Toxicologist: Job Outlook, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a toxicologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, coursework and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Toxicology is the study of the effects of chemicals on the human body, environment and other living things. Professional toxicologists research, monitor and assess these effects with the aim of maintaining the health of both humans and the ecosystem. While a bachelor's degree in toxicology or a related field like biochemistry may be enough for entry-level lab positions, employers may prefer to hire those with a graduate degree in the field.

Required Education Bachelor's degree at minimum; master's or Ph.D. may be preferred
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 13% for all medical scientists, except epidemiologists; 19% for all biochemists and biophysicists*
Median Salary (2014)$79,132 for all toxicologists**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Job Outlook for a Toxicologist

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical scientists such as toxicologists was projected to grow 13% from 2012-2022. Toxicologists may also be classified as biochemists; the expected growth rate for biochemists, along with biophysicists, was 19% from 2012-2022. PayScale.com reports that, as of December 2014, the median annual salary for toxicologists was $79,132.

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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