Learn about our MSc in Applied Criminology and Forensic Psychology from programme leader, Faye Skelton.
What is applied criminology and forensic psychology?
Criminology is the study of crime, criminal behaviour, and criminal justice systems. Forensic psychology is psychology - the study of human mind and behaviour - applied to the legal system.
What is unique about the course?
Through combining criminology with forensic psychology this programme offers a 360 degree examination of crime, criminal behaviour, legal processes, and criminal justice. We offer a work placement module whereby students can experience working within a justice or related context, allowing them to make a valuable contribution to their chosen organisation whilst also having the opportunity to see their learning applied practically in the real world. The programme has a strong applied focus, and we regularly invite guest practitioners and researchers to share their experience from working in this area, where they provide valuable insights for students into their work as well as current debates and tensions in the sector.
We also have an exciting and broad range of assessment types including risk formulations and policy reports, which offers students practice with the sorts of documents they are likely to work with in a criminal justice context.
Why should someone study this course?
This programme is an excellent choice for those with an interest in crime and criminal behaviour, and also creates pathways to work in a criminal justice context or progress on to PhD study in forensic psychology and/or criminology. We do not require prior study in either subject, so the course is accessible to those who have not specifically studied psychology or criminology previously..
One third of the programme is made up of research through one taught module and a double dissertation module, so the course also offers a good basis for conducting quality research in criminology and forensic psychology. There are many opportunities for students to network with guest speakers, building contacts for their futures and gaining an insight into the broad range of job roles and organisations they may go on to work in. They also gain insight into multi-agency working and how Forensic Psychologists and other criminal justice professionals work together.
It is worth noting that some applicants apply to the programme because they are interested in crime investigation or crime scene analysis, however the programme does not cover either of these areas.
What backgrounds do students on the course tend to have?
Most of our students have completed their undergraduate studies within the last few years, though some have come to us after several years in relevant employment. Many have studied psychology and/or criminology previously, and some have studied sociology, law, social sciences, politics and anthropology, for example. Most of our applicants also have some relevant work experience which might include youth work, aspects of social care, volunteer work with those with an offending history or those affected by crime, mental health support, as well as legal or court work. Though not essential it is an advantage to have experience of working within the criminal justice context. We are pleased to welcome students from around the world and find the learning environment to be much richer from this diversity of educational, occupational, and cultural backgrounds.
Applicants from a forensic science background will need to have evidence of having studied and passed psychology or criminology modules at undergraduate or postgraduate degree level.
What careers can students go on to?
Our students often progress to careers within the justice voluntary (third) sector, supporting people with an offending history, those affected by crime, or those at risk of offending. Some also progress to PhD study and continue into academia (teaching and research), while others have gone to work within the private sector, for example in fraud detection. Several students have progressed to work within the police, including in roles such as data analysts.
Students graduating from this programme are not eligible to progress to accredited training in forensic psychology. Our MSc Applied Forensic Psychology is an accredited programme suited to those wishing to train as a Forensic Psychologist.
Can you tell us about your background?
I was a first-generation university student from a single-parent family, so it was never expected that I would go to university. I loved learning though and never really wanted to leave school, so for me it was a matter of what I would study, not if. I fell in love with psychology while studying for my A Levels, and I thoroughly enjoyed my years at Lancaster University studying for my BSc (Hons) Psychology. I enjoyed studying at Lancaster so much that I stayed there to complete my ESRC-funded PhD which was on the development of face recognition in primary-school aged children (2004). I was then successful in securing a lectureship in Psychology at the University of Central Lancashire where I held two temporary lectureship positions before being offered a permanent position in 2006, being promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2009. I moved to Edinburgh Napier University as a Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology in 2014. I was involved in developing this MSc which I have led since September 2016, and I have developed and lead modules delivered on this programme, as well as the MSc Applied Forensic Psychology and our undergraduate Psychology courses. I really enjoy taking my research out to the public and have performed several times at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as at various UK science festivals, skeptics society and other specialist group events.
What are your areas of interest and expertise?
I am broadly interested in cognitive psychology, which includes memory, perception, problem solving and decision-making, but particularly applied to the forensic context. I have taught in many areas over my career such as eyewitness testimony, identification of perpetrators (e.g. police line-ups), false confessions and recovered memories, police facial composites (E-FITs, including delivering software training), witness interviewing, detection of deception, and jury decision-making.
My research has mostly focused on improving the quality of police facial composite images, working collaboratively with Professor Charlie Frowd at UCLan. More recently at Edinburgh Napier,I have been working on qualitative projects on miscarriages of justice (wrongful convictions), and the impact of COVID-19 on those working in the justice voluntary sector in Scotland
How did you get into criminology or forensic psychology?
When I was an undergraduate student, forensic psychology wasn’t offered within the curriculum and so wasn’t really on my radar. When I started my lectureship at UCLan however, the department there had many more applied optional modules and there was a strong focus on forensic psychology including a specific Forensic Psychology undergraduate degree, as well as one combining psychology and criminology.
I was working in a large department with over 40 staff, and so most of my work was delivering practicals, tutorials, and lots of marking. I was eager to deliver a lecture and was delighted when a soon-to-be-retired colleague offered me his slot on false confessions for first year students. I had been exposed to miscarriages of justice as a teenager – growing up in Rochdale we had the well-known and very sad cases of Stefan Kizsco, who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of schoolgirl Lesley Molseed, and the satanic panic in the early 1990s whereby dozens of children were taken away from their families amid (completely unfounded) allegations of satanic abuse. Learning about the psychology of false confessions cemented my interest in how people could come to confess to crimes they hadn’t committed or remember things that hadn’t happened. As colleagues left the department or changed roles I took additional forensic psychology lectures across undergraduate and masters modules, gradually shifting into specialising in forensic psychology over a few years . I also offered supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations in areas related to my teaching and research.
What can students expect to learn on the programme?
The programme is roughly half criminology and half forensic psychology, depending on the option modules chosen and the dissertation topic. Students a good grounding in key criminology and forensic psychology theories as well as an examination of current topics and debates. The module Current Topics in Crime is a great example of this, with teaching comprised of guest lectures from practitioners and academics. Students will also learn about forensic psychology in practice, learning how to conduct a risk formulation, how to interview witnesses, and how to construct a facial composite (E-FIT) of a perpetrator; and about how criminal justice works in practice, studying criminal justice institutions, practices, and participants. Students will also get intense tuition in qualitative and quantitative research and data analysis to underpin their dissertation research. It’s therefore an advantage for students to have studied some degree-level statistics. For this reason, we ask all students to complete some open access statistics courses before joining the programme, to ensure they have the basic level understanding to build on.
To complement these compulsory modules there are a range of optional modules from both subject areas, including the Work Placement.
Why is this subject important?
It’s increasingly important for society to understand the varying reasons behind why people offend, in order to support them in rehabilitation and desistance from offending behaviour. Currently our criminal justice systems do not effectively do this, and change is needed in how we approach criminal behaviour and respond to it, either with punishment or other alternatives. To do this successfully we need to understand both the individual and societal factors that increase the likelihood of a person becoming involved in crime and the likelihood of reoffending. It's important to also examine how the justice system harms those that become involved in it, and how we can best work with those affected by crime to ensure quality of evidence as well as their psychological wellbeing. Current and future generations of practitioners therefore need thorough knowledge and understanding of what is effective versus ineffective, beneficial versus harmful, to be able to fight for meaningful and lasting change which will benefit and minimise harm to those that become involved in the criminal justice system.
What do you enjoy about teaching this programme at ENU?
I love leading and teaching on this programme because we typically attract students with varied study backgrounds, work experience, and life experiences. This means that everybody in the classroom (staff included) have opportunities to learn from one another. I also enjoy working across subject areas, leading colleagues in both psychology and criminology who are passionate about their teaching and research and who create such an exciting and supportive environment for our students to learn. Often you can really sense the enthusiasm for a topic in classroom conversations or in student work, or when students are discussing their work placement, and it’s fantastic knowing that you’ve contributed to that. Our graduates go on to make a real difference around the world!