Forensic Psychology Salary and Employment Prospects for 2012 and Beyond

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Forensic psychology is an intriguing field of work and study but two of the most important questions to ask before deciding to pursue any field of work or study is whether there will be employment opportunities available when you complete the requisite educational requirements and whether the expected salary is enough for you to live. This article describes the current state of employment and salary prospects for forensic psychologists for 2012 and beyond.

Employment Prospects for Forensic Psychologists

In a nutshell, employment prospects for forensic psychologists are great. The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that career employment for forensic psychologists is expected to grow by about 15% through 2016. Not only is this a faster growth rate than average but it is also one of the fastest growing fields within the broader domain of psychology.

Those who currently work in the field know that there is a dearth of forensic psychologists in the correctional system and that it would take hiring thousands of forensic psychologists to make up for the shortfall in this area. Thus, the correctional system throughout the United States will likely be one of the largest employers of new forensic psychologists over the next decade.

Academic institutions, research institutions, and think tanks are also expected to hire a number of forensic psychologists over the next decade. As more and more national attention is directed towards the successful reintegration of offenders back into the community, additional resources, including the retention of forensic psychologists in both practice and research settings, are expected to be directed towards this goal.

Although a doctoral-level degree is the requirement to practice as an independent psychologist is most every state, certain states, such as New York, are revising their licensing laws to allow masters-level individuals to become licensed as counselors thereby increasing the employment opportunities for those who do not hold doctoral-level degrees. These changes are a result of the strong need for psychological service providers in these states. Thus, employment prospects tend to be good for both doctoral and masters-level practitioners.

Salary Prospects for Forensic Psychologists

The salary that one earns as a forensic psychologist is typically dependant upon the level of education (typically doctoral vs. master’s level), the type of setting in which one is employed (e.g., correctional institution, academic institution, community mental health center, forensic hospital, private practice), and the number of years of experience in the field. Other factors may include geographic location, with higher salaries typically associated with larger cities and more densely populated areas.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the mean annual salary for forensic psychologists is $86,510, with a range from $41,200 to $119,940. These are aggregated data that do not take into consideration the number of years of experience of the individual.

The American Psychological Association’s Practice Organization, which includes individuals who are licensed as psychologists and who are actively engaged in the practice of psychology, surveyed their members as to their annual gross income from work as a psychologist and found the following:

Salary Range Percentage of Respondents
Less than $30,000 4.9%
$30,000 – $59,999 12.8%
$60,000 – $99,999 36.7%
$100,000 – $150,000 28.5%
More than $150,000 11.8%

This represents the salary earned across all subtypes of psychology; however, forensic psychologists typically make more than most other types of psychologists so it is probably safe to assume that these numbers are a bit on the conservative side for the subspecialty of forensic psychology.

For those who are interested in some state-specific information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the salaries of forensic psychologists, please see this article on the typical forensic psychology salary.

For those who are interested in some setting-specific information on the salaries of forensic psychologists, including academic and research settings, clinical settings, legal settings, correctional settings, and private practice, please see this article.

All things considered, the time is right for forensic psychologists. This is an interesting field with a lot of upside for employment and salary, not to mention rewarding work that is often intellectually stimulating and intriguing.

If this is your first visit to this website, please have a look around as there are a number of good articles on education and training in forensic psychology, career profiles of various types of forensic psychologists, and salary and employment information as well as resources for those already working in the field. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of kareleo.com

Forensic Psychology Salary Information | Settings

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y1.jpg” alt=”" width=”225″ height=”225″ />One of the primary considerations for many students who are thinking about the possible career choices in which they might be interested is, of course, salary. This article provides some information regarding the salary range that one could expect to earn with a career in forensic psychology.

As with any career field, the amount that one can expect to earn depends upon a number of factors. In forensic psychology, those factors include: level of education, setting in which one works, the types of activities in which one engages, and the number of years of experience.

Level of Education

In general, either a Masters or Doctoral degree is necessary to engage in the activities of a forensic psychologist. It is possible, after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, to work in some of the same settings as forensic psychologists, but the pay earned with a Bachelor’s degree will be substantially less than that earned by those with Masters or Doctoral degrees.

In general, the starting salary for a Masters degree in psychology is typically about $10,000 higher than the starting salary for those with Bachelors degrees in psychology. In addition, it is generally the case that those with Masters degrees will earn higher salary increases than those with Bachelors degrees.

In a similar vein, the starting salary for those with Doctoral degrees in psychology is again about $10,000 higher than for those with Masters degrees in psychology, although this can vary considerably by type of setting.

As a very general statement, from data collected across the United States and averaged (so these can vary considerably by professional setting and geographic location), those with Bachelor’s degrees in psychology can expect to begin their careers with salaries in the $30,000s, those with Master’s degrees can expect to begin their careers with salaries in the $40,000s, and those with Doctoral degrees in psychology can expect to begin their careers with salaries in the $50,000s.

Professional Settings

Forensic psychologists work in a wide variety of professional settings. Some of these settings include: academic or research settings such as universities, law schools, or research institutions; clinical settings, such as community mental health clinics, forensic psychiatric facilities, or state hospitals; legal settings, such as court clinics, or mental health courts; correctional settings, such as at jails, prisons, halfway houses, or community probation offices; as well as a wide variety of private practice settings, depending upon one’s area of expertise. Salaries can vary widely across these different settings and typically depend upon the number of years of experience of the forensic psychologist.

Academic/Research Settings

In terms of academic settings, private universities, law schools, and research institutes typically pay higher salaries than public universities. As a general statement, doctoral-level psychologists can expect to earn annual salaries ranging between $55,000 and $130,000, depending upon their experience and rank.

Clinical Settings

Clinical settings can vary widely and so the salaries that forensic psychologists earn in these settings also vary. As a general statement, a Doctoral-level forensic psychologist can probably expect to earn between $50,000 and $90,000 in most types of forensic clinical settings. Again, this will vary with experience and rank. Administrative positions tend to be higher paying and private facilities tend to pay higher salaries than public or state clinical settings.

Legal Settings

The types of legal settings in which forensic psychologists work can include mental health courts or court clinics. Again, salaries can vary widely and depend on one’s experience and expertise. As a general statement, doctoral-level forensic psychologists who work in these types of settings can expect to earn about the same salaries as those working in state clinical facilities (somewhere between $50,000 and $90,000).

Correctional Settings

There is a great need for forensic psychologists within the correctional system. This system is one of the largest employers of Masters-level forensic psychologists. The annual salaries of forensic psychologists within the correctional system depends upon the number of years of experience in the system and the educational attainment of the individual, with doctoral-level psychologists earning more than master-level psychologists. Masters-level forensic psychologists in the correctional system can expect to earn annual salaries of about $40,000 to $80,000 depending upon their level of experience and number of years working in the correctional system. Doctoral-level psychologists can expect to earn annual salaries of about $50,000 to $140,000 depending on their experience, number of years working in the system, and whether they have administrative responsibilities.

Private Practice

Forensic psychologists in private practice determine their rate, typically by the hour, so it can be difficult to calculate an annual salary since the hours vary considerably. Some forensic psychologists choose to work only a few forensic cases each year but may earn large sums of money for this work. The hourly rate that a forensic psychologist charges varies widely and is typically dependent upon his or her experience and area of expertise. Generally, forensic psychologists charge more per hour for their time than do non-forensic clinical psychologists since the legal issues inherent to forensic psychology place the psychologist at a higher risk for litigation and since forensic psychology is an area of specialization. Hourly rates for forensic psychologists can vary between $150 and $600 (or even higher) depending upon the type of forensic work that is being conducted and the experience and expertise of the forensic psychologist.

For more information on the salary level of psychologists and forensic psychologists, please see the post entitled Forensic Psychology Salary Information and other related posts under the Forensic Psychology and Education and Training tabs on this site.

Forensic Psychology Careers | Academic—Law School Professor

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Forensic Psychology Career Spotlight

A few years back, I was part of the American Psychology-Law Society’s Careers and Training Committee, which put together a career handbook for prospective students in forensic psychology (psychology and law). Part of this manual contained a series of biographies from various professionals in forensic psychology to give students an idea of what it is like to work in this field as well as the wide variety of opportunities that the field holds. Short, personal statements were solicited from successful doctoral-level psychologists whose work related to psychology and law (forensic psychology issues).

Biographers were asked to describe how they choose their career path, how they ended up in their current position, and what advice they would give to aspiring students. The intent was to give interested students a glimpse of career options and the steps some people took to get there.

To ensure a wide variety of professionals, biographies were solicited from 10 different categories:

  1. Forensic/Clinical
  2. Policy-Relevant
  3. Trial Consulting
  4. Non- Academic Research
  5. Academic—Liberal Arts/Undergraduate Professor
  6. Academic—Graduate, Community Psychology Professor
  7. Academic—Graduate, Social Psychology Professor
  8. Academic—Graduate, Cognitive Psychology Professor
  9. Academic—Graduate, Developmental Psychology Professor
  10. Academic—Law School Professor

These biographies serve as an interesting collection of careers that are possible within the field of forensic psychology. I can’t help but think as I re-read through my own, and my colleagues’, biographies what a wide variety of options there are within this field and how my love for the field has not yet waned. For anyone who is considering a career in forensic psychology, these biographies are a great read. Enjoy!

Academic—Law School Professor

Dr. Jennifer K. Robbennolt, Associate Professor of Law, University of Missouri

I am an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Missouri School of Law and a Senior Fellow in the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution. Before accepting my current position, I earned a law degree and a Ph.D. in social psychology in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Law/Psychology Program, clerked for a state supreme court judge, and spent two years as a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Department of Psychology at Princeton University. As a psychologist working on research topics that implicate both psychological and legal questions, I have had the opportunity to explore areas as diverse as how citizens and judges determine punitive damages and the implications of these findings for tort reform, the role of empirical research in informing the law of intestacy, the role of the media in influencing the public’s perceptions of the legal system as well as the decisions of various players in the system, and the role of apologies in the resolution of disputes.

The academic environment of a law school is both similar to and different from that of a department of psychology. While psychologists within departments of psychology may have primary interests in diverse areas of psychology, they have in common both a shared interest in the study of psychology and a shared commitment to the use of scientific methodologies to explore their questions of interest. In a law school, faculty members have primary interests in diverse areas of the law (ranging from constitutional law to the law of property or contracts, to criminal law and so on), and more diverse methodological approaches, but have a common interest in understanding, commenting on, and improving the law.

That there are fewer empirical researchers in a law school than in a psychology department is both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity. There are fewer natural opportunities for detailed discussion of research design or statistics. Instead, there is a wealth of practical experience that grounds one’s research and stimulates one’s ideas about areas of the law that are ripe for the insights of psychology, but that have been relatively neglected by psychologists. Moreover, the opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange abound – law faculty may have backgrounds in fields such as economics, sociology, journalism, political science, history, and the physical sciences. Thus, there are exciting possibilities for bringing psychology to areas of the law that have been less frequently examined by psychologists.

Another difference is that law faculty are less likely to work directly with graduate students in psychology, though may still sit on thesis committees. Instead, I am able to introduce psychological science to large groups of future attorneys.

It takes some effort to retain an identity as a psychologist when one’s academic home is a law school. A desire to maintain a connection to psychology has implications for decisions about how to frame research questions, where to publish the results, and how to keep current with developments in psychology as well as law. While the challenges are plentiful, the opportunities make meeting those challenges worthwhile.

Dr. Jeffrey Rachlinski, Professor of Law, Cornell University

Like most kids in the United States, I was obliged in junior high school to undertake a personality inventory designed to identify sensible career choices. The results of the inventory produced “lawyer” and “psychologist” as the careers to which I was best suited. Upon entering college at the Johns Hopkins University, I majored in psychology, hoping to put off deciding between the two. In my sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to enroll in a course in law and psychology taught by Donald Bersoff, then the director of the joint program in law and psychology at the University of Maryland law school and the psychology department at Johns Hopkins. Upon being exposed to Professor Bersoff’s seamless synthesis of the two disciplines, I resolved never to truly make a choice.

I applied to several programs in law and psychology offered in the late 1980′s and eventually settled on Stanford. The small program had the advantage of having an advisor–David Rosenhan–who was appointed in both the law school and the psychology department. Unknown to me when I enrolled, it also had the advantage of having two psychologists, Amos Tversky and Lee Ross, whose work was beginning to have a big impact on the discipline of law.

I spent graduate school balancing time in the law school with research in the psychology department. The balance was not always successful. Maintaining research in the psychology department sometimes left me little time to prepare law school classes, and preparing law school classes often meant that research had to be put off.

In my law school classes, I was stuck by the pervasive influence of economics on law. Rational choice theory, rather than psychology, seemed to be legal scholars’ principal model of how people think. At the same time I was discovering the role of economics in law, I encountered Tversky’s extensive critiques of economics. Bringing some of the psychological research on judgment and choice to law would also enable law and psychology to branch out a bit beyond traditional areas of scholarship. The potential to bring psychology’s thinking to law through the critique of economics has become my work. My dissertation, for example, restructured a widely cited economic model of litigation developed by economists with Tversky and Kahneman’s Prospect Theory.

Upon completing my law degree, I entered private practice while completing the work for my dissertation. This lasted only a brief time, however, as I was fortunate enough to find a law school with a strong and growing interest in social science–Cornell. Although I have taught as a visiting scholar at four other law schools since then (Chicago, Penn, Virginia, Yale), I have remained at Cornell for the past ten years. I continue to conduct research and write on the application of the cognitive psychology of judgment and choice to areas of law that have previously treated economics as the only relevant social science. These include securities regulation, environmental law, products liability, corporate governance, and administrative law.

As far as advice, I recommend that any budding law-and-psychology scholar read Michael Saks’ article, “The Law does not live by eyewitness testimony alone” (Law and Human Behavior, vol. 10, pp. 279-80, 1986). Forensic psychology, jury research, and eyewitness identification are laudable subjects– but there is a whole world of unexplored opportunities for a law-and-psychology scholar willing to reach beyond them.

Forensic Psychology Careers | Academic—Graduate, Developmental Psychology Professor

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/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/careerspotlight.jpg” alt=”" width=”260″ height=”194″ />Forensic Psychology Career Spotlight

A few years back, I was part of the American Psychology-Law Society’s Careers and Training Committee, which put together a career handbook for prospective students in forensic psychology (psychology and law). Part of this manual contained a series of biographies from various professionals in forensic psychology to give students an idea of what it is like to work in this field as well as the wide variety of opportunities that the field holds. Short, personal statements were solicited from successful doctoral-level psychologists whose work related to psychology and law (forensic psychology issues).

Biographers were asked to describe how they choose their career path, how they ended up in their current position, and what advice they would give to aspiring students. The intent was to give interested students a glimpse of career options and the steps some people took to get there.

To ensure a wide variety of professionals, biographies were solicited from 10 different categories:

  1. Forensic/Clinical
  2. Policy-Relevant
  3. Trial Consulting
  4. Non- Academic Research
  5. Academic—Liberal Arts/Undergraduate Professor
  6. Academic—Graduate, Community Psychology Professor
  7. Academic—Graduate, Social Psychology Professor
  8. Academic—Graduate, Cognitive Psychology Professor
  9. Academic—Graduate, Developmental Psychology Professor
  10. Academic—Law School Professor

These biographies serve as an interesting collection of careers that are possible within the field of forensic psychology. I can’t help but think as I re-read through my own, and my colleagues’, biographies what a wide variety of options there are within this field and how my love for the field has not yet waned. For anyone who is considering a career in forensic psychology, these biographies are a great read. Enjoy!

Academic—Graduate, Developmental Psychology Professor

Dr. N. Dickon Reppucci, Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

My first job was as an Assistant Professor at Yale University (1968-1973), where I was hired by Seymour Sarason to co-teach a seminar in community psychology, a newly developing interdisciplinary area, and to pursue my intervention interests in community settings. My training had been in developmental and clinical psychology, with expertise in behavioral approaches to mental health problems of adolescents and an understanding of the importance of the longitudinal study of development (a la my dissertation adviser, Jerome Kagan). However, Seymour nurtured my identity as a clinical/community psychologist with the emphasis on community. He encouraged me to pursue research and action focused on changing human service organizations, especially public elementary schools and correctional facilities for adolescent offenders, and to challenge prevailing myths, e.g., in a paper entitled, The social psychology of behavior modification, Terry Saunders and I attempted to quiet the fears of a behavioral takeover of the helping professions. In 1973, I was promoted to an Associate Professor, whose professional identity was strongly community/prevention. One major outcome of those years was the realization that interventions with juveniles constituted much more than individual or family therapy, and could be best served by adopting an ecological theoretical framework. Moreover, focus needed to be given to the helping professionals themselves and to the larger societal context that so influenced the developing child.

In 1976, I became Professor of Psychology and Director (1976-1980) of a newly developing Program in Clinical Psychology at the University of Virginia, which I believed could be developed to enhance these perspectives. I also initiated a small, free standing Community Psychology program that allowed students to pursue similar goals but without extensive clinical training in individual psychology. I have directed this Community Psychology program for 28 years, and it has remained focused on these goals and the belief that to be an effective advocate for youth entails using scientific psychology to inform public policy. As with most programs, the research content has varied with faculty interest. Over the past 28 years, several of my Virginia colleagues have shared my interest in prevention and development, but my specific concern has been to integrate psychological research and theory in a manner that can inform the law about development and interventions with children. To pursue these aims, I have developed graduate and undergraduate courses on “Children and the Law” and have collaborated with graduate students in research and action projects related to child maltreatment, juvenile justice, child custody and adolescent decision-making in legal contexts. Because our research has taken genuine cognizance of legal issues, it has been used to inform both the law and public policy. I, of necessity, have become more knowledgeable about the law and have devoted my career to mentoring community and clinical graduate students with similar interests. Many of these students have gone on to very successful careers in academic and governmental institutions and I am very proud of their continuing accomplishments.

Dr. Jennifer Woolard, Associate Professor of Psychology, Georgetown University

My interest in law and policy stemmed from internship and class experiences as a psychology and sociology major at the University of Virginia. Working in a victim-witness assistance program and domestic violence shelter helped me understand that systems affect individuals and families in important ways I wanted to understand further. Unsure whether law school or graduate school was the best route after two years in the workforce, my choice became clear when I quickly sent in the graduate school application but couldn’t make it to the mailbox with the law school application.

With its emphasis on an ecological systems approach to prevention, law, and social policy affecting children and families, the University of Virginia community psychology program was a terrific match. In retrospect, several choices and experiences in graduate school prepared me well for my current work. First, I took advantage of the skill and expertise of teachers and mentors in my own community area as well as several other areas, including developmental and quantitative psychology, and faculty at the law school interested in social science. In particular, Dick Reppucci (psychology) and Elizabeth Scott (law) modeled the teacher-scholar approach to socially relevant issues. Advanced training in methodology and statistical analysis has been incredibly helpful. Conducting interdisciplinary work while in graduate school gave me the experiences, both uplifting and frustrating, that I needed once I became a faculty member in an interdisciplinary academic unit. Second, I sought out several different field placements as part of my work, including stints as a staff member for the state Office of Prevention Services and the state legislative Commission on Family Violence Prevention, and as a consultant to statewide domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy groups. I took my first steps learning the lingo and attempting to translate research into policy and practice, giving me a head start for later work.

I took a position as an assistant professor in the Center for Studies in Criminology and Law at the University of Florida. As one of two psychologists, my colleagues included sociologists, historians, social ecologists and lawyers, among others. My interests in adolescent development and juvenile justice were fostered by collaborations with colleagues within the Center as well as those in the law school and several other schools on Florida’s large campus. I established connections to local schools, justice system facilities and statewide organizations as my research program developed. After several years I left the Center to join the faculty of Georgetown University in the Psychology Department, which initiated a graduate program in Human Development and Public Policy. The Washington, DC area has tremendous opportunities for research that spans psychology, law and public policy and I have continued the interdisciplinary approach by collaborating with colleagues in law, health sciences, and other departments as well as with several psychology faculty members.

My suggestion to students with interests that span social science and policy is to think broadly about your educational experiences, your field work outside the academy, and your options when searching for academic positions. Consider the pros and cons of traditional disciplinary departments, which can be fertile places to conduct such work, but don’t limit yourself. Be open to interdisciplinary centers, institutes, and other options. Use practical experiences in the field, including working on project teams, to hone your research skills and your knowledge of what policymakers, practitioners, and families face in their daily lives. You probably won’t become an expert, but the experience and appreciation will inform your work and enhance your credibility as you partner with those groups throughout your career.

The academic career has been (and will continue to be, I’m sure) hard but rewarding work. The flexibility and autonomy that comes with teaching and research has matched well for me and given me opportunities to work with academics, professionals, and families from a variety of backgrounds and interests on issues important to me.

Forensic Psychology Careers | Academic—Graduate, Cognitive Psychology Professor

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Forensic Psychology Career Spotlight

A few years back, I was part of the American Psychology-Law Society’s Careers and Training Committee, which put together a career handbook for prospective students in forensic psychology (psychology and law). Part of this manual contained a series of biographies from various professionals in forensic psychology to give students an idea of what it is like to work in this field as well as the wide variety of opportunities that the field holds. Short, personal statements were solicited from successful doctoral-level psychologists whose work related to psychology and law (forensic psychology issues).

Biographers were asked to describe how they choose their career path, how they ended up in their current position, and what advice they would give to aspiring students. The intent was to give interested students a glimpse of career options and the steps some people took to get there.

To ensure a wide variety of professionals, biographies were solicited from 10 different categories:

  1. Forensic/Clinical
  2. Policy-Relevant
  3. Trial Consulting
  4. Non- Academic Research
  5. Academic—Liberal Arts/Undergraduate Professor
  6. Academic—Graduate, Community Psychology Professor
  7. Academic—Graduate, Social Psychology Professor
  8. Academic—Graduate, Cognitive Psychology Professor
  9. Academic—Graduate, Developmental Psychology Professor
  10. Academic—Law School Professor

These biographies serve as an interesting collection of careers that are possible within the field of forensic psychology. I can’t help but think as I re-read through my own, and my colleagues’, biographies what a wide variety of options there are within this field and how my love for the field has not yet waned. For anyone who is considering a career in forensic psychology, these 10 biographies are a great read. Enjoy!

Academic—Graduate, Cognitive Psychology Professor

 

Dr. Christian A. Meissner, Assistant Professor of Legal Psychology, Florida International University

I’m not sure that you actually choose a career – rather, I think it is probably more likely to find you. Ever since I was a child I had wanted to be a lawyer, and eventually a judge. My family had a rather extensive history in the legal system, from local police officers to federal agents and state attorneys. As a result, I was fascinated with the law and as long as I could remember I wanted to be a part of it. With this in mind, I headed to Pfeiffer University to pursue a degree that would prepare me for law school. I began as a criminal justice major, then changed to sociology before finally settling in the psychology department. I wasn’t able to explain it, but something about psychology’s approach to studying the human mind, particularly aspects of memory and decision-making, captivated my attention and interest. At the same time I decided upon psychology, I was pulled into the study of epistemology, phenomenology, and various other philosophical writings on human thought, intelligence, and decision-making. It seemed as though my studies were beginning to focus, but my own goals were still targeted on law school. Then along came that one event that seemingly set me in the right direction – I had a wonderful discussion with a new faculty member in the psychology department, Dr. Susan Kirkendol, who after hearing of my interests in law school suggested that she might offer a seminar in Psychology & Law. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this seminar would shape my career goals and send me to graduate school at Florida State University to study eyewitness memory and juror decision-making with Dr. Jack Brigham.

When you find your passion in life, you will know it, and graduate school at FSU was that type of experience for me. I thrived primarily because I absolutely loved what I was doing, from learning the details of cognitive and social processes in the classroom to conducting my own research, writing-up the results, and presenting them at conferences. In the end, I knew that I wanted a career in academia – I wanted to continue teaching in the classroom and conducting research that would have some practical benefit to society. I arrived at my current position (Assistant Professor of Legal Psychology at Florida International University) through a rather competitive application process, as academic faculty positions are not easy to obtain and I was but one among many excellent and qualified candidates. Of the fifteen or so positions that I had applied for, FIU was at the top of my list because it was one of the premiere programs in the field of Psychology and Law, and it would permit me to work with graduate students that would be most directly interested in my area of research. Today I supervise a handful of wonderful graduate students, and have had the wonderful pleasure of graduating several at the doctoral level. My research focuses on understanding the cognitive and social processes that govern eyewitness identification and juror decision- making, and I have recently begun conducting research on the psychology of interrogations and confessions. In addition to teaching and conducting research, I also provide consultation to attorneys and law enforcement groups on the proper conduct of lineups and interrogations, and I have also provided expert testimony to the court on the issues. In the end, academia was the most wonderful profession I could have selected, although I suppose I should be happy that it selected me.

Dr. Kathy Pezdek, Professor of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University

I’m lucky because I have always had opportunities to do things that I really enjoy. It has been my experience, however, that good luck is more likely to come your way if you have worked hard to prepare for it. I received a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It was there that I began studying “visual memory.” I was interested in what characteristics of a visual stimulus are retained in memory when the stimulus is “remembered,” and the vulnerabilities of these memories to suggestive influences. This has continued to be the focus of my research throughout my career.

I am a researcher because I like doing research. The study of memory is inherently interesting to me and, as the daughter of an electrical engineer, I find the specificity of cognitive research methods appealing. But I am also a social being and much prefer working in a group than alone. This is why I am well-suited for an academic career. I have spent most of my adulthood as a Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University, where I have directed the graduate program in Applied Cognitive Psychology. At any point in time I have a handful of studies in progress and a team of graduate students helping me with each of these. As far as I am concerned, any success I have achieved has been because of the graduate students I have had the pleasure of working with. So my academic job is not just days of teaching large classes of students. I do teach, and love that part of my work. But the most rewarding teaching that I do is really outside of the classroom in a research context, and I wouldn’t give this up for anything.

For me, one of the draws of Cognitive Psychology has always been the fact that the work has so many possible applications to real world issues. The application that most naturally fits my research on visual memory has been the field of eyewitness memory. After all, understanding what characteristics of a visual stimulus – such as a perpetrator’s face – are retained when the face is “remembered,” is at the heart of eyewitness memory.

I have testified as an Expert Witness on Eyewitness Memory in more than 200 trials in Federal, State and Superior Courts. I did not plan to work in Courts as an Expert Witness, nor is it likely to have worked out if I had planned for this. The truth is that for me as well as anyone, my credibility in Court as an Expert Witness relies on my academic credentials and publication record. In other words, you have to be an “expert” at something before you can testify in Court as an Expert Witness. And, I truly believe that no one can be an expert at anything unless they really enjoy it – it’s too hard and too much work otherwise. Testifying in Court is tough; I would not want to do it full time. Where else do you spend hours sitting on a stage in front of a large group of people facing a smart, verbally articulate individual whose job it is to make you look like an idiot? But the truth is that my research is better because it is informed by the experiences I have had as an Expert Witness, and my work in Court is better because of the research that I do to back it up. There is a synergy here that makes my professional world work.

But, am I all work and no play? No! One of the best features of my career is that although it necessitates long hours of work, the hours are flexible. Most of the time I can work when I want and where I want. So I am at home much of the time where I can work near my family. And, yes, I do work too late at night, but I also am home most afternoons when our boys come home from school, and most days find time to run, row or do yoga. I don’t have rigid lines that separate my family and my work – I know their world and they know mine, and I like it this way.

Forensic Psychology Careers | Academic—Graduate, Social Psychology Professor

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/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/careerspotlight.jpg” alt=”" width=”260″ height=”194″ />Forensic Psychology Career Spotlight

A few years back, I was part of the American Psychology-Law Society’s Careers and Training Committee, which put together a career handbook for prospective students in forensic psychology (psychology and law). Part of this manual contained a series of biographies from various professionals in forensic psychology to give students an idea of what it is like to work in this field as well as the wide variety of opportunities that the field holds. Short, personal statements were solicited from successful doctoral-level psychologists whose work related to psychology and law (forensic psychology issues).

Biographers were asked to describe how they choose their career path, how they ended up in their current position, and what advice they would give to aspiring students. The intent was to give interested students a glimpse of career options and the steps some people took to get there.

To ensure a wide variety of professionals, biographies were solicited from 10 different categories:

  1. Forensic/Clinical
  2. Policy-Relevant
  3. Trial Consulting
  4. Non- Academic Research
  5. Academic—Liberal Arts/Undergraduate Professor
  6. Academic—Graduate, Community Psychology Professor
  7. Academic—Graduate, Social Psychology Professor
  8. Academic—Graduate, Cognitive Psychology Professor
  9. Academic—Graduate, Developmental Psychology Professor
  10. Academic—Law School Professor

These biographies serve as an interesting collection of careers that are possible within the field of forensic psychology. I can’t help but think as I re-read through my own, and my colleagues’, biographies what a wide variety of options there are within this field and how my love for the field has not yet waned. For anyone who is considering a career in forensic psychology, these biographies are a great read. Enjoy!

Academic—Graduate, Social Psychology Professor

Dr. Bette L. Bottoms, Professor of Psychology, University of Illinois, Chicago

I grew up on a farm in beautiful Southside Virginia, a couple hours from anything resembling an urban environment. I’m now a Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. How did I get here? I often wonder that myself, so let’s see if I can tell you.

I first became interested in the field of Psychology and Law when I was in college in the mid- 1980s at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia (alma mater of Pearl Buck and home of the first psychology laboratory in the South). A professor named Frank Murray pointed me to a few exciting new books: John Monahan’s Predicting Violent Behavior and Beth Loftus and Gary Well’s Eyewitness Testimony. I was drawn to the topics and Mr. Murray encouraged me to write to Professors Loftus and Wells for their advice about how to enter this field of research. I still have the encouraging letters they took the time to write to me. I conducted my honor’s thesis research on the accuracy of eyewitness memory. Then I was told that I had to go to something called “graduate school” to continue my studies. So I mailed out applications fairly randomly, including one to the University of Denver, where there was a cognitive developmental psychologist named Gail Goodman, who was at that moment starting the field of children’s eyewitness testimony. I took my first ever airplane flight and visited her laboratory, and I knew it was the place for me. I got my Master’s Degree in cognitive psychology at D.U., then followed Gail to the State University of New York at Buffalo, where, with her and others’ wonderful guidance, I got my Ph.D. in Social Psychology.

My graduate training was very broad, so I’m a mix of cognitive, developmental, social, and even a little community and clinical psychology. My work then and now is unified by the theme of children, psychology, and law. I study the accuracy of children’s eyewitness testimony, techniques to improve children’s reports of past events, jurors’ perceptions of children’s testimony, and various issues related to child abuse. If you’re interested in the field, take a look at a book that I edited with colleagues Margaret Kovera and Brad McAuliff, Children, Social Science, and Law, from Cambridge University Press.

As I write this, I’m finishing my 12th year at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Being a professor is one of the best jobs around, although this occupation seems to be a mystery to many students. To varying degrees, professors all teach, mentor students, conduct research and write, and do service for the university, the community, and the field. It’s not an easy job, and it requires dedication and long hours. But it sure ain’t digging ditches, either! You have incredible flexibility in terms of setting your own schedule, choosing what to study, and how to teach. You have the opportunity to work with lots of interesting colleagues and students. To a great extent, you are your own boss. And what about job security? At most colleges and universities, if you are successful in your first 6 years or so, you can be awarded tenure, which means you can never be fired (well, unless you really screw up). At UIC, which is a research-intensive university, there is a particular emphasis on conducting and publishing research, so that has been a big part of my job. But my career has also included a great deal of teaching, graduate student training, and service. I was even an Associate Dean for several years, where I learned at lot about the business of universities. I’m also active in the American Psychological Association, especially Division 41 (the American Psychology-Law Society) and Division 37 (Child, Youth, and Family Services), of which I’ll be President in 2005. I like the varied and changing nature of my job – it’s impossible to get bored.

So, what’s my advice to you? Figure out what you enjoy doing, then work your tail off at it. Read the Careers in Psychology and Law document on this website to learn more about academic and other careers in this field. Don’t bother going to graduate school unless you really like the topic and the nature of the work, and unless you are willing to work very hard to distinguish yourself. If you like what you are doing, then working hard is not onerous, and you will enjoy your professional life. But if this kind of career is not a match for your temperament or interests, do something else – there’s a world of other great possibilities, and no time to waste being unhappy. Good luck!