We spoke to Larissa Engelmann about her MSc Applied Criminology and Forensic Psychology and how she knew she'd chosen the right degree.
What made you consider postgraduate study?
I studied Criminology at undergraduate I got really fascinated with forensic psychology in particular. I decided I wanted to do it as a Masters to deepen my knowledge in that area specifically. Another aspect was the placement, because finding any jobs in criminal justice is really, really difficult and having experience is very important. This Masters has a placement during the summer, so that was one of the other reasons why I definitely wanted to do it.
I knew I wanted to do a PhD at some point in my career – I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to go into research, but I wanted to keep my options open.
Did you have any doubts or concerns about pursuing PG study?
Studying is just such a big part of me and what I love to do, and my undergrad at Edinburgh Napier showed me how much I love it. And I knew I wanted to do more.
So I applied for a few Masters programmes, all criminal justice- or psychology-based. I was a bit nervous that if I did a Masters in Criminology that it would be quite a lot of repetition. So I did have quite a few concerns, but in the end I did decide to do it because forensic psychology was something I wanted to learn more about, and I did want to have that placement opportunity and have just one more year to decide what to go into.
Do you remember a particular moment that made you realise you’d done the right thing?
Definitely. I had a module in Community Policing and Mediation, and I’d never heard about restorative justice before, which is putting offender and victim together to talk things through with a mediator. I was so impressed by the idea of it – I’d never heard about it and I was so glad I was there, learning from international restorative justice specialists. I ended up doing my Masters dissertation on it.
Did you have a favourite class, project or experience?
Just before I started the Masters I went to Florida with Edinburgh Napier’s Criminology Summer School. It was absolutely fantastic to have that opportunity. We did police ride-alongs, visited a private American prison, and spoke to a lot of people. We attended criminal justice lectures too, and lots of the students that we talked to in that university said ‘yeah I’ve got a gun at home, it’s just what you do. I’ve got my gun in my car.’ It was just so surreal.”
My placement with the Edinburgh City Council was the other highlight. It was over three months and I was evaluating their mediation service, which was ideal feeding into my restorative justice research. That was fantastic – a really good opportunity. I still have those connections today, which is really helpful.
What turned out to be the biggest challenge you faced?
I wanted to do a research project for my Masters that was going to be better and bigger than for my Bachelors. I really wanted to do more interviews – it seemed silly to have just eight interviews. I thought, this is not going to have an impact, and I wanted to have an impact. It was definitely a challenge to say to myself, ‘it’s ok, Larissa, you only have three months. You don’t have to change the world.’
And another challenge was the thought that had been in my mind since before I started when I asked myself, do I really need it? What am I going to use it for? And then halfway through I thought, I’m absolutely loving this, but this is one more year of studying and I still don’t know if I actually need it for the job I want. In the end, though, I didn’t feel that way. Even just finding forensic psychology and studying abnormal psychology – I absolutely loved it. It was so interesting, and even though I might not use it in my career, just knowing about it and having a better understanding of it is fantastic, and it enhances my knowledge of other areas.
How do you think PG study has helped you along the path to the job you want?
I went overseas volunteering in Zambia straight after my Masters for four months, and I believe that studying this Masters gave me the confidence to do it. I had a whole assessment day to qualify for the volunteer programme, and I know that the things I learned on my Masters helped me there, too.
It helped me to confirm to myself that studying and further research is something I’m interested in, which helped me when I applied for the PhD that I’m starting now. The questions they asked at the interview were “what sort of research experience do you have? What modules have you done? How does your last research project feed into this one?” It showed me that in the end I did choose the right research topic for my Masters because now it has helped me to get onto this PhD programme.
I think it also helped me a lot in my professional life because I have worked with the Edinburgh City Council, I’ve been abroad a lot, which has helped me to build those networks if I do decide to go into the workforce instead of academia after my PhD. As for a job, I don’t really know yet – I’ve got to see how the next three years go!
What advice would you give to someone considering a postgraduate degree?
In your undergrad you have lots of general degrees that you can do, but in Masters you can do something so specific. Even within Forensic Psychology I could have done something so specific if I’d chosen to.
If you want to go into the workforce and it’s not a research Masters, make sure there’s a placement in there, something practical, because you want to come out with networks in hand, not just your academic experience.
In general, doing a Masters can definitely be really helpful if you want to look into something further, one aspect of your studies because you can choose – there are so many more options in Masters. I’ve worked in Student Recruitment, the amount of Masters courses that I’ve seen at Napier and other universities – you can do literally everything! You can do anything. It’s crazy.