Criminologists work for law enforcement agencies such as police departments, courts, and forensic labs. They assist everyone from FBI agents to parole officers in a variety of ways to prevent, reduce, and mitigate criminal activity. Learn more about what a criminologist does and how to become one.
What Exactly Is a Criminologist?
A criminologist is a sociologist who specializes in crime. They investigate the psychological and sociological causes of criminal behavior and make recommendations for crime prevention. Their work is useful in criminal investigations, policymaking, recidivism reduction, and a variety of other fields.
What Is the Role of a Criminologist?
Criminologists approach their work from a variety of perspectives. Here are a few examples of daily tasks you might see in a job description:
Providing assistance to criminal investigators: Criminologists collaborate with crime scene investigators to identify suspects and important evidence. While not as hands-on as a homicide detective or autopsy examiner, their research gives those on the ground a better understanding of their own professions.
Making rehabilitation easier: To keep people from becoming repeat offenders, criminologists frequently collaborate with corrections officers and social workers. They may also collaborate with mental health professionals, who can provide incarcerated people with the tools they need to become productive members of society.
Providing potential solutions: Criminologists devote a significant amount of time to researching the causes of crime, which allows them to propose potential solutions to mitigate these causes. They give public policymakers ideas on how to improve the criminal justice system or address societal ills that can lead to an increase in crime.
Investigating criminal behavior: Understanding human behavior is important in crime prevention. Criminologists frequently collaborate with criminal profilers, such as former FBI criminal profiler John Douglas, to investigate what drives people to commit crimes. This facilitates the identification of suspects in real time.
Generally Studying Crime: In general, criminology is a research-intensive discipline and profession. You'll spend more time reading about violent crime than actually fighting it. Compiling reports on forensic science, sociology, and criminal behavior helps police officers and other investigators fight crime more effectively.
Job Requirements in Criminology
To become a criminologist, you must have extensive education, experience, and knowledge. These are just a few of the prerequisites for a career in criminology or criminal justice:
Higher education: If possible, look for a college that offers a criminology degree program. Consider studying a different but related social science as an alternative. Most jobs in this field require a bachelor's degree, and a master's degree is even more advantageous.
Prior experience: Look for opportunities to work or intern in a related field while studying criminology. You don't have to find something specifically related to criminology right away, but gaining experience in the general criminal law arena is beneficial. You could, for example, intern for a forensic psychologist or work in a police department.
Psychological knowledge: To be a successful criminologist, you must have a strong understanding of psychology and sociology. Spend time in and out of school learning about the human psyche and what motivates people to commit criminal acts.
How to Work as a Criminologist
Here are some things to consider if you decide to pursue a career in criminology:
Think about specializing. Because there are so many different career paths in criminology, narrowing your focus can be beneficial. You could try to concentrate on a specific type of crime (such as homicide or white-collar fraud) or investigate what it takes to work for a specific government agency. This will allow you to better tailor your internships and studies to your future career goals.
Gain law enforcement experience. If you look for entry-level law enforcement jobs right out of high school, you'll have more career options in the long run. Consider pursuing a career as a police officer. Consider working as an intern for a private investigator or a probation officer. This type of experience will look great on a résumé for a more advanced position in criminology.
Pursue a higher education. Most criminologist jobs require advanced degrees, so a high level of education is recommended for the best job prospects. A bachelor's or master's degree in criminology (or a related behavioral science) will open many more doors for you than it would otherwise.
Improve a relevant skill set. Every day of your career as a criminologist will be spent analyzing data and interacting with other criminal justice professionals. To reach your full potential, you must practice critical thinking and communication skills as much as possible.