What Can You Do With a PhD in Criminology?

Jan 21, 2021

A criminology PhD program can help you look into theories on why people commit crimes and the effects of different social responses to crime, all in preparation for a variety of research, academic and criminal justice careers. In this article, we'll look at some possible career options for a PhD in Criminology.

Job Options for a PhD in Criminology

Job Title Median Salary (2019)* Job Growth (2019-2029)*
Political Scientist $122,220 6%
Criminal Justice Professor $62,860 7%
Forensic Science Technician $59,150 14%
Sociologist $83,420 4%
Criminal Investigator $83,170 1%

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Descriptions

Political Scientist

Political scientists typically monitor and evaluate public policies, make political forecasts and predict social changes. In order to do so, they analyze data found in historical documents, political opinion polls and election results. With a PhD in Criminology, you'll better understand the ways that crime effects politics and policies. You'll be able to perform research for politicians and organizations that lobby for changes to the criminal justice system.

Criminal Justice Professor

PhDs tend to be the degrees that university professors seek. With a PhD in Criminology, you'll have all the background knowledge and skills needed to teach law enforcement and criminal justice courses. In these courses, you'll lecture students, assign homework and possibly set up internships for students. You may work with other department professors to create curricula and new electives for your school's criminal justice programs. In addition to teaching, tenured professors often take sabbaticals to write research papers and books in the criminology field.

Forensic Science Technician

Though forensic science technicians typically only need a bachelor's degree to begin working, a PhD in Criminology can build on your previous forensic science education to provide opportunity for advancement. Forensic science techs have a background in forensic or biological science and work to reconstruct crime scenes, make sketches and even collect evidence. As a forensic science tech with a PhD in Criminology, your understanding of crime and criminals will allow you to better handle testing evidence, writing reports, and providing testimonies for law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.


A sociologist studies people and the cultures or social institutions they create. With a PhD in Criminology, you may choose to focus on prison culture, which has its own hierarchy and structures in place. You'll be considered a criminologist or penologist (one who studies prison systems), which are both sociologists. You will collect data and design research surveys and projects to better understand the causes of crime and the effects they have on the community.

Criminal Investigator

While many police officers can join the force right out of high school or with minimal post-secondary education and train to become criminal investigators, a PhD could give you essential skills for being a successful detective. Understanding the way people think and act can give you insight into the thoughts and patterns of would-be criminals. You might also be able to recognize better ways to interview suspects and investigate crime scenes. Having a criminology PhD can also put you in line for advancement as a federal agent.

Having a PhD in Criminology can give you theoretical insight into the minds and actions of criminals and a solid understanding of the criminal justice system. With this degree, you can consider becoming a sociologist, detective, professor or even a political scientist. Understanding some of the career options available to you could help you to decide if this degree is for you.

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