I'm 31 years old with a Bachelor's in Sociology and an M.A. in International Security and Conflict Studies. I finished my M.A. degree in 2015, and since then I have not been involved in Academia whatsoever - instead I have been working in Sales in the Tech industry.

Researching and writing is still something which really makes me tick and therefore returning to Academia to do a PHD has always been on my mind - those closest to me share the same sentiment and think a PHD would suit me down to the ground. My dream job is also to be a professor, and I'll talk a bit more about that below

The research topic I am interested in is violent extremism and radicalisation, specifically the rehabilitative methods that are most successful as well as the drivers in the first place.

Upon beginning to research PHD's, I have noticed that there is an abundance of Criminology PHD's in the UK, and that extremism is actually listed as one of the sub-topics in the course description (at least in some of them).

The more I have researched into these programs, the more I think I will find them interesting and engaging - even better, despite the tenure track job market for Humanities/Social Science PHD graduates usually being very rough, it appears Criminology based Professor roles are in demand (at least in the UK).

The part I'm curious about is, whether (1) The fact I have been out of Academia since 2015 greatly reduces my chances of being accepted into a PHD; (2) Whether my academic background, particularly my M.A in International Relations and Security, might not be overly relevant to Criminology and can therefore 'rule me out'.

Looking forward to your feedback on this - thanks in advance!


3 Answers 3


A quick warning. You seem to like the fact that the labor market in for criminology in the UK is good. However, it is going to take time before you are on that market. At a minimum you will need to have finished your PhD, and in many fields there is a soft requirement that you have some additional years in a post-doc.

The problem with that is that there are only so many tenured positions for criminologists in the UK. Once they are filled with a tenured person, those positions are off the market till that person retires. So it is not uncommon for a particular field to for a short time have lots of positions open, they all get filled by people of that cohort, and than that field is "clogged up" by that cohort until they retire.

There is some movement possible in those 20-30 years of clogged up state: People move, unfortunately some die early, etc. But the competition for those rare places is going to be fierce. To make things worse, the number of free places is going to be smallest just after that window of opportunity closes: the people just started a job and are less likely to move and they are young so less likely to die.

So when the market is good now, the market is in all likelihood at its worst when you become eligible. This is something to consider, when you want to enter on this path. So look at why the market is good now, and if those conditions are likely to persist for say 10 years.

I am not saying you should not do it, or that it is impossible. I am saying you should make your decision knowing this. When you do choose to enter, have a plan B (and C, and D) ready. It is not just important to have those plans but also to have clear deadlines of when you are going to activate the alternative plans so you won't miss those windows of opportunity either.


If you have specific research questions that would be appropriate for a PhD and there are professors you'd like to work with, this would be a good indication you would be well suited to enter a programme.

It's difficult to answer specifically in your case without knowing more. First step is to find those professors you'd like to work with/learn from and reach out, a direct conversation about your interests and theirs is the best way to find a match with a supervisor.


For the present forget entirely about academic appointments as these require more than a PhD (1-2 postdoc fellowships is normal today) and the job market is not predictable over such a time span. Let's just treat your situation as one of career change.

You have a number of serious questions to deal with prior to making any application for a PhD programme.

1. Why no social sciences or international relations work to date if this arena really is the sort of work that you have a strong yen for ?

You may well have good reasons for working in tech indutry sales, e.g. you wanted to get married and needed a good paying job to support a spouse (and child on the way?) and this offer came along. But these reasons must be convincing to a putative supervisor and consistent with the rest of your candidacy. I don't think it would impress the supervisor were you to nakedly say that there was a lot of overseas travel in the sales job and this factor attracted you: there isn't much time for considering Euphrates water rights delicacies when you have to sell a shoal of tech systems to Middle Eastern companies.

2. What have you been doing to keep in touch with this field since your MA ?

This is also a very crucial question. Talk is no good here. You'll need actual evidence of serious critical reading and thinking on these matters over the last 8 years. Your supervisor will soon suss out a waffler here.

3. Doing a PhD will bring about a huge drop in income. Can you (and your dependents) sustain this quantum drop in standard of living for 3 years ?

If so, the next question is going to be how - and you'd better have the income vs expenditure figures at hand.

4. Have you discussed your PhD intentions with your spouse ?

The nervous strain of doing a PhD - usually surrounded with immature and very selfish 22 - 26 year olds plus several NPD academics - will seriously drain you. It will also put a severe strain on your relationships at home. Quite apart from the economic and moral reasons to do so, it is only good sense to discuss the proposition with the people who matter (and provide the ultimate support) first and foremost rather than have them suddenly pull the plug in mid-programme later.

5. Research is always frustrating, usually unfair (you'll get limited insights after a mountain of work yet see dosser researchers ignorantly blunder into career-making splashes) and very demanding of social skills since university departments have a range of nationalities, beliefs, age ranges, motivations and morals - do you really think you have what it takes to not only adjust to this new environment but to thrive on it ?

If so, why ?

I believe your supervisor will regard the choice of research topic to be secondary to all the above considerations. However you both must find a topic that is satisfactory, reasonably likely to be fruitful and of enduring interest.

It might be helpful to you to draft a long statement of candidacy that properly covers the above questions and all other factors affecting your proposed change of career.

Then pass it to people who know you and listen to their feedback.

Buona fortuna.

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