Drug researcher

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Paul, 35

Paul believes we should do our utmost to help society's most disadvantaged. His research on patterns of drug abuse and associated problems helps determine government policy and how and where to establish operational and outreach services. Find out more:

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Fact file

Job description: Investigates the patterns, prevalence and problems associated with drug use in Victoria, including heroin, alcohol and prescription drugs; contributes to the development of drug policy; manages staff involved in projects relating to this research.

Subjects studied: Physics, Chemistry, Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and English

Further training: Paul has an Honours Degree in Psychology from Monash University (6 years); PhD in Psychology at Monash University (5 years); and has done a short course in Advanced Epidemiology at the Australian National University.

Salary: Between $57,000 and $67,000

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Profile

Liver cirrhosis, car accidents and overdose are harmful, sometimes fatal, side-effects of drug use, whether the drug in question is heroin, alcohol or prescription. To alleviate the damage and suffering from these problems, operational and outreach services must be located where they are most needed.

That's where Paul come in. For the past six years he has been documenting drug use in Victoria at the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre. He now manages a staff of about 16 working across the state.

"One of the most satisfying things about my work is that we make a difference to the wider community. For example, our research has provided a better understanding of issues surrounding heroin overdose. That meant mobile overdose response teams could be deployed in Melbourne's 'hot spots'. By charting the pattern of heroin overdose in local areas, we knew where to place the necessary services."

Paul's research also benefits those who survive an overdose. "Survivors of an overdose are in crisis. Often, they need debriefing on what happened to them, and they may even require access to housing."

"The focus is on heroin at the moment. But you've really got to keep it in perspective. There are almost as many ambulance attendees to people who are taking too many prescribed medicines. Alcohol and tobacco are much bigger problems to society than heroin is ever likely to be."

A fork in the road

When Paul left school, he thought he would follow in his father's footsteps and become an engineer. So he enrolled in environmental engineering, but found it narrow in scope. He became bored.

Some people really worry about changing fields midstream. Not Paul. "I wasn't concerned about switching from engineering to arts and later back to science. Public health science requires an understanding across a variety of disciplines - and I find that both rewarding and challenging." Not only did Paul enjoy his studies, but also, importantly, it led him to satisfying work.

"The production and dissemination of research findings in this area makes me feel as though I actually make a contribution to the development of drug policy and responses in the state - and that I have a positive impact on the lives of people who use drugs. The only down-side is the high workload and long hours."

Paul has also developed expertise that is much in demand. He has been awarded several scholarships and fellowships to allow him to broaden his experience. "I usually attend at least one international and one national conference each year. The way different countries deal with the universal drugs problem indicates that Victoria and Australia actually lead the way in the sorts of responses being devised."

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Job specs

Personal requirements

  • Interested in people and human behaviour
  • Able to solve problems 
  • An inquisitive mind 
  • Patience and perceptiveness 
  • Good oral and written communication skills

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Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).