Whether you’re selecting a career for the first time or making a career change, choosing a career path is a daunting. Some people have known what they wanted to be when they grew up since they were six or seven years old. Others of us are still trying to decide what to do with our lives, even in and after our thirties. No matter which side of the fence you’re standing on, choosing a career can be incredibly scary.
Most career seekers, no matter what stage they’re at, get to a point where they’ve narrowed down their interests and are trying to make the leap from interest to career. So, what if you’re interested in the idea of criminology? How do you make the decision on whether it’s an interest you’d actually like to pursue as a career? How do you know if it’s right for you? How do you make the transition from interest to something you can pursue?
What is criminology? What isn’t it?
It’s no secret that criminology has a somewhat glamorous facade, due in no small part to shows like CSI, NCIS, Bones, and others. But we are here to tell you that what you see on CSI and what a real criminologist does differ in some pretty huge ways. The excitement and intrigue you see on your favorite criminal show is something you may experience as a criminologist in the real world, but the real life of a criminologist is significantly different than what you see on TV.
Criminology is the scientific study of crime, criminals, and corrections. A criminologist studies normal social behaviors and deviations from the norm. Criminologists are often academics who study crime and the law. Their work often centers around providing theoretical explanations of criminal behavior and making predictions and recommendations for how to prevent future crime. Criminologists work with law enforcement agencies to develop profiles of crimes and gather statistics on crime rates. This both helps prevent crime before it happens and helps apprehend criminals once a crime has been committed.
In addition to working with criminals and helping enforce justice, some criminology jobs specialize in working with victims of crime or helping to improve the criminal rehabilitation system.
Criminologists are often employed by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies including police departments, the FBI, and the CIA, to name a few. Some criminologists are employed by private corporations or nonprofits researching the criminal justice system, policies, and trends. Regardless of your employer, criminologists are generally responsible for a variety of job duties including analyzing criminal behavior, researching criminal methods, creating logical interpretations based on facts, and using these analyses to prevent or predict criminal activity.
Day-to-day, the life of a criminologist is never the same. One day you might be questioning a suspect or creating a criminal profile based on a series of facts and inferences. The next day you might be filling out reports of your findings or presenting to the lead detective on a case. One thing you can count on is that no two cases are the same and no two days are the same. So if you’re someone who likes to constantly be challenged, this might just be the perfect fit for you.
So, what isn’t criminology? It’s not like working on the set of CSI or Criminal Minds. You’re not likely to find the “silver bullet” to every case just minutes before the suspect is released from custody. Sometimes you might not even find forensic evidence that points directly at a suspect. Things don’t happen as quickly as they do on TV. By contrast, you’ll most likely work long hours, sifting through lots of data and documents to come to a conclusion that may or may not prove the case.
Is criminology right for me?
If you’ve made it this far, it’s likely you’re still interested in pursuing a career in criminology even though it’s unlikely to be as glamorous as your favorite episode of The Wire. Even though it’s not exactly like TV, criminology is still a fast-paced, exciting, and demanding field where you can really make a difference in the field of criminal justice. Those most attracted to a career in criminology are often driven by their desire to better society and see justice served. Perhaps you’re intrigued by the atmosphere, other people you’ll be working with, and the energy and drive this field requires.
Additionally, there are many other aspects of a career in criminology that might be of interest including: evolving technology and its uses in fighting crime, the chance to learn more about different groups of people and cultures, performing in-depth analysis of data or documents and drawing conclusions from that analysis, conducting extensive research on crime of all types, and the opportunity to better the community in which you live are just a few of the benefits to a career in criminology.
Within the scope of criminology, there are specialties upon specialties. Whether you’re interested in research, administration, working with people, or any of a plethora of other options, there is likely a specialty perfect for you. In fact, there are so many different specialties in criminology that it can be overwhelming! Determining your strengths and interests is a crucial first step in looking for the perfect place to start your criminology career. Regardless of which facet of criminology is right for you, the career as a whole is often best-suited for those who are excited by research and interested in gathering and evaluating information to come to a conclusion.
Criminology is a job that is a fit for many personality types. Overall, however, since criminology is a subset of sociology, it’s important to be interested in the well-being of mankind and your community. A criminologist should have strong communication skills (written and verbal), be technologically savvy, have excellent public speaking skills, and excel in problem-solving and logic.
Above all, criminologists should be compassionate and caring, but still able to work cases that may be difficult mentally and emotionally. A strong character is essential to success in this field as the job can be demanding physically, mentally and emotionally.