How to master the art of studying internal comms

What’s the reality of studying a qualification in internal communication while working at the same time? Is it possible to successfully do both, and what does it feel like when you achieve it?

VickiOConnellYou’re in the right place to find out as communicator Vicki O’Connell (pictured) has written a guest post hot on the heels of graduating from Kington Business School’s new Master’s Degree in Internal Communications Management a couple of weeks ago.

I had the pleasure of meeting her class last year when I was asked to guest speak and led a session on social media and internal communication.

Congratulations to all the graduates and teachers – you should all feel justifiably proud, particularly as you’re the first cohort.

Regular readers of my blog will know I’m keen to encourage professional development within internal communication. I volunteer on committees, mentor comms pros and coach my clients and contacts to help them achieve excellence.

You can find a complete list of IC qualifications at the end of this article to help guide you through the available choices if you’re thinking of studying. I studied the Kingston post-graduate diploma in Internal Communications Management 2008-9 and thoroughly recommend it. The next Masters course will start September 2015.

Vicki @VickiO_C has a background in both internal and external communication predominantly within the financial services sector. Her motivation to study for an MA came from her desire to learn more about the impact communications, (both good and bad), has on an individual and an organisation.

Over to you Vicki…

How to master the art of studying internal communication

In August 2013 my colleague uttered 18 words that would change the next 18 months of my life… “Oh look – Kingston Business School and Capita have launched a brand new Master’s Degree in Internal Communications Management.”

As someone who had made a conscious decision not to go to University, I was a little unsure as to whether there would be any merit in considering an MA – but after a quick chat with the Course Director, which included an overview of my 15 plus years in communication roles and a ‘test assignment’ – it was all systems go!

I look back now and realise from my initial thought of … “I wonder if I could do that” to becoming a fully fledged mature student, was little short of six weeks. The minimal time lapse was probably a blessing, as more time to consider what I was letting myself in for may have resulted in a different outcome!

My employer sponsored my qualification, which was great in so many ways, but the most practical being that from day one, I didn’t have to juggle holidays to fit in the 10 ‘face-to-face’ Uni days needed to cover my four modules.

The nervousness I felt on day one, module one, was on par with my teenage years when life was full of angst.

I can still vividly remember how fast my heart was racing as I walked onto campus at Kingston Uni. It was only when I realised that the others in my pre assigned study group were feeling as anxious as I was that my heart rate returned to normal!

Group GraduationAnd on the subject of study groups, Lady Luck was definitely on my side when the groups were formed. I relied so much on my three study buddies over our intense year-long course.They were my sanity, my sounding board and I’m certain after our shared experience – my friends for life.

No-one could have prepared me for the roller coaster of emotions that would hit me over the next 12 months.

The frustration at not grasping the academic writing style that is so different from the style and tone we use at work; The equal measures of joy and complete terror that rushed through my body as I pressed send on my first assignment; matched only by a level of apprehension that I didn’t think possible waiting for the first set of results. The despondency of scraping a pass in one module was washed away by the elation of getting a distinction in another.

But, by far my biggest emotion across my year of study, somewhat surprisingly, was guilt – of every kind!

  • Guilt that I had my head in a book, leaving my husband to clean, cook and sort the family!
  • Guilt that I couldn’t go to friends’ birthday drinks, or BBQs, or host the usual family gatherings – I had deadlines to meet.
  • Guilt that it was a sunny day but I wasn’t out with my children – I was posting my online discussion boards.
  • Guilt that I ate so many naughty sugar filled treats to keep me awake on the late study nights, yet didn’t exercise at all.
  • Guilt that my tutors had to coach me on points that I should surely know – (our tutors had the patience of saints – marvellous people!)
  • Guilt that I no longer had the few hours on a Saturday morning where I could usually sneak in a few extra work hours during busy periods, as they were now dedicated to study. (And boy did I need those few extra hours – during my year of Uni we changed MDs, integrated two businesses, announced a change of leadership location and kick started one of the biggest projects in our history!)
  • And the worst of all…Guilt that despite how guilty I felt about everything else I was really enjoying the course and loved (most of!) the topics and how they were relevant to my day-to-day work.

So, during my year of study I cried, I laughed (sometimes out of hysteria I think!) and I nearly gave it all up, but I am so very glad I didn’t. The end of my study journey was 21 January 2015 – Graduation day. And just like every day of my MA, it was filled with emotion.

  • Joy – to see my course friends and study buddies, all of whom I have really missed since we completed our Masters.
  • Nervousness – heels, gowns, stage, a large crowd – what was there to be nervous of?
  • Overwhelmed – seeing how proud my Mum, Dad and husband were of me.
  • Guilt (again!) that I had made the children go to school!
  • Gratitude – to my tutors, friends, family and my employer who made this day possible
  • And of course…Pride – we did it! We were the first cohort to qualify with a Master’s Degree in Internal Communications Management from Kingston University! (and a little extra pride, as I found out at my Graduation that I had been awarded the Course Directors Award for best all round performance and transformation from beginning to end.)

I’ve been asked several times what advice I would give to anyone looking to study on top of their already busy job and this is what I say:

  • Do it with your eyes wide open.
  • Don’t underestimate the mental strength you need and which you’ll find when you need it – just dig deep!
  • Make sure you have people around to support you and rely on them when you need to.
  • But most of all – enjoy the experience – I have made lifelong friends and genuinely feel that I can do my job with more empathy, focus and determination as a result of my year trying to MAster study!

Post author: Vicki O’Connell.

Thank you for sharing your experiences Vicki, and congratulations again.

Further reading and courses


All you need to know to develop your IC career

How to save money investing in your career – exclusive deal for readers of my blog to save on the cost of PR Week’s PR360 events including the Internal Communication Focus Day on 30 April 2015.

Discover your next role – check out my jobs page to browse the latest global comms vacancies.

Kingston and Capita Masters in Internal Communications Management course
Kingston and Capita Post-graduate diploma in Internal Communications Management
Qualifications from CIPR
IoIC internal communication courses
Melcrum’s Black Belt programme
PR Academy qualifications
Accelerate internal comms courses (run by Gatehouse & IoIC)

Plus… look out for information about new Masterclass one-day courses All Things IC will be introducing in 2016.


First published on All Things IC blog 4 February 2015.

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