By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski  |  10/23/2023

how to become a criminal justice professor

Are you interested in how to become a criminal justice professor? Becoming a criminal justice professor can be a rewarding goal that takes time and dedication to reach. Teaching criminal justice is important because it provides the opportunity to provide vital, real-world knowledge to postsecondary criminal justice students in addition to the course materials provided in class.

The criminal justice system depends on undergraduate or graduate students having a solid knowledge of the law and various criminal justice systems. The fields of criminal justice and criminal law continue to evolve based on current trends and legal issues, so students' knowledge needs to be as up to date as possible.

Criminal justice spans a wide range of potential career opportunities that may include:

  • Law enforcement
  • Probation and parole
  • The court system
  • Loss prevention
  • Law enforcement administration
  • Private security
  • Public safety

Many universities require a doctoral degree in criminal justice to serve as a criminal justice professor, especially at the graduate level. However, a criminal justice professor differs from a criminal justice instructor, often based on the employer.

For example, professors typically work at a college or university while a criminal justice instructor may be employed at a police or training academy. Both can serve an important role in educating students on public safety and other pressing issues associated with the field of criminal justice.

At the college or university level, it is common for law enforcement teachers to work in adjunct positions. Adjunct professor positions typically pay per course versus per hour, based on my professional experience.

Class assignments are not always consistent, but someone who is teaching as a second career may benefit from the flexibility of adjunct work. Both ground campuses and online universities usually offer adjunct teaching opportunities for law enforcement teachers.


What Makes a Good Criminal Justice Professor?

Good criminal justice professors have a firm understanding of the criminal justice system, which is often complemented with experience in addition to their education. Often, former law enforcement professionals pursue a secondary career in teaching postsecondary criminal justice.

There is an advantage to having field experience as a criminal justice professor because it enables the teacher to provide real-world context from the field to the criminal justice-related concepts covered in class. Students benefit from understanding how concepts taught in class apply to what criminal justice practitioners experience in the field. Law enforcement teachers with a background in the criminal justice industry can share their knowledge with the next generation as they grade students’ classwork.

Good criminal justice professors have strong communication skills and organization skills, and they create an engaging learning experience in the classroom. Good law enforcement teachers will provide useful feedback to postsecondary criminal justice students in the class and create a collaborative learning environment.

Law enforcement teachers at the college level can also encourage students to share their perspectives of current events in criminal justice and on typical class topics, such as law enforcement administration, investigation techniques, and criminal law concepts. Good criminal justice professors also have strong critical thinking and writing skills.

Another attribute of a good criminal justice professor is having the ability to conduct research. Published, peer-reviewed criminal justice research can help strengthen policies that impact the criminal justice industry. Conducting extensive research also assists with professional development by enabling professors the ability to study the most pressing issues in criminal justice.


The Value of Professional Publications

One concept that I learned very early in my career in academics was the importance of publishing in academic journals. Publishing research can occur before you become a criminal justice professor and can potentially serve as a good bullet point on your Curriculum Vitae (CV).

Successfully getting published in an academic journal may seem daunting at first for graduate students, but it is possible. I recommend starting with research you have already conducted. For example, graduate students at the master's degree level may wish to publish their thesis or capstone paper while a doctoral student may wish to publish a dissertation.

Utilizing the mentorship of a professor that the student currently has can be helpful in publishing research for the first time. Ultimately, it comes down to reviewing the publishing requirements on an academic journal's website and then formatting your work to meet that format.

The peer review process goes more smoothly when all of the journal formatting requirements have been met. The peer review process in scholarly journals ensures the quality of the research that is being published.

Prior to publication, a panel of experts in the field carefully review the research design, methodology, and findings to ensure the quality of the study. These experts also ensure that if the study was replicated, it would have the same outcome.


How to Pursue a Criminal Justice Teaching Job

There are several potential paths to become a criminal justice teacher. Many brick-and-mortar universities offer the traditional path that includes receiving tenure. The typical path often begins as becoming an assistant professor, an associate professor, and eventually a full professor.

Thanks to online education, there may be additional opportunities to pursue a career in teaching criminal justice. Many online universities offer criminal justice teaching jobs that may either be adjunct or full-time.

The advantage of working at an online university is that classes are often held in an asynchronous environment, which provides a great deal of flexibility for instructors, professors, and students taking online courses. A criminal justice professor may work in a completely different state than an online employer and may be able to complete classroom obligations at a time that may be more convenient.

From my professional experience, I began my online teaching career in criminal justice nearly 15 years ago while serving full-time as a police officer. Upon completing my master's degree, I obtained my first online job and taught as an adjunct professor, working around my police schedule. This experience was beneficial for me as it also provided the time to pursue my doctorate while I was already working in the field.

The online criminal justice teaching job market is very competitive, and there are a lot of qualified candidates. From my experience, I found that it was helpful to build a professional network in academics through social media sites, such as LinkedIn®. Then, once I found a school that was hiring, I would reach out to any professional contacts I had at the school through social media.


Building a Professional Network with Criminal Justice Practitioners and Teachers

In terms of professional networking, the advantage of LinkedIn over other social media platforms is that only career-related professional content is typically posted on a LinkedIn account. Prospective criminal justice professors can work to build a professional network several years before applying for their first job by connecting with industry groups, prospective employers, and others who have common interests in criminal justice.

Once I selected a school where I was interested in working, I used LinkedIn to connect with the criminal justice deans, program directors, faculty members, and hiring managers. The idea was that if they recognized my name from my CV when I applied, then they might review my LinkedIn account, which served as a pitch to market myself.

Over time, I was able to develop several thousand connections and followers on LinkedIn. Today, it serves as a good platform for me to share my academic research and publications.


The Importance of a Good Curriculum Vitae

I found that while building my teaching experience as an online criminal justice professor, it was not uncommon to apply to many different schools before landing a job. An important concept in pursuing a criminal justice teaching job is determining if the school desires a resume or CV.

A CV is very common in academia and is much different from a traditional resume. For teaching positions, I believe that a CV may be more beneficial than a resume when pursuing this type of career because it enables applicants to explain their background and experience in greater detail.

A CV is not limited by page number, and applicants can list everything that they feel may help better their chances of being selected for the job. For example, in addition to simply listing education and experience, a CV typically includes an applicant’s publications, presentations, committees, consultant work, and certificates.

From my professional experience, my career in teaching criminal justice has been very satisfying. I enjoy working with undergraduate or graduate students who are about to start in the field of criminal justice or who are criminal justice professionals looking to further their knowledge by taking courses. I also deliver lectures and have served as a guest speaker to law enforcement agencies in other countries.


Public Safety and Criminal Justice Degrees at American Public University

American Public University offers a choice of bachelor's and master's degree programs related to public safety and criminal justice, including:

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About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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