How Do I Start a Career in Criminology Research?

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  • Written By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 May 2018
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Starting a criminology research career means getting undergraduate and master's or doctoral degrees in a field such as criminology or psychology. Although higher-level degrees are required for research positions, employers sometimes allow criminologists to substitute education with applicable work experience. Internships provide valuable hands-on training prior to applying for research positions.

To begin a career in criminology research, an individual first must obtain an undergraduate degree. The degree ideally should be in criminology, social or criminal justice, sociology or psychology. These majors provide information about criminal behavior, regulations and the justice system, and mental and social functioning and development.

Although some jobs in criminology are available to those with a bachelor's degree, to conduct criminology research, employers require upper-level degrees. Those who receive a master's degree will be able to get into the research field, but they likely will work under the supervision of a doctoral criminologist. For the most flexibility and independence, a person should obtain a doctorate.


Over the course of undergraduate and graduate study, a criminologist who wants to focus on research should take courses such as government, constitutional law, criminal theory and introductory and advanced psychology, sociology and social psychology. They must take forensics, corrections, statistics, writing, computer science, logic, and social work courses for criminal systems and prisons, as well. Although the criminologist will have specific core courses during study that he cannot eliminate, he can hone his curriculum via elective choices to fit the exact type of research he wants to do, such as studying juvenile criminals or business or Internet offenders.

One consideration in pursuing a criminology research career is that some employers allow candidates to substitute work experience for educational deficiencies. For instance, a person might be able to lead a research team with a master's degree instead of a doctorate if he has previously been a law enforcement or other social service officer. This can make transitioning into criminology research easier, but whether an employer accepts previous work experience as a degree substitute is the employer's choice.

When transitioning from the academic setting to the work setting, criminologists find internships helpful. Internships allow a criminologist to get some hands-on experience under a supervisor before seeking positions as an independent criminologist. This is beneficial because it shows the criminologist how organizations use criminology research and provides a better sense of what the researcher actually will do through the course of the day for the employer.

The last step to launching a criminology research career is to research and apply to criminology research positions. It may be necessary to take lower-level criminologist positions before a research position opens up. Jobs are available in various agencies, including local, state and federal positions. It is unlikely that a person will cross from one branch to another, so a researcher should investigate the advantages and disadvantages of local, state and federal agencies before taking initial work.



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