What is criminology? What is a criminologist?

Criminology is a sub-field of the topics of sociology and psychology. It examines the psychological and environmental factors that lead individuals to commit crimes. Consequently, a criminologist is generally an academic or professional who studies the behavioral tendencies of criminals and the causes of crime. He or she may conduct long-term studies seeking answers to specific questions or attempting to unearth important trends in criminal behavior. Most often, the primary role of a criminologist is to conduct research that is intended to help society better understand criminal behaviors so that rehabilitation and crime prevention efforts can be more focused and effective.

Some common areas of study in criminology are economic incentives, childhood environment, mental illness, psychological distress, and education level, all demonstrating various factors that would lead someone to break the law. Criminologists are usually dedicated to publishing their findings in medical, psychological, or academic journals. In some cases, a criminologist can work on a project-by-project basis as an expert witness in criminal proceedings. An attorney may call upon him or her to offer evidence as to why a defendant was led to commit a particular crime, often leading to a lesser sentence, parole, or rehabilitation.

Because criminology is a field that requires significant dedication, before choosing this career path a potential student should ask him or herself:

  • Do I want research to be a major aspect of my career?
  • Would I prefer to work alone or as a part of a large group?
  • Am I dedicated to academics, and am I prepared to spend time working toward collegiate and advanced degrees?
  • Can I work with individuals who come from all cultural backgrounds, in prisons, detention centers, and jails?
  • Am I willing to study the criminal justice system closely?
  • Am I interested in publishing my findings or presenting them at conferences?

How do I become a criminologist?

Criminology is an academic field with applications in the law enforcement system. A criminologist often holds an advanced master’s degree or PhD, usually in association with a university’s sociology or psychology department. Furthermore, a criminologist must often seek out associate professorships or fellowship positions at research universities in order to fund and publish their research. It is often required that criminology experts present their findings to university boards and demonstrate the validity and progressiveness of their efforts.

There are exceptions to this rule. Some criminologists pursue more active roles in the criminal justice system, combining their knowledge, research, and experience with interests in social work or counseling. In that case, criminologists may work directly with criminals in jails or prisons in their efforts to rehabilitate or reform legal offenders. Social work licenses are required by some states for these positions, for which a candidate must demonstrate that he or she has significant experience in the field. Criminologists may also act as consultants working with rehabilitation centers, attorneys, or police departments.

What can I expect in a career in criminology?

An individual with a criminology background will find in the coming years that he or she will have favorable job opportunities, though those with focused interests will have better prospects. Because of academic funding problems, few colleges and universities are offering tenured research positions, so those will be few and far between. However, with the growth of the criminal justice system, those who wish to act as consultants can apply their skills in a variety of settings. Because criminologists are considered sociologists, their average annual earnings are around $68,570.