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Criminal Investigative psychologists are expert researchers and statisticians who collect data on thoughts, personality patterns and behaviors of offenders to gain knowledge that can be used to fight crime. A successful criminal investigative psychologist likes to study and analyze large data sets, spending many hours analyzing data on the computer.
To pursue a career in criminal investigative psychology, you have to have at least a bachelor's degree in criminology. At Drexel University, for example, this degree involves interdisciplinary studies including history, political science, criminal justice and psychology courses. After obtaining their degrees, many students go to graduate school, some even receiving a doctorate of philosophy or Ph.D. in criminal psychology. This degree involves advanced study, with an emphasis on developing solid research skills and statistical analysis techniques. Students getting their doctoral degree typically complete their own original research study, called a dissertation, as part of the graduation requirements.
No matter your level of education, pursing a career in criminal investigative psychology requires a similar skill set. Although early profilers simply "shot from the hip," relating their personal experiences with criminals to other professionals, modern investigative psychology involves the use of empirical data and systematic, scientific investigation techniques to solve crimes. You'll have to be an effective communicator, able to discuss technical issues to collaborate with other investigative psychologists, as well as being able to translate what you know to a layperson.
Once you get your bachelor's degree, you can pursue a career in law enforcement. Detectives, who are promoted from police officer positions, use skills in investigative criminal psychology on a daily basis. Essential skills necessary for a detective taught during your education are careful data collection, data organization and coordinating many different data sources into an integrated theory. You'll be working with a multidisciplinary team, including criminal psychologists and profilers, so your background in criminal investigative psychology can help you understand the jargon and use it quickly to solve crimes.
Perhaps the best known use for a doctorate in criminal investigative psychology is as a profiler for the FBI. While competition for these jobs is stiff, the University of Pennsylvania Department of Criminology website indicates that a number of their 2007-2008 Master of Science graduates were offered positions as Intelligence Analysts with the FBI. As a criminal profiler, you would review a large volume of case files of known offenders gathering data on variables such as age, gender, personality characteristics, habits and living arrangements, to look for trends that might be used to conduct a profile of a "typical" offender with similar crimes. Thee profiles are used to narrow the pool of suspects for unsolved crimes.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.