An Interview with Jason Doll
“The field of forensic psychology requires the abilities to think critically and to adapt to a certain degree of ambiguity.”
Jason Doll has been a professor of forensic psychology since 2003. He teaches several courses at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, where he is also the chair of the Forensic Psychology Department. Professor Doll holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Forensic Psychology and a Master of Arts in Organizational Behavior from the California School of Professional Psychology. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Criminal Justice Studies from University of South Dakota.Dr. Doll chose to become a professor of forensic psychology primarily because he enjoys the lively discussions and debates between students in his classes. He also appreciates that his position at a teaching university gives him the opportunity to continue to learn about psychology.
In your own words, what is forensic psychology?
I subscribe to the broad definition of forensic psychology, which is the application of psychological principles, concepts, knowledge, and skills to the justice system. The most well-established and accessible description of forensic psychology is that it is the way psychology interacts with the legal system.
What classes do you teach in forensic psychology?
I teach several courses that relate to forensic psychology, such as Police Psychology and Psychology and Law. In the Psychology and Law course, I cover a wide range of topics, such as eyewitness identification and memory, false confessions, and jury selection and decision-making. I also address ways to detect deception, such as the polygraph, fMRI, and reality monitoring. Finally, we cover psychological autopsies, which is an attempt to identify the manner of someone’s death, whether it is suicide, accident, natural, or homicide. In the Police Psychology course, I cover such topics as police selection, fitness-for-duty evaluations, stress, interacting with the mentally ill, and hostage negotiations.
I also direct the internship seminar, in which I supervise students’ internship experiences. Because my university is located near Washington, D.C., many of our students complete their internships with federal government agencies like the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or the Drug Enforcement Administration, among many others.
How long have you been a professor of forensic psychology?
I have been a professor of forensic psychology at Marymount University since 2003. I have also chaired the Forensic Psychology Department since 2008. Before teaching, I was looking to find a way to merge my dual majors in criminal justice and psychology. After I discovered forensic psychology, I decided to get my doctorate in that field.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in studying forensic psychology,” what would your response be?
I would tell aspiring forensic psychology students that not all programs are the same. For instance, some programs train students to become forensic clinicians. Those individuals are primarily trained to provide treatment in forensic settings, such as forensic hospitals, jails, or prisons. If they are licensed at the doctoral level, they might be able to conduct psychological assessments of defendants and inmates.
Other programs that are labeled forensic psychology may focus more on non-clinical or counseling areas such physiological, cognitive, social, and developmental psychology. Those programs are going to train their students primarily in such areas as eyewitness identification and memory, jury selection and decision-making, false confessions, and interrogations.
In your opinion, what are the biggest hurdles or difficulties that students entering a forensic psychology program have?
I think the biggest difficulty that students coming into a forensic psychology program have is adapting to the idea that the world isn’t black and white. We like to think that the legal system always has a clear “yes” or “no” answer. But in forensic psychology, there is rarely an easy answer. There are only probabilities, which essentially translate into shades of gray. The field of forensic psychology requires the abilities to think critically and to adapt to a certain degree of ambiguity.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a forensic psychologist?
To succeed as a forensic psychologist, you need to have the ability to deal with legally complex and morally questionable issues. A high degree of critical, rational, and objective thinking are also necessary.
What courses in forensic psychology are most important for a student to take?
In my opinion, the most important classes that prospective forensic psychology students should take are social psychology, abnormal psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, criminal justice, and theories of crime, which help students obtain a deeper understanding of those areas that are so essential to forensic psychology.
What skills can students expect to gain while studying forensic psychology?
Students can expect to gain a solid understanding of human behavior through forensic psychology classes. They will leave school with a better appreciation for why people act a certain way. It will give them insight into why people engage in certain behaviors, and it will also give them insight into themselves. I think that exploring this area of knowledge can help people even if they decide not to go into a graduate degree program.
For a student who is not interested in an academic career, what is the optimal level of education needed for a job in the field of forensic psychology?
As with a general psychology degree, you can do a lot with a degree in forensic psychology. That said, if you want to become a licensed psychologist, you have to have a doctorate degree. If you want to work in law enforcement, a bachelors or masters degree may be sufficient, depending on the specific position and/or agency. Overall, the program that a student goes into will dictate the types of careers in which they can engage.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying forensic psychology?
I would advise students to pay close attention to the aims of the programs they are considering, because there are many different applications of forensic psychology, and each program has its own emphasis. For example, if a student wants to conduct forensic assessments, they need to go into a program that focuses on the clinical aspects of the field in order to meet the licensure requirements in the state where they want to practice.