Toxicologist: Job Outlook, Duties and Requirements

Toxicology is the study of the effects of chemicals on the human body, environment and other living things. Accordingly, toxicologists research, monitor and assess these effects in order to maintain health and the ecosystem.

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Job Outlook for a Toxicologist

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the life, physical and social science occupations is projected to grow 16% from 2010-2020. This rate is about average compared to all other professions. Salary.com reports that as of November 2013, toxicologists earned median salaries of $71,139.

Toxicologist Duties

In order to research and assess the effects of chemicals, toxicologists perform carefully designed studies and experiments. These experiments help identify the specific amount of a chemical that may cause harm and potential risks of being near or using products that contain certain chemicals. Research projects may range from assessing the effects of toxic pollutants on the environment to evaluating how the human immune system responds to chemical compounds within pharmaceutical drugs.

While the basic duties of toxicologists are to determine the effects of chemicals on organisms and their surroundings, specific job duties may vary based on industry and employment. For example, forensic toxicologists may look for toxic substances in a crime scene, whereas aquatic toxicologists may analyze the toxicity level of wastewater.

Requirements for a Toxicologist

Bachelor's degree programs in toxicology cover the chemical makeup of toxins and their effects on biochemistry, physiology and ecology. After introductory life science courses are complete, students typically enroll in labs and apply toxicology principles to research and other studies. Advanced students delve into specific sectors, like the pharmaceutical industry or law enforcement, which apply methods of toxicology in their work.

The Society of Toxicology (SOT) recommends that undergraduates in postsecondary schools that don't offer a bachelor's degree in toxicology consider attaining a degree in biology or chemistry (www.toxicology.org). Additionally, the SOT advises aspiring toxicologists to take statistics and mathematics courses, as well as gain laboratory experience through lab courses, student research projects and internships.

Advanced Degrees

While most positions in toxicology require laboratory experience, some employers may prefer job applicants who have completed an advanced certificate or degree program, such as a Master of Science (M.S.) in Pharmacology and Toxicology or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Toxicology. Students at this level typically specialize in a particular field, such as clinical, human, environmental, chemical or forensic toxicology.

Topics may range from soil microbiology to post mortem forensic toxicology. Master's degree programs generally last 1-2 years and may include a student research project or thesis statement. Ph.D. programs typically take 3-4 years to complete and include specialized coursework, exams and a dissertation.

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