Is a PhD in Criminal Justice Worth It? Yes, Says Academic Job Market

In most fields, the PhD is getting a bad rap these days.

With massive costs of both the direct and opportunity variety, the economics just don’t cut it. The worst part is that the academic job market is horrific and full-time positions are vanishing or becoming almost impossible competitions involving hundreds of qualified candidates. The popular advice these days, then, is to avoid grad school at all costs.

But there are a few fields where the situation is exactly the opposite. Jobs stay open for months because no suitable candidates can be found. And lucky for you, criminal justice is one of those fields.

To clarify, we are talking about the market for academic jobs, most commonly tenure-track professor positions. These involve teaching at the college level, conducting research and providing service to the institution.

According to a recent article at the Chronicle of Higher Education, there are a few reasons for this unusual situation.

First the article reports that “undergraduate demand (for criminal justice) is growing but the number of Ph.D.s in the field remains limited.”

Criminal justice is such a hot field for the undergraduate major these days in part due to the popularity of crime investigation TV shows. And the job prospects are very good, as graduates can work in a wide variety of roles. This results in many students signing up for criminal justice majors.

But most positions in criminal justice agencies or other organizations require only a master’s or undergraduate degree, so there is less incentive for students to continue their studies on to the doctoral level.

So that leaves the current situation where there are lots of undergrads signing up for criminal justice classes but not enough PhDs to teach them as professors.

Representatives from multiple universities reported in the Chronicle piece that recent criminology professor job searches have attracted only a few candidates, some of which weren’t even qualified. At a university in Texas, for example, one particular job opening yielded 18 applicants, less than half (7) of which met even the basic requirements. The representative concluded that “our changes of finding someone are slim to none” (source).

Another professor said that since there are so few criminal justice PhDs, “the degree nearly guarantees an offer for a tenure-track position, probably several offers.”

These jobs don’t usually come with a massive salary, although they are certainly comfortable. (PhDs in most other disciplines would likely do anything for a tenure-track opportunity regardless of the salary.)

Overall, although that might put universities hoping to hire professors in a tough spot, it puts the job seeker into an excellent position!

So if you’re thinking about doing a PhD in Criminology, know that with the current job market, the degree will put you in excellent employment shape.

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