Jo Bland graduated from Queen Margaret University’s (QMU) MSc Strategic Communications and Public Relations course in 2017. Already working as a senior communications professional within the NHS, Jo wanted to develop a deeper understanding of the industry and enhance her employability prospects. Within a year of graduating, she was appointed Head of Strategic Engagement and Internal Communications for NHS Digital and has led her team to numerous successes and industry awards.
Here, Jo tells us more about her experience at QMU, how the MSc has boosted her practice, and advice she has for others considering a return to higher education.
Why did you choose to study at QMU, and what attracted you to the course?
A few years before, I'd undertaken the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Internal Communications Diploma with QMU. As I was based in Newcastle the idea of travelling to Edinburgh beat London every time.
I'd really enjoyed the learning experience, the teaching staff were outstanding and incredibly supportive, so when I decided to do an MSc in Strategic Communications and Public Relations, QMU was my first choice even though by that time London was easier to get to!
What did you enjoy most about your course? What were the highlights?
I liked the opportunity to pick and choose from a wide range of modules that were relevant to my everyday work. They provided a rich theoretical grounding in areas which are relevant to current communications and public relations practice. I could use what I was learning, but more than that, I could explain the theory behind why I'd chosen a specific course of action - everything was relevant.
Were there any particular course activities you found especially interesting?
If I had to pick one module which I really enjoyed it would be the Strategic Communications module. All the lectures were on a Friday and Saturday which meant I could really focus. But the real draw were my fellow students who I shared this part of my learning journey with. They were a great bunch, originating from all over Europe, and I'm still in touch with them now. Their company made the whole experience much more enjoyable.
How did your lecturers support your learning?
The lecturers are the best thing about the MSc. They are a brilliant team and made learning relevant, engaging and digestible. Perhaps the best teaching I've encountered in all my learning! Approachable, professionally accomplished and academically knowledgeable.
What challenges did you face with the course and/or university life? How did you overcome them?
Working full-time and studying at the same time with a family was always going to be a challenge, especially as lectures were a three-hour drive away. I made the most of travelling to Edinburgh by combining it with visits to friends. To handle and balance the demands, I opted to study part-time. Sometimes that was tricky and I felt out of touch, but it meant I could choose the modules I was most interested in each semester.
Did you take part in a placement as part of your course and if so, can you tell me a little about that experience?
No, I was working full time so could apply my learning immediately. In hindsight, if I could've gone on a placement to a different organisation to broaden my experience at the same level at which I was working at, that would've been really valuable.
Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in this course?
Plan ahead. Do your research and work out how you want to manage your studies. Life will get in the way, so thinking about how you'll manage your time is essential, especially if you're studying part-time. I'd say do an MSc - the deeper knowledge makes a real difference to your practice, and in turn it boosts your employability.
Life as a Student at QMU
What’s your ‘top tip’ for making the most of being a student?
Be a committed student. It helps to find work in the area that you're learning about, even if it's voluntary, ad hoc or part-time. Nothing beats being able to put your learning into practice, and it shows true commitment.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned at university?
Academic study at master’s level takes focus. Phew, my brain ached some days! That said, it was worth it, for sure.
Can you tell us about your life post-graduation?
I was a senior communications manager in the NHS in a regional organisation when I started my studies. A year after graduating, I'd become a head of communications in a national organisation managing their strategic engagement and internal communications and my team have won a number of industry awards. The difference that the learning and the qualification made in enabling me to move up the career ladder and boost my practice is immeasurable.
"The difference that the learning and the qualification made in enabling me to move up the career ladder and boost my practice is immeasurable."
[Published May 2019]