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Working in STEM fields with a criminal record

  1. Nov 18, 2014 #1
    Over seven years ago, I was homeless for a period of time. During this time, i was arrested twice and convicted twice for theft under $500 dollars. In both instances I only stole food to feed myself (although I don't believe it matters, as I imagine it isn't reflected on the record). Since then, I have not been arrested or received any convictions(outside of traffic infractions). I recently started school about a year and half ago, and I have become more concerned recently about these criminal records hanging over my head. Recently, legislation was passed in Alabama(the state in which these crimes were committed), that allows records to be expunged(if approved).

    Now I am first and foremost interested in pursuing a career in physics(academia,observatory,working on particle accelerators,etc). However, these careers are(from what I have read) competitive and are difficult to get into. So I have considered careers in related subjects that may also be difficult to get into but broaden my job choices(engineering jobs mostly). Also, I've considered careers that don't particular interest me, but pay the bills and are math-related(finance, IT work, etc).

    Now all that being said, here are some questions I have. If I get my two petty theft records expunged, will they still provide a significant obstacle to employment in these fields? If I work in a sector of math/physics/engineering that involves any government clearance, expunged records will be viewed anyways, but will this automatically disbar me from working in these areas? In addition, is this a significant bar to licensure as an engineer? Also, would these records prevent from working in non-governmental areas such as academia? Lastly, if I chose a career in finance/IT work, would this prevent me from working in those fields(I could see how a theft record would be considered in an extremely negative light in the financial sector).

    Also, be as brutally honest as possible and please do not sugar coat it. Thanks for any answers.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    There are some other threads on this site that discuss these very issues. One point is that you may be asked if you committed any felonies which I think in your case is no.


    Expunged records no longer show in public documents. However enterprising people have created databases of records as they are published and so even though they are removed they are still commercially available for a fee.
  4. Nov 21, 2014 #3
    I knew someone in college who was 31 and completing his first bachelor's (in fact, the first one in this family I found out later on). He grew up poor and didn't keep the best of company and ran into some trouble. Because of his age, I thought he was poor and worked for some time and then came back to school. I never would have guessed the real reason - he and his friend did time together. I knew him for about 2 years before I found out and I never actually asked him to divulge - I didn't need to. Over the two years, I asked him to watch my belongings, I studied with him and his behavior was nothing but upstanding. We were both Economics majors and we took a lot of math courses together: Multivariate Calculus, Linear Algebra, Differential Equations. He was at the top of the class in each one. No joke. I struggled with Intro to Abstract Math (B-) and he kept going and went onto being top of his class in Real Analysis, Number Theory, Topology, etc. He was like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. He got a job as a quant programmer for Moody's after college. Here's the kicker: he quit his job because he objected to assigning quality ratings to structured product junk.

    Keep in mind that job applications don't always ask about felonies alone. I've seen the broader term "crime" listed as well so even if you have your record expunged, you will still have to list the crime as jedishrfu pointed out above. I think that if you're being honest - it was only petty theft to feed yourself and your personality is truly upstanding, someone WILL understand. The problem may be finding this person but we exist. As for what industries, I doubt you will be considered for front office or back office jobs in finance/banking. You need to be able to steal millions to keep those jobs. Go big or go home kids ;-) My advice is to stick with STEM.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2014
  5. Nov 21, 2014 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    For some bigger companies or employee search firms aka headhunters you might get rejected by computer (app scanned into system) before a person even sees your app because its not illegal to reject some with a known criminal record no matter what the circumstances are.
  6. Nov 21, 2014 #5
    Thanks for the responses so far. My situation does not seem completely disheartening from the responses so far, but I can see it probably will definitely impact me. Also, I could be wrong about this, but I was under the impression that I cannot be directly denied a job(legally) as a result of a criminal record as the sole reason. Not that it particularly matters, as a prospective employer could cite other reasons, or simply not give me a call back in such a case.

    Does anyone else have any personal experience, or know someone with personal experience regarding this type of situation(in regards to having a past criminal record and trying to find employment in STEM fields)?
  7. Nov 21, 2014 #6
    Have you had a job in the "real world" yet? I've been denied a position for being overqualified - I was told this after the interview. The formal rejection was a standard email: "We have found other candidates with backgrounds more close aligned with our needs" or something like this. The point is, they're not going to tell you the real reason.
  8. Nov 21, 2014 #7

    Yes, I have. This is why said an employer could cite other reasons, or simply not give a call-back.
  9. Nov 21, 2014 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    Overqualified can be a real reason. The rationale is that overqualified people will move once an opportunity comes by because they know and other employers can correctly assess that they have more qualifications and can offer more.

    Why that matters is that HR people are measured on their success of hiring the right people who stay on the job for X years before moving on. So if the hiree doesn't work out or moves on too fast to some other company then that's a black mark against that HR manager.

    I had friend who graduated from college years ago tell me that very story. He convinced HR that even though he was overqualified he would stay around because he really wanted to work there. IBM came knocking with a really good offer and he couldn't refuse it. The HR manager told him I knew it, I knew this would happen but never again during the exit interview.
  10. Nov 21, 2014 #9
    Aha, so the key is for me to be overqualified and have the criminal record, so my rationale to a HR manager can be that I am not desirable enough to be picked up by other companies. Joke, but it would be terrible if I pursue a PhD in Physics, and have even less job options because now I am too overqualified.

    Anyways, I am just trying to gauge what other people's experiences have been. I've pretty much decided, that I am going to pursue a degree in physics regardless, as I am having fun learning. If nothing else, I'll be an extremely over-qualified grill cook at McDonald's.
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