on a practical level for the organisation I was working in at the time – so it was grounded in real life.

This sounds geeky I know, but my mind was pretty much blown. Up until that point, almost all of my decisions and recommendations at work were based on gut feel. That didn't mean I was wrong all the time – but it definitely meant I was wrong sometimes. And even when I was right, I often had a hard time getting anyone to go along with me.

As the course went on, I was adding more to my locker the whole time – more evidence (and the ability to separate good evidence from bad), better understanding of my own organisation (because I had the tools to analyse it properly) and learning from honest reflection on the things I'd tried (successfully or otherwise). I reckon I became twice as effective as a professional simply through undertaking the qualification. And since finishing the course, I have continued my commitment to learning through continuous professional development: seeking out new sources of knowledge (and opportunities to impart it); reflecting on what I've learnt; and taking action based on the learning. I use the IoIC system to log it all and link it all directly back to the IoIC profession map.

These things – qualifications, CPD, professional standards – don't exist to prop up professional bodies or to make work feel like school. They exist because, used in the right way, they can help us learn, grow and get better at what we do. The Diploma changed my approach to work – I analysed the context I was working within better, made more evidence-based decisions and argued my case more credibly. Those disciplines have also helped me to broaden my career out beyond IC - into corporate communication, stakeholder engagement, operations and strategy. So when I advocate for professional development (and particularly the Masters), I do so because I know the difference it can make. And it is that, more than anything else, that gives me my belief in the work of professional bodies like the IoIC.

With all that in mind, I'll say this – there are places still available on the Masters in Internal Communication Management that starts in September. If you work in IC and have been playing around with the idea of studying… maybe this should be your year.