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What’s it really like to be a criminologist?

Your understanding of criminology was likely shaped through the fast and exciting world of pop culture. Shows like Criminal Minds and NCIS have often portrayed the criminologist as a gun wielding, crime fighting protagonist.

In reality, the field of criminology remains incredibly diverse, defined by multidisciplinary insights and collaboration. A career in criminology investigates the factors that cause criminal behaviour and how crime can be prevented within wider society.

Dr Diarmaid Harkin, lecturer in criminology at Deakin University, has conducted a number of studies into community policing policy in Scotland. To provide a glimpse into the mysterious world of criminology, we speak to him about what it really is like to be a criminologist.

Is a career in criminology as glamorous as pop culture has presented it?

‘Certain perceptions exist about criminology and can often be confused with forensics. Consequently it is not as glamorous as many might anticipate, but every bit as interesting as people imagine! Working on topics varying from terrorism and cybercrime to national drug policy makes the job endlessly fascinating.’

What qualifications are required to become a criminologist? 

‘Criminologists come from many different fields and are defined more by subject matter rather than required expertise. Criminology is often referred to as a ‘rendezvous subject’; a varied combination of topics ranging from sociology, law and politics. Therefore, criminologists are inherently inter-disciplinary and generally have many skill sets.’

What would a budding criminologist look like?

‘A PhD graduate in criminology would be coming off a three to four year period spent working on one major project. During this time, they may have also worked on several other projects as a research assistant or collaborator. This allows them to develop expertise within a given field or topic.’


'Working on topics varying from terrorism and cybercrime to national drug policy makes the job endlessly fascinating.'

Dr Diarmaid Harkin,
Lecturer in criminology, Deakin University

What are some challenging aspects of being a criminologist?

‘The challenges facing criminology are the challenges facing most academic disciplines: time and funding. Within criminology, a fine balance exists between doing research we are passionate about and research that society needs. There are always more questions to be asked and more answers to be found, but only so much time and opportunity.’

What career paths does criminology provide? 

‘Criminology can prepare students and graduates for several different pathways. Obviously, there are a number of jobs in law enforcement, including work in victim support services or offender rehabilitation and reintegration. There are also opportunities to work in policy strategy, determining how society can best deliver safe communities.’

How has technology impacted the role of the criminologist?

‘Technology has a massive impact on crime, justice and criminology. Official crime data suggests that most offenses are on the long-term decline including, murder rates, assaults and robbery. However, with the rise of the digital age, cyber offenses are on a steady increase while the scale of cyber offending is escalating. In the future, technology-facilitated offending will impact the role of criminologists and the topics they study.’

What has been the most memorable part of your job?

‘Doing research allows you to meet a lot of new people and gain insights into fascinating corners of the criminal justice system. For instance, I have recently been granted access to specialist cybercrime units in two different Australian states. This is a great opportunity to analyse and understand how criminal justice functions within society.’

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Dr Diarmaid Harkin
Dr Diarmaid Harkin

Lecturer in Criminology, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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