SSDPers as Academics and Drug Policy Scholars

SSDPers as Academics and Drug Policy Scholars

As SSDPers take on an impressive range of events, initiatives, and policy changes this semester, it is important to consider how these activities can be showcased in your academic and professional life. Many SSDPers will work to incorporate drug policy topics into coursework due to the interdisciplinary nature of reform work, which is such a fun way to blend your assignments and outside interests. In thinking about how you can further connect your academic and activist life, I want to encourage students (whether you are fresh on campus or are graduating in December) to consider how your work can be recognized outside of the reform community and permeate the academic setting through published research and academic papers.

Some undergraduates will be required (or highly encouraged) to conduct thesis work. A thesis or capstone project is an incredible opportunity for students to showcase their knowledge and understanding of the drug war, propose policy change, and evaluate policy implementation. If you are required to conduct thesis research, I highly recommend thinking about how your research and time can be incorporated into the broader academic setting. Specifically, begin to ask advisors and faculty members about the associations, journals, and presentation opportunities (on and off campus) where you can showcase your material. Publishing academic texts while in undergrad is an incredible way to separate yourself from other candidates for jobs and graduate school. Additionally, it’s a chance for you to become an expert in a nuanced area of drug policy, which will undoubtedly contribute to your activist work. If you are already writing papers, making presentations, or researching for a thesis project, why not take it one step further and show your work to the rest of your academic field?

Undergraduate biochemical and policy research on drugs is critical for normalizing the conversation around drugs. One of the greatest challenges facing faculty members in researching drugs and drug policy is the lack of funding. Luckily, for undergraduates, your academic interests are not directly tied to grant funding by the National Institutes of Health or other major funders. The intersectionality of drugs and drug policy permit students of any major to combine their academic pursuits with research to further ending the drug war. Thus, the potential for undergraduates to lead the conservation for research on drugs and drug policy is an unparalleled opportunity. You may be asking yourself where or when to start. The answer is, right where you are and now! Making connections with faculty members will help you to narrow in on a topic to begin writing with a purpose. I suggest that you begin by finding a conference or journal that is accepting abstracts for publication and look at past submissions. Find the deadline, submit an abstract, and (if you haven’t already finished) write a piece where you dive into your area of interest. Many journals will be particularly interested in the submissions of undergraduate students.

One of the most amazing parts of undergraduate research is that very few undergrads take advantage of the opportunity to present at conferences and submit to journals. Department heads (in my experience) will be impressed by students who seek such recognition and therefore are often willing to help finance trips to attend conferences or offer editing support for students. Conferences are one of the best parts of academia! Who knows, your abstract may take you across the world where you can present to an international group! Moreover, your institution will likely have an office dedicated to undergraduate research. Reach out to your campus liaisons and let them know you are interested in attending professional conferences and publishing in journals. They may be able to point you to scholarships, opportunities, and interested faculty who can support your endeavors.

Unfortunately, taking on academic research, publishing, and attending professional conferences are not a perfect sciences nor do they have a particular road maps. However, if you are passionate about engaging the conversation on the end of prohibition within your field, it is critical to speak in the language of other academics (i.e. journal publications, abstracts, and conference presentations). If you are interested in continuing your education after undergrad, start to think about setting yourself apart from your peers by becoming a published drug policy scholar. Of course, remember that research, writing, and presentations may not be accepted on the first attempt. However, it is the process of conducting research that is so valuable for students of all levels. The hard work of pursuing such endeavors (whether or not your paper is accepted) is an opportunity to practice critical thinking and to learn the research publication process. On a final note, if you do get accepted to present at a conference, are published in a journal, etc., notify your campus media, department, or any other relevant office so they can showcase your work to the rest of campus! Good luck, scholars.


If you have questions about navigating research funding, seek tips for reaching out to faculty, or have general inquiries about research, feel free to email me at