How to become a criminologist (with definition and skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Criminologists study the nature, extent, causes and prevention of criminal behaviour. This is a field that requires both academic and practical skills, and there are many different paths you may take to become a criminologist. As crime is a complex and ever-changing field, there are also several different types of criminologists, each with their own area of expertise. In this article, we explain what a criminologist is and how to become a criminologist, with details of their key skills.

What is a criminologist?

Criminologists research and analyse data to identify crime patterns and develop theories to explain the reasons for crimes. They also develop interventions to prevent or reduce crime and evaluate their effectiveness. They work in various settings, including law enforcement, academia, corrections and private consulting. Some criminologists also work as consultants or expert witnesses in legal cases. While some criminologists focus on street crimes such as robbery and assault, others focus on organised crime, white-collar crime or terrorist activity. Some specialise in juvenile delinquency or forensic science. Criminologists often use state-of-the-art statistical methods and computer modelling to carry out their work.

Some of their day-to-day duties include:

  • researching criminals and their behaviour

  • researching the environmental factors that lead to crime

  • producing data using statistical analysis

  • identifying patterns in crime

  • surveying and interviewing offenders

  • researching and providing recommendations for policy and law

  • producing research articles on relevant criminology topics

  • collaborating and assisting law enforcement in identifying and reducing crime

  • studying how effective rehabilitation programmes are and making recommendations

Related: What does a criminologist do? (Skills and responsibilities)

How to become a criminologist

If you're interested in learning how to become a criminologist, follow these steps:

1. Get relevant qualifications

To become a criminologist, you require a degree in criminology, sociology, psychology or forensic science. The field is very competitive, so most criminologists also have a master's degree or higher in criminal justice or psychology. While studying for your degree, it's useful to get experience through internships, work placements and volunteering. This also allows you to explore the options for criminology specialisms or future research.

Related: 9 criminology degree jobs (salaries, duties, requirements)

2. Develop necessary skills

Studying criminology or a related degree develops your understanding of the social and personal aspects of crime. Alongside developing your written communication, research, IT and time management skills, a degree in this field also teaches you how to:

  • evaluate evidence

  • make ethical judgments

  • produce reasoned arguments

  • problem-solve

  • think critically

  • collect, analyse and interpret data

  • write reports

3. Gain experience in the field

In addition to academic credentials, experience working in the criminal justice system is also helpful. Many criminologists begin their careers as assistant researchers before applying for jobs as full-time criminologists. It's not uncommon for them to work as police officers, probation officers or correctional officers before moving into criminology positions.

4. Join the British Society of Criminology

The British Society of Criminology (BSC) aims to further the knowledge and interests of both professional and academic people whose work or teaching focuses on criminal behaviour, crime and the criminal justice system. As criminology is a competitive field, joining the BSC provides good networking opportunities and demonstrates your skills to prospective employers. Another option to consider is applying for a place on the Government Social Research Fast Stream programme. This is an analytical position within the government that provides behavioural and social research to enable government figures to understand issues relating to groups and individuals in society.

5. Apply for roles

Criminology jobs are available in local and central government, prison and probation services, the police, court services, security services and charities that work with victims of crime or young offenders. Opportunities also exist in the private sector, such as in law practices or private security. Think carefully about what area of crime you wish to work in, as there are also opportunities in social welfare, mental health, drug rehabilitation, social housing and refugee counselling. Criminologists may also go into teaching, usually at the higher education level.

Related: What jobs can you do with a criminal justice degree?

Skills for criminologists to develop

Some essential skills that criminologists typically require include strong analytical skills, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, research and data analysis skills, writing and communication skills and people skills. Many criminologists also have expertise in specific areas such as forensics or profiling, so it's a good idea for criminologists to keep up with the latest advancements in their field. Here are some further details of these key skills:

Research

Criminologists use research skills to study crime and deviant behaviour. They collect data through observations, interviews, gathered documents and surveys. Following data collection, criminologists analyse it to identify patterns and trends. They then use this information to develop theories about why crime occurs and how to prevent it. The research skills of criminologists are essential in understanding the nature of crime and developing effective ways to prevent it.

Understanding public policies

Criminologists use public policy to understand the creation of laws and how they impact crime rates. Additionally, criminologists use public policy to advocate for changes in the law or suggest new policies that may help reduce crime. For example, a criminologist might study how a new curfew law affects juvenile crime rates, or they may look at how increasing the minimum wage affects crime rates. By understanding the effects of public policies on crime, criminologists provide valuable insights to lawmakers and help create laws that are more effective at reducing criminal activity.

Statistical analysis

Statistical analysis is a powerful tool for understanding crime and criminal behaviour. By using data from large-scale surveys or administrative records, criminologists can identify relationships between various factors and crime rates. Criminologists then use this information to develop policies and interventions that are more likely to be successful in reducing crime.

Interpersonal skills

Criminologists use interpersonal skills to interact with offenders and understand the motivations behind their criminal behaviour. This helps them formulate effective rehabilitation programmes. Good interpersonal skills are also crucial in building relationships with law enforcement officers and other professionals involved in the justice system, as these relationships provide valuable insights into the workings of the criminal underworld.

Related: What are criminologist skills? (Definitions and examples)

Writing

Criminologists use their writing skills to produce detailed case reports, research papers and expert witness testimonies. They require the ability to communicate complex information clearly and concisely, and their writing has to be accurate and unbiased. Good writing skills are also valuable for creating proposals that seek funding for new research projects.

Criminologist duties

Here is a list of common responsibilities:

Analyse crime patterns

By understanding the various factors contributing to crime, criminologists can develop strategies for prevention and detection. One way in which criminologists analyse crime patterns is by looking at incident reports and trying to identify any trends or patterns. Another way is to interview offenders and ask them about the circumstances surrounding their offences and what motivated them.

Advise on crime prevention and detection

Criminologists work with law enforcement to develop strategies to help investigate previous crimes. Criminal justice professionals use data analysis to identify patterns in criminal behaviour, and this information allows law enforcement agencies to allocate resources more effectively and target their efforts towards specific areas or groups that are more likely to commit crimes.

Conduct behavioural analysis

There are a few different techniques that criminologists use to perform behavioural analysis. One technique is offender profiling, which is the process of constructing a description of an unknown offender based on the characteristics of a crime. Another technique is crime scene analysis, which involves studying everything at the scene of a crime to identify any clues that might help detectives solve the case. This includes things like tyre marks, footprints and weapon usage.

Analyse the effectiveness of rehabilitation

Criminologists use several methods to assess the effectiveness of rehabilitation programmes. They may analyse recidivism rates, which is the rate at which offenders re-offend after leaving prison or participating in a rehabilitative programme. Another method is to analyse surveys of criminal justice professionals, such as police officers, probation officers and prosecutors, to gauge their perceptions of individuals who have completed rehabilitation programmes.

Advise law and policymakers

Criminologists advise law and policymakers on various topics, including crime prevention, rehabilitation and sentencing. They also work with victims of crime to provide support and assistance. Criminologists aren't prosecutors or defence attorneys. They study criminals from a neutral perspective to better understand how and why they commit crimes, helping to create more effective policies and laws.

Related: What is criminology? (Plus how to become a criminologist)

Deliver lectures and training

Criminologists typically deliver lectures and training on various topics related to their field of expertise. Common lecture topics include criminal justice system overviews, crime typologies, specific crimes (such as fraud or sexual assault) and legal issues surrounding investigation and prosecution. Training topics might include interviewing techniques, crime scene analysis and report writing.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related:

  • What does a criminologist do and why is it important?


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