Interview with Dr. Diana Dolliver, Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama Department of Criminal Justice
Dr. Diana Dolliver is an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama Department of Criminal Justice and holds her PhD in Criminology and Justice Policy from Northeastern University. Her research interests include cybercrime, comparative criminology, and macro-level trends in organized crime and drug trafficking. Dr. Dolliver has contributed to numerous publications on topics in criminal justice and criminology, including an examination of the legal, forensic, and criminological aspects of cyberterrorism for the 6th edition of Current Problems of the Penal Law and Criminology. In addition to presenting her research internationally in China and Poland, she was also recently interviewed for Time Magazine's November 11, 2013 cover story, “The Secret Web: Where Drugs, Porn, and Murder Hide Online.”
Prior to becoming an educator, you worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration and for the Center for Criminal Justice Policy Research at Northeastern University, Boston. How did your professional experiences shape your approach to the classroom?
I very much enjoyed my experience and years spent working for the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as for the Center for Criminal Justice Policy Research at Northeastern University. The former provided me with real-world experience in federal law enforcement, while the latter allowed me to gain experience conducting research that impacted public policy. These experiences directly influenced my approach to the classroom, because one of my goals as an educator is to bridge the gap between academia and practitioners in the field of criminal justice. The practical experience that I bring into the classroom helps students actively connect and engage with the material. It lets them see how relevant their studies are, knowing they will be able to use the material effectively in their careers once they graduate and become the policymakers of tomorrow.
How do you engage students in courses for non-majors in the subject matter? Have you had students switch majors after taking a criminal justice course?
I approach each class I am teaching the same way: if I am excited about the material, I can engage my students and hopefully make them just as excited about the material. Many students see required courses (like criminological theory, for example) as something they “have to do” and simply need to “get the class out of the way.” I challenge this attitude by showing them that a course such as criminological theory serves as the foundation for every job in the criminal justice field, because, after all, we are ultimately trying to figure out why people engage in criminal behaviors and what we, as experts in the field, can do to improve our society. I have had students switch majors after taking one or two criminal justice courses, and it is encouraging as an educator to see students motivated to enter into the field of criminal justice.
In addition to holding bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in criminal justice, you also hold a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and have studied the Russian and Polish languages. Do you generally recommend that current criminal justice students obtain specialties in in-demand fields, and if so, what is the best way for students to choose and pursue those specialties?
I would absolutely recommend that criminal justice students interested in seeking law enforcement careers (for instance, sworn officers, intelligence analysts, crime scene investigators, corrections officers) obtain specialties in other fields in addition to their criminal justice studies. Cyber security is the direction that federal law enforcement is moving in, and these agencies are currently seeking candidates who are technologically savvy. If that interests you, I would encourage you to seek out a minor or add it as a double major. If you aren't necessarily interested in computer science but are interested in cyber studies, seek a degree in globalization studies, cyber security, or foreign service.
If foreign language interests you more than these options, learn a second or third language. The FBI has a list on their website of the “critical languages” that they are most interested in, so this might be helpful in deciding which foreign language to learn. Other skills in accounting or legal studies are also desirable – but remember, study something that you want to do for the rest of your career. If you only get an accounting degree to get your foot in the door with a government agency but you aren't interested in accounting, the next 20 years will go by very slowly. These agencies are looking for well-rounded candidates that bring a lot to the table. Many federal agencies also require applicants to have at least a few years of work experience under their belt (currently, the average age for federal law enforcement hires is around 29 years old).
From what you have seen, what degrees or certifications are most in demand by employers in your field?
Graduate school! Many employers in the field of criminal justice are seeking candidates with post-undergraduate studies. The field of study is less relevant than the degree itself. Many federal law enforcement agencies are only considering candidates who have at least a master's degree for entry-level positions. In some cases, a PhD is required. With that being said, many of the local and state-level jobs in criminal justice may require only a four-year degree. If you are interested in seeking a career in academia or in a research-based field, a PhD is the way to go.
You have an impressive publications list as a contributor, researcher, and editor. Do you involve students in your research, and if so, how can they typically contribute?
I do like to get my students involved, and I know my colleagues feel the same way. There are many opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to become involved in data collection (such as conducting interviews, administering surveys, observing courtrooms) and data analysis (such as learning how to use statistical programs, cleaning and coding data). Students also may have the opportunity to help write literature reviews. My advice to my students is to find a professor at your university that shares similar interests. Introduce yourself, and inquire about any potential opportunities to assist with their research projects.
What are the biggest challenges that the criminal justice majors of today face?
Probably the biggest challenge faced by criminal justice majors today is competition on the job market. Many undergraduates around the country are graduating with four-year degrees and are having a hard time finding work. Because of this, I tell all of my students to make sure that you can set yourself apart from the masses, whether it's by having foreign language skills, computer science training, or other desirable job or internship experience. A master's degree is also a good place to start.
What professional development opportunities do you recommend to your students?
In addition to attending graduate school, I encourage all of my undergraduate students to find an internship or co-op in their area of interest. The best way to set yourself apart from other applicants is to already have your foot in the door. Many of my students in the past have interned with local police departments (in areas including community policing, crime scene investigation, firearms identification, intelligence analysis), federal and state law enforcement agencies, the Attorney General's office, law firms, state-level Department of Corrections, Department of Youth Services, and security firms. Some of these internships require the student to be able to obtain a security clearance, since they often deal with classified information. Having a security clearance as an undergraduate student is an excellent addition to any criminal justice student's resume. Some universities have well-established internship or co-op programs, while others may not have the same opportunities; this is something to keep in mind as you search for the right school for you.
We'd like to thank Dr. Dolliver for taking the time to interview with us, and we look forward to reading her future publications! Be sure to visit Dr. Dolliver's faculty page at the University of Alabama Department of Criminal Justice for more information on her research activities and findings.