- May 06 2021
- 8:00 am
Psychology Career Workshop I: Forensic Psychology
Psychology Career Workshop I: Forensic Psychology
For the first-ever meeting of the psychology career workshop at the White Tulip Health Foundation (WHF) we had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Davut Akca. During the meeting, he discussed in depth what exactly the field of Forensic Psychology is and how he is personally involved with it. It was extremely informative and eye-opening to learn about this subject matter, especially from someone who is currently involved in it. Before we dive into the actual content of his speech here is a brief overview of the field for those who may be unfamiliar with it.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the definition of Forensic Psychology is a specialty in professional psychology characterized by activities primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise within the judicial and legal systems. In other words, in this field people apply other key principles of psychology and experimentation to legal situations. This means that their work is critical for other people involved in the field such as attorneys, judges, juries, etc. Most people are familiar with this area of psychology due to the recent popularization of it in movies and tv shows, however, that is usually dramatized for entertainment purposes and there is so much more to the field than what they show.
It is very important to understand exactly what forensic psychology is thorough. This is critical in aiding your understanding of what exactly was discussed in the meeting. If the above description of forensic psychology was not enough please consider doing your own additional research before you continue on. Without further ado, here are some of the biggest points from Dr. Akca’s talk.
What is your job?
I am a research officer at The Center for Forensic Behavioral Science and Justice Studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. I am also a program evaluator here, we have contracts with the government institutions and other organizations. We collect data to see whether the process and outcomes of the program are successful and going as planned. This job is an evidence practice and is especially important for crime related issues.
What do you like best/least about your job? Why?
The thing that I like the best about my job is dealing with real life issues. There are many different types of research studies and areas that can be done theoretically. But once you conduct program evaluation and provide policy recommendations to institutions based on your findings, you have made an impact on the lives of many individuals. You get to improve their lives and the entire system. For instance, we did an evaluation for a program with kids in gangs, if a single kid could be prevented from joining a gang based on our research findings that is truly the most rewarding because you have saved someone through your work.
The thing that I like the least about it is the challenges that come with it. Beginning with the ethics process, you need to apply to the ethics board and get their approval. Then you need to collect the data to communicate with individuals and gather all that, and analyze it. There is lots of detail you need to deal with on a daily basis and with that you come across lots of challenges such as people not answering calls and emails, which makes it take a lot of time. But basically every single part of this process takes time and people are not always so helpful especially if they do not believe it will help them. They may be willing to share data and without that nothing can be done. So accessing data is the least exciting and most challenging part of the job, but that is the nature of research in general and something you just have to deal with.
What led you to your current career/job?
I was led to this career in my home country where I worked as a police officer for 5 years. I dealt with these issues as a practitioner. Since the beginning of my career, I had always dreamed about going abroad to study criminology and forensic psychology and then continue my career doing research. When I came I brought my knowledge from the field work to the research career. I think being a police officer really helped me because I am using those experiences to help me do my work now. I saw how victims, offenders, and police officers behaved so I had the opportunity
to observe directly the crime scene, police department, and the whole system in action. So thanks to those observations and experiences I can now more easily have some ideas about research and cna develop new research designs.
What type of education/training, technical knowledge, or experience is necessary for this kind of work?
In terms of education requirements it really depends on what job you want to do. At the correctional systems, they hire at different levels. If you want to be a clinical forensic psychologist, you need a PhD or at least a master’s degree. However, it really depends on the jurisdictions in place.
It also depends upon where you are, for instance in some places at the federal level you probably need a PhD but in another state a master’s may be sufficient for that same position. There are undergraduate programs for forensic psychology such as specific courses based on certain components of the field, bachelor’s degree options, as well as minors. So having any of those might help you get some higher up jobs faster than it has in the past.
To be safe it is probably best to have at least a master’s degree in forensic psychology so that you can get more jobs within the field. For entry level you probably do not need all that, but eventually to work higher up you will. But look up the credentials per institution so that you know what level you personally need to be at.
What type of starting position and salary would someone entering this field be most likely to find?
As I said I am in Canada, so I am not quite sure what the currency system is like in the states. For a federal corrections officer, the starting salary may be 100,000 Candian dollars which is around 70,000 US dollars. But if you are experienced and in the higher level of forensic
psychology, you can make much more than that, like 200,000 or 300,000 per year. In general if you have higher education you make more, but there is no single salary rate based on that. It is safe to say that when you start out the salary will be in the 70,000 to 100,000 range.
What advice would you give a student interested in this career?
I recommend them to have a look at the programs of the universities, which provide forensic psychology (Bachelor’s and Master’s). Within the field of forensic psychology there are lots of components and subdivisions, so I advise them to look at those and decide whether they have an interest in any specific parts. Basically more closely research the subdisciplines and be aware of the variety within them.
What type of interests, abilities, and skills would help a person to be successful in your occupation?
People who are more resilient to traumatic experiences would be a good fit for this job. Even though you are not dealing with the crime in person, you are one of the people involved in the scene. So you need to have resilience towards that, so that you can help other people and assess who was the offender, who was victimized, etc. You are dealing with people who are already under stress so having that is the most important characteristic.
Do you have to depend on others in order to accomplish your job? Do you work in teams?
This job is teamwork based, you may not be specifically involved with a set team, but you need to work with people from various disciplines including police and correctional officers, legal people like judges and juries, as well as health professionals. With teamwork means you also need to have good communication and be able to analyze the information to give to the authorities.
Are certain times of the month or year busier than others times?
Crime goes on all the time, 24 hours and 7 days, so there is not a specific time period. Even during COVID people were continuing to commit crimes, so there is really no time that is busier than others.
What changes do you see in the future?
I think that this field will continue to be more and more important, and there will be an increased amount of job opportunities. This is because science and scientific knowledge is becoming more important and people like politicians, and policy makers are relying more on it. I think more careers will come in this field as more research findings from the sub disciplines emerge. For example, we did not have many findings about DNA 10 years ago, but as it emerged we were able to make less wrongful convictions and get more forensic psychologists to give testimonies.
Are there other industries or positions where you could work with your skills/expertise?
As a researcher, I can definitely work with others from different disciplines because research in this area is very broad. For example, my PhD research was on police interviews and how psychological theories can improve interview practices. I conducted some lab research on that and now that can be applied to other fields and companies where interviews are used too.
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