Reflections on integrating multiple professional roles: where do I go from here?

Dijana Jerković is a practitioner, a policy-maker and a researcher in drug prevention. In this article, she introduces herself and her work, using this opportunity to reflect on the specific challenge of closing the gap between research, policy and practice at an intrapersonal level.

“Lifelong learning” and “investing time and energy in personal beliefs” are leitmotifs that have guided me through life since my childhood. As a result, today I have different professional roles, and therefore I’ve decided to write a few words about challenges that arise from this multiplicity. In line with that, in the following text I write about my experience and present it as a simplified version of a case study.

The practitioner

Before I started working in the field of drug abuse prevention, I worked as a social pedagogue in the social welfare system and in a non-governmental organization. This three-year experience was invaluable for me, since I had a chance to directly work with individuals, groups and families at risks for numerous behavioural disorders. In addition, skills, knowledge and experience that I gained throughout my education in Integrative Psychotherapy, and in my (ongoing) work with clients have been particularly useful for my professional engagement, as well as for my personal development.

The policy-maker

In 2009 I started working at the Office for Combating Drugs Abuse of the Government of the Republic of Croatia. At this job I had a broad range of different tasks, such as organizing workshops and events for drug professionals, monitoring new psychoactive substances and collecting and analysing data on the drug situation in Croatia. Prevention seemed to be a field that required some additional attention, since most of the conducted activities were isolated, fragmented, and not evaluated. This conclusion was a starting point for the project on enhancing prevention practice in Croatia, which started in 2010 and was conducted in cooperation with the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Zagreb and non-governmental organizations (i.e. project providers). These efforts were supported by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and recognized as an example project by the Prevention Standards Partnership. Although a slight improvement in prevention practice was achieved in the last few years, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Hopefully, there will be opportunities to continue with investments in prevention quality, since most of the activities within this project were suspended in 2015 due to funding cuts.

The scientist

Keeping in mind the importance of integrating science and practice, in 2011/2012 I became a PhD candidate in the postgraduate doctoral programme Prevention Science and Disability Studies, modality: Prevention Science – Mental and Behavioural Disorders Prevention and Mental Health Promotion, at the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Zagreb. I was very interested in the programme and, in December 2015, I defended my doctoral dissertation on the topic “Self-determination of students in student dormitories and frequency of alcohol and cannabinoids consumption” (contains the abstract in English). I chose this topic because I was interested in exploring some motivational factors for alcohol and cannabis consumption among students that live with their peers. Self-determination theory was an interesting starting point, since it presents a well-established motivational theory that has not been tested much in the context of substances consumption.

The whole PhD process was very inspiring and challenging, especially for somebody like me who was not from Academia. Although my supervisors (Associate Professor Valentina Kranželić, PhD; and Assistant Professor Martina Lotar Rihtarić, PhD) supported my autonomy and competence (basic needs according to Self-Determination Theory), it was quite demanding to change my perception and to start thinking as a researcher. In spite of that, I managed to enjoy discovering a completely new world that consisted of balancing between my work at the Government Office and getting ideas for my thesis, planning research, organizing and conducting the field work, learning statistics and working in SPSS, writing chapters and finally defending my dissertation. I have to emphasise that a strong wind at my back was the Science for Prevention Academic Network (SPAN) 2nd poster prize that I received in October 2015 in Ljubljana during the 6th European Society for Prevention Research conference. I perceived this as a confirmation of my short (but intense) experience as a researcher and as an important support from European colleagues.

Dijana Jerkovic SPAN 2nd Poster Prize

Dijana received the SPAN Early Career Poster 2nd Prize at the 6th European Society for Prevention Research (EUSPR) conference in Ljubljana (© Dijana Jerković)

Challenges arising from multiplicity of roles

While writing this article, I have noticed that my view on different professional roles is a bit fragmented. Although my approach to this topic has been quite linear (new knowledge and interests should lead to further development), I realise that it is not enough to keep these roles split. Their integration presents an added value, which can result in all sorts of possibilities. For instance, at my current work, having a PhD is not a requirement, but it can help me to better understand goals that I’m trying to accomplish in drug prevention. Since I’m a new researcher, the following months will be a good platform for thinking and guiding my future work and interests. I don’t think that I’ve fully managed to integrate my previous experience and new competencies yet, and I feel that this challenge is still on the table!

I will conclude these reflections with my dilemma and a crucial identity question that is linked with this newly emerged multiplicity of roles: Is it feasible (and if yes – in what way?) to stay at the same place and still go beyond your limits?


About the author:

My name is Dijana Jerković. I was born in 1982 in Croatia, and I hold an MA in social pedagogy, a European Certificate in Psychotherapy and a PhD in Prevention Science. I work as a Senior Expert Advisor at the Office for Combating Drugs Abuse of the Government of the Republic of Croatia (National Focal Point for EMCDDA), where I make efforts to enhance the quality of drug prevention projects in Croatia. My interests are focused on drugs (and other substances) abuse prevention: aetiology, epidemiology, and enhancement of the quality of prevention projects via linking research, policy and practice. If you have questions or comments about my work and/or you are interested in exchanging ideas, please feel free to contact me (e-mail: dijana.jerkovich[at]


4 thoughts on “Reflections on integrating multiple professional roles: where do I go from here?

  1. Thank you Dijana for the post! It touched me as I also am trying to find balance between role of a researcher and working as a policy-maker. Lately I have received several times questions such as “is it really necessary to do this?” when trying to put more emphasis on science-based evaluation of our activities and projects.
    I feel that the integration of different professional roles is an added value, but can sometimes be a challenge as well! Good luck for you!

    • Dear Karin,
      Thank you for your comment! I’m glad that we share similar experience and I agree with your impression that, when you act from a policy-maker’s perspective, keeping a scientific view could be quite challenging. Thanks again and good luck to you too!

  2. Dear Dijana, I thought this reflection was very interesting, thanks for sharing. I always thought it would help me a lot if I also had the experience of being a practitioner or policy-maker, but your post alerted me to the fact that it can be difficult to benefit from having multiple experiences unless you succeed in integrating them. I think we often face such challenges without being aware of it, even *within* the researcher identity. In my case, for several years I struggled to reconcile my ‘urban sociologist’ and my ‘prevention researcher’ identities, and for a number of years I always thought of myself as an urban sociologist who is “temporarily” or “also” doing prevention research. But at one point I realised that my professional interests have actually developed and shifted so much that prevention is really my main, not my side interest (at least for the moment!). In my case this has meant reorientating a PhD that started out as ‘urban studies’ towards drugs & prevention topics. This was a long and complicated process, even more in my head/heart than it was administratively! I think it’s natural that such shifts happen over the professional career (although your example is perhaps one of the more extreme ones). My guess is that time pressures & work commitments often mean that we are forced to *move on* from one identity to the next instead of having the chance to really integrate them and benefit from the synthesis. Probably most people never even have (take?) the chance to stop and ask the questions you explored in your post, so it seems to me that you’re on the right track and I wish you good luck for resolving your dilemma in the coming months! Thanks again for this inspiring and thoughtful post.

    • Dear Angelina,
      Thank you very much for your comment! I agree with your idea that people often face challenges in integrating multiple professional experiences without being aware of it; or they simply don’t have enough time / capacity / opportunities for a comprehensive synthesis of different roles. Your experience with shifting research interests from urban sociology to drug prevention is a good example of expanding your research identity, and I believe you understand very well how painful separation from previous interests / roles could be.
      I think that finding balance between different professional roles is a challenge that, among other things, requires good organizational and social skills, some degree of professional “maturity” and enough time. Thanks again for your support and good luck to you too!

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