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Love or loathe them, post-nominals are part of academic and professional life

Dr Jonathan Backhouse CFIOSH explores the role and significance of using post-nominals to indicate their owner’s professional identity. He provides examples of how they are misused and abused, in the context of the occupational safety and health profession and describes the conventions in place and the options that the holder can adopt to represent best who they are and what they do

Within the occupational safety and health (OSH) profession, there are several common post-nominals, including those which signify university qualifications, professional qualifications and membership of professional bodies.

These are often found on LinkedIn profiles, quoted at the bottom of emails, and on business cards. They indicate our professional identity; they let the reader know who we are and what we do.

Abuse and misuse

We should not mislead others by claiming to be something we are not or making up post-nominals. Regrettably, I have seen both types of errors in books/articles and on LinkedIn. To mislead intentionally or otherwise is both unprofessional and unethical.

For obvious reasons, I will not name and shame. However, I will share some OSH examples of what not to use.

  • CertIOSH – denoting a certificate awarded by IOSH
  • CertNEBOSH – denoting a NEBOSH certificate
  • OSHCR – denoting a paid subscription to the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register public register
  • PTLLS - denoting a Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector certificate
  • QTLS – denoting Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status.

Following convention

Within the UK, it is not regular practice to have internal full stops or commas to separate each set of letters (unless an institution is named). Likewise, it is not usual practice to place parentheses around the post-nominals.

While there are differences of opinion on the hierarchy of post-nominals, in the UK, they broadly follow decorations and honours by the Crown; appointments by the Queen; university degrees and professional qualifications; membership of religious orders and medical qualifications; fellowships/memberships of learned societies, academies and professional institutions; member of parliament; and finally, member of Armed Forces.

Within university degrees and professional qualifications (if used by the holder), they would follow the convention of degrees (in order, bachelors', masters', doctorates and higher degrees), then diplomas and certificates are placed at the end of the list. The holder of a doctorate can also use the title Dr or their post-nominal (DProf, PhD, MD, etc.), but not at the same time.

The use of post-nominals is viewed as a key benefit of membership of a professional body, nevertheless, it is the holder's decision to use post-nominals for their membership to professional institutions by subscription. Generally speaking, the holders’/contexts’ more meaningful post-nominal membership would come first.

There is a subjective aspect to the importance of post-nominals. For example, my first university qualification was the Certificate in Education (CertEd). As a trainer within OSH, I wanted to become a qualified educator – to better support my students. In addition, I believe that those teaching should have a suitable qualification, i.e., beyond a PTLLS qualification. While my CertEd is important to me – and hopefully my students and those I teach on behalf of value it – it is now almost 20 years old and, therefore, it could be argued is no longer current. It does not demonstrate my Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in education. I, therefore, undertake education relevant CPD courses and record them within my IOSH CPD record. I realise that my CertEd post-nominals carry little significant meaning to others, but to me I am proud to be qualified educator.

Likewise, post-nominals awarded by universities and/or professional bodies only provide a snapshot in time. They demonstrate the significant achievements of the holder. However, membership organisations that award post-nominals, such as IOSH, allow the holder the ability to confirm their CPD, adherence to the IOSH Code of Conduct, etc. These should, therefore, hold more weight. Whether TechIOSH, GradIOSH, CMIOSH or CFIOSH, they validate the OSH professional’s continuing application of knowledge gained from their university and/or professional qualification. The same is true for OSH professionals and other professionals in additional areas, such as education, quality, and environment.

Post-nominals for memberships for OSH professionals have changed over time. Within IOSH, corporate members are either CMIOSH/CFIOSH or MIOSH/FIOSH, the latter indicating retired chartered or fellow member status.

The following etiquette would depend upon the academic, professional, or social setting. For example, in an academic/education setting, I may consider using qualifications and memberships in full following this hierarchy: university degrees + diplomas + certificates (ascending (then alphabetical) order); + memberships (in order of significance); i.e.,

Dr Jonathan Backhouse BA(Hons) MA MRes DipNEBOSH EnvDipNEBOSH CertEd CFIOSH MIFireE

Yet, a long string of letters after my name could be confusing or pretentious! It could also be argued that my Dr would supersede both my masters; in the same way, my MRes supersedes DipNEBOSH and EnvDipNEBOSH, and my MA supersedes my BA(Hons) and my CertEd. Therefore, the evolution of my qualification post-nominals would be as follows:

Jonathan Backhouse CertEd

  • BA(Hons)
  • MA MRes
  • DProf

Discussion and conclusions

I mentioned above how post-nominals indicate our professional identity, which I defined within my doctoral research as:

the ongoing critical reflection of the sum of the professional's values, motives, competencies, and contributions made within their community of practice.

From early on in my professional career, I valued being the best consultant and trainer I could be, motivated to help my clients and students achieve their potential. During this time, I set myself the goal of gaining a doctorate, with the hope that this would give me the credibility I desired, to help me overcome my imposter syndrome.

For almost my entire OSH professional career, IOSH has played an instrumental role. I have been a volunteer with IOSH; initially as part of the IOSH Tees Branch, for over ten years, and now as an elected member of their Council. Consequently, CFIOSH
is more than just a set of post-nominals.

In contrast, my membership in the Institute of Fire Engineers was gained solely to confirm my competence in carrying out fire risk assessments (gained following several years' experience and completing a Masters of Research).

In a professional context, I use Dr Jonathan Backhouse CFIOSH; or Dr Jonathan Backhouse CFIOSH MIFireE when I am undertaking fire risk assessments.

As mentioned above, my membership of IOSH implies my OSH university degrees and professional qualifications without listing them.

Remember, the use of post-nominals is optional, i.e., you can miss some out if you wish, but you should include these as in order. For example, in most cases, this is likely to be as follows: university qualifications ascending; professional diplomas; and memberships in order of personal significance.

However, if like me, you use LinkedIn, it is worth including, somewhere, all your post-nominals, as this may help others find you.

Finally, since our titles/post-nominals help us form part of our professional identity, how and when we use them is up to us. We should avoid misleading information and may update (if needed) to follow convention.

Dr Jonathan Backhouse, BA(Hons) MA MRes DipNEBOSH EnvDipNEBOSH CertEd CFIOSH MIFireE, is an independent scholar, occupational safety and health consultant, trainer, author, fire risk assessor, and an elected member of the IOSH Council.

*The content of this page are the opinions of the author and not those of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)*

Find out more about why post-nominals are important here.

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