Have you ever wondered what would push someone to commit a crime? Like so many law enforcement officials, you might not fully understand why someone would believe that crime is the answer. What little we do know about criminal behavior and mindsets are because of criminologists, who examine the cause and effect of crimes by studying the people who commit them.Criminology combines sociology and criminal justice, and attempts to find out what social and psychological factors would push a person into deviant behavior. Criminologists seek out patterns and connections that might tie a criminal's history to the crime they've committed. If they can pinpoint what that person went through to reach that point, they may be able to stop them from continuing those behaviors, and hopefully prevent similar crimes form happening in the future.Being a criminologist requires you to look at both the fine details and the bigger picture at the same time. You have to study several related case reports and find any similarities between them. Once you have enough data to make a conclusion, you develop a profile of the type of person who would commit a crime. For example, say you're researching serial killers and their motives for murder. After studying several cases, you might find that each serial killer experienced physical abuse as a child, and each murder was driven by that trauma. Then you'd use that information to write a report that describes in detail the traits and mindset of a person who would most likely commit the same crime. Law enforcement then uses that information in individual cases as well as crime prevention.When it comes down to it, it's all just about using the smaller pieces to solve a bigger puzzle. Each case has a wealth of information that could tell us so much about criminal behavior. Instead of locking the case files up in some drawer forever, criminologists mine them for all the valuable lessons they can teach us, giving us a better understanding of the criminal mind. There's still so much we don't know, but with you on the job, we can definitely learn more.
Salaries and Job Outlook*
Education and Training
For the most part, the path to becoming a criminologist is pretty straightforward. To get started, you'll need to earn at least a bachelor's degree. An undergraduate degree is more than enough to start your career, but if you're looking to teach or lead research groups, you'll need a graduate level degree. If the school you want to go to doesn't offer a criminology program, you can major in psychology or sociology with a focus on criminal science instead.Since most positions are within law enforcement agencies, you'll also need to pass extensive background checks, interviews, and even drug screenings.
Valued Traits & Abilities
Researching and studying case files isn't for everyone. If you decide to pursue graduate studies in the field, you could go on to become a case consultant for law enforcement, predicting suspect behavior and helping determine motives. Some might even choose to become police officers or federal agents after working so closely with them. Others use their experience and education to pursue careers as psychological counselors or therapists. But for any career change you do make, just make sure you have all the qualifications and training you need before you set your sights on something new.
Though you may spend some time at an actual crime scene, most of your work will be done in an office or laboratory setting during typical working hours. Most of the employment opportunities for criminologists are with both local and federal law enforcement agencies, but universities and independent research facilities may also have positions available.