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Become a Project Toxicologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Project toxicologists are medical scientists who work in private industry, non-profit organizations, research foundations and government organizations to create and manage studies on products' possible toxic effects on humans and the environment. Project toxicologists have a background in biology, chemistry and management. Degree programs are available from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. View article »

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  • 0:03 Become a Project Toxicologist
  • 0:32 Career Requirements
  • 0:58 Get a Bachelor's Degree
  • 1:51 Gain Laboratory Experience
  • 2:17 Earn a Graduate Degree
  • 2:53 Become Certified

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Video Transcript

Become a Project Toxicologist

As a project toxicologist, you would design and direct studies on a particular product being tested, network with research and development teams and project directors to correct problems, analyze the data from those studies and write reports to both scientific and non-scientific personnel. Job titles have several variations, including project toxicologist, senior toxicologist, senior scientist in investigative toxicology and senior scientist-developmental toxicologist.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree minimum; employers may favor toxicologists with master's and doctoral-level degrees
Degree Field Toxicology
Experience Professional clinical experience required
Certification Voluntary certification available
Salary (2015) $77,190 per year (Median salary for medical scientists, including project toxicologists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Get a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree program in toxicology consists of multidisciplinary coursework; relevant subject areas include statistics, chemistry, biology, computer science and physics. Only a few accredited 4-year universities offer undergraduate degrees specifically in toxicology; however, employers and graduate programs both accept degrees in related fields, such as chemistry and biology, provided that a similar arrangement of coursework is followed.

Success Tip:

  • Consider a doctoral program. Project toxicologist positions are high-level positions that generally require a Ph.D. and several years in a postdoctoral position. Some employers will consider those with master's or bachelor's degrees, although they generally must be accompanied by up to several decades of experience in the field.

Step 2: Gain Laboratory Experience

As with any laboratory-based scientific research career, gaining relevant lab experience during or after a bachelor's degree program improves eligibility for toxicology jobs and graduate programs. Summer research projects, internships and entry-level jobs in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industry can all provide the necessary experience for education and career advancement.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree

A master's or doctoral degree in toxicology can significantly increase earnings and eligibility for jobs. Master's degree programs in toxicology take 2-3 years, and Ph.D. programs take around five years to complete. Students in these programs take advanced courses in subjects like biochemistry, environmental toxicology and data analysis. Ph.D. programs and some master's degree programs require several semesters of research accompanied by a thesis or dissertation defended against a panel of faculty.

Step 4: Become Certified

Certification may help with career advancement in the field of project toxicology. The American Board of Toxicology (ABT) bestows certification to toxicologists through an examination (www.abtox.org). Toxicologists who have either a doctoral degree and three years of full-time experience in the field, a master's degree and seven years of experience or a bachelor's degree and ten years of experience are eligible to take the exam. According to the ABT, gaining certification further increases a toxicologist's professional credentials, and those who earn it generally have higher salaries.

Success Tip:

  • Look for project toxicology jobs at pharmaceutical or biotech companies. Employers looking for toxicology professionals are often with pharmaceutical or biotech companies.

To become a project toxicologist, earn a bachelor's degree, gain laboratory experience, earn a graduate degree and become certified.


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