Friday, November 11, 2011

You’re Doing What With Your Major?

Spotlight on UK Alumnus Allan Barger

Major: Bachelor’s degree from Berea College, and master’s degrees from Duke University and the University of Kentucky (social work).

Current career: Research analyst at Prevention Research Institute

Brief description of career path: I hold an MSW degree and am using it in a somewhat unusual way. Rather than the typical, clinical, case management or other type of social work jobs, I am a research analyst (using the research skills learned in my degree program). I distill research findings down into evidence-based, manualized programs for people heading into trouble with alcohol and drugs.

I have 25 years of experience in the alcohol/drug field, having worked first as a community volunteer and then as a prevention specialist in a mental health center. Currently I am a research analyst/trainer with Prevention Research Institute reviewing research literature on marijuana, other drugs and their effects in the brain and on behavioral outcomes. I am a member of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the New York Academy of Sciences. I live in California but teach nationally to professionals in many systems interacting with alcohol/drug-using individuals, including campuses, mental health centers, juvenile justice, drug court, judicial colleges, prevention, treatment & DUI programs.

I am also currently involved in developing alcohol and drug prevention and intervention programs for soldiers in the U.S. Army. This work involves training other professionals and working to influence public policy to increase support for alcohol and drug professionals and their programs.

Favorite UK class or memory: My favorite class was a surprise because I thought I would hate it. It was a class on public policy. It opened my eyes to how much policy is impacting all of my work. While I, like many others, tended to denigrate “politicians,” they are in fact setting policy that changes how I get to do my job and they’re often doing it based on who talks to them and explains things most clearly. Most policy-makers are well-meaning individuals who want to help (within the constraints of time, finances and re-election where applicable). Social work swims in a sea of policy and the failure to recognize that made me sit on the sidelines instead of using my voice.

Classes I wish I had taken at UK or in college: I wish I had studied some journalism. I’m a decent writer, but the ability to investigate, report and influence public opinion seems crucial and I’m not as well-versed in it as I would like to be.

What I know now that I didn’t know as a student:
Lesson 1: Don’t be so certain you’re right.
Lesson 2: Things work out.

Advice to others considering a job or career change: Go with your interests and your strengths. Don’t be afraid to tackle something you don’t understand but find fascinating, but get some understanding first. Take the time and energy to teach yourself, look for mentors who are already doing what you want to do and follow your passion. Watch for doors to open and don’t get discouraged. Little doors often open the way to big changes if you walk through enough of them.

Anything else you would like to share that others may find interesting about your life/career path? I was a non-traditional student, meaning I finished my degree in mid-life. I completely re-started my career and my life at age 40.

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