Larissa Engelmann

“It was an easy decision to stay because the team here are superb.”

I’ve been at Edinburgh Napier for about nine years! I came over from Germany to do my undergraduate degree here in criminology and absolutely loved it, then stayed to do my Masters in criminology and forensic psychology.

I wasn’t actually planning on doing a PhD until later in life, but when I saw this one advertised, it was just what I wanted – I’m passionate about education and learning, and I want a career in policing and criminal justice. It was also ideal because during the PhD, I could start volunteering for the police as a Special Constable, which I wanted to do so that I’d have an idea of the realities of policing. I love academia, but I think it is important to make it as relevant as possible to real life experiences.

In my PhD I’ve been looking at how police officers in Scotland learn and where the gaps might be. My research covers everything from leadership training for chief superintendents to what officers on the beat do; and I’m trying to break down some of the barriers between academia and the police. Traditionally in the police, it’s been time and experience that counts, and there is much less of a focus on the value of academic learning or qualifications.

I’m now working as a Special Constable, doing a few shifts a month. I actually did the training for that at Edinburgh Napier as they’d just started doing it at the University as part of their policing and criminology undergraduate degree.

Nine years sounds a lot, but it was an easy decision to stay because the criminology team here are superb. My main supervisor is Dr Andrew Wooff, who helped me very much with the training to be a Special Constable; and my co-supervisor Dr Elizabeth Aston is also the Director for the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR), which sits at Napier. She’s been invaluable, particularly in getting in touch with Police Scotland to share my emerging findings, and helping me spread the word about what I’m doing through SIPR.

Building a community

I’m involved with student life as one of the student representatives on the University Research Degrees Committee, making sure that students’ voices are heard and feeding back to them what the issues are. We have our own website for postgrads where people can introduce themselves, with blogs about our events and information that they need. I encourage all of the other reps at each School to get in touch with their research students, and we try hard to make sure new students know how to access information and support. That’s high on our priority list: people who started during the pandemic are going to find it more difficult to make that connection so we want to bridge that gap. We are passionate about building our community.

I’m doing university teaching too, on the sociology and criminology modules of the undergraduate degree: facilitating tutorials, lecturing and supervising honours project students.

I’m now thinking of a lectureship, or working with Police Scotland – or even of exploring more options in research. Finding jobs in criminal justice can be difficult, but I have a lot of actual work experience which I’ve gained through my time at Edinburgh Napier. It’s exciting to have all of these options open to me.