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Many young people nowadays have grand intent to gain a higher education and even obtain a doctoral degree. These degrees have become a status symbol for our society, particulary linked to success, power and meaning. While a PhD is certainly an admirable accomplishment, and even a necessity when the potential candidate is interested (and really crazy about) in conducting research and/or working in a university; it should be noted that PhD's are not always the best road in which to enhance one's career.
Several areas of the criminal justice field, such as criminology and criminal psychology, do require PhD obtainment (in most cases). But most areas of the field do not, and, in actuality, most jobs in the field are better obtained through a solid academic career, coupled with valid experience and connections (which are less expensive to make in a work setting). PhD's are generally more appropriate for living an academic lifestyle.
The other important thing to consider prior to PhD obtainment is that a doctoral degree is not a promise for a higher paycheck (or even job, for that matter). There are plenty of really bright, overly educated people with no connections that do not get jobs right out of school. Additionally, PhD's generally require a very long amount of time and plenty of money.
Another area in which PhD programs in Criminal Justice may focus is Juvenile Justice. Prairie View A&M University is one such institution. They also offer a PhD in Clinical Adolescent Psychology, which could be tailored with research to focus on adolescents in the criminal justice system. It is important to consider all potential aspects of working with young criminals, as this can be very difficult. If you are interested in a PhD program, however, this degree may be more suitable for research or university level positions that do not require frequent and/or direct contact with clients. In any case, you will still have to feel comfortable reading about and researching this population.
Forensic Psychology (also sometimes referred to as criminal psychology) is another area of criminal justice for which it is highly recommended to obtain a PhD. While masters level forensic psychologists can find work, pay will tend to be lower (many forensic psychologists with a masters degree work in prisons). University level forensic psychologists tend to have a doctorate in the field.
It should be noted that many forensic psychologists (or budding ones) have to sort of "create their own curriculum," by taking classes highly focused on psychology and criminal justice. This would be no problem in terms of a PhD program, as doctorate degrees tend to be self-directed in many universities. It does mean, however, that you must research your prospective institutions and make sure that the classes you need will be offered, or that you will at least be able to conduct the necessary research to obtain your degree.
Another area of forensic science that requires a minimum of a PhD (and most often a medical degree) is medical examination. These two degrees are an important distinction to make. If you get a PhD, you may be more qualified to teach and/or research the subject, whereas if you go to medical school, you would be more likely to actually practice examining dead bodies. A license is also required. The good news about medical examination is that it is one of the highest paid specialties in forensic science. The work can be very grueling so try to interview someone in the profession (even through request of an informational interview) prior to spending your years in medical school and deciding it wasn't cut out for you after all.
Criminology can be a confusing field to understand. Here are some basic components of the field to give you a quick idea of if this area of criminal justice would be a good fit for you.
Criminology was formerly lumped in with the sociology field. Since the expansion of criminal behavior has become a common topic in communities and the media, the study has become more and more specialized. Criminologists study behavioral theory, specifically related to criminal behavior. Research of behavioral patterns among populations is common, as is theoretical based writing and discussion. Cause and Effect relationships are a very integral part of the research. In effect, criminologists study sociological and psychological patterns, but stick to specific populations. Criminal psychologists tend to focus more on the psychological patterns, whereas criminologists tend to focus more on the sociological patterns.
Criminology is one area of study/work within the context of Forensic Science (which also falls under the umbrella of criminal justice). Criminology is one of the common areas of focus within PhD programs.
According to definition, criminology is "the scientific study of crime as an individual and social phenomena." This, of course, is a basic definition. Further explanation defines criminology as "the science of crime rates, individual and group reasons for committing crime, and community or societal reactions to crime." In other words, research, research, research. Think university or high-level agency jobs here. And also, know that within criminology, you can select any of the above designated areas in which to focus your studies and research.
While it is only required that a criminologist obtain a masters degree, this can vary from setting to setting. For example, if you wish to conduct research for a university, or practice as a criminal psychologist, you will require a PhD. This distinction is an important one to make if you are trying to decide between being a masters level or a doctoral level criminologist.
A PhD is generally not necessary if you are interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice. But, there are certain areas of the criminal justice field that require a PhD, and, of course, if any of these areas interest you then a doctoral program would be an important step for you to consider: Those specialties are as follows:
Public Policy generally refers to a field of study that focuses on various ways in which to address and solve social problems. This would include a focus on criminal justice issues that affect society. Public policy analysis, then, would include the study of laws, standards and regulations that generally affect these populations and, literally, "analysis" of patterns either related to behavior or implementation.
A focus in public policy is very common in PhD programs, especially those that relate to behavioral and sociological patterns/trends. Another criminal justice option for you to consider is the PhD in Public Policy Analysis. With this focus, you could do policy analysis and research for an agency that focuses on criminal law, criminal behavior, or another similar category. Additionally, you would also be able to teach at the university level, or possibly obtain work within a court or prison system.
It is important to note that public policy work can include a wide variety of research and study. It is suggested that if you are interested in studying public policy that you go visit the National Center for Policy Analysis website.
As already stated, PhD programs are going to present a more specialized area of focus than you would find in a bachelors, or even masters level curriculum. For example, the PhD program in criminal justice at Berkeley in California is a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and Social Policy. If you look at the title further, however, it is clear that the degree title still adds up to be under the umbrella of criminal justice. Jurisprudence is related to law, and we already covered the fact that criminology is derived from the study of sociology. Policy is a very common term used in higher degree programs, because many people who obtain PhD are interested in formulating, researching or influencing social or public policy.