A career as a toxicologist entails an imperative responsibility: studying the reactions chemicals have on the human body and the environment in order to secure people from potentially harmful toxins that cause can disease, cancer, and deformity. Requirements to become a toxicologist include laboratory and research experience as well as a degree in toxicology, biology, or chemistry.
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 (2014-2024)*||8% for all medical scientists, except epidemiologists; 8% for all biochemists and biophysicists|
|Median Salary (2016)**||$79,933 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 8% from 2014-2024. Toxicologists may also be classified as biochemists; the expected growth rate for biochemists, along with biophysicists, was 8% from 2014-2024. PayScale.com reports that, as of January 2016, the median annual salary for toxicologists was $79,933.
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.
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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.
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.
The toxicologist researches and experiments with chemicals to assess their degree of toxicity. They must have at least a bachelor's degree in toxicology or a related field, though a graduate degree is recommended as it is preferred by employers; lab experience is also required. Job outlook is average at about 8%, so there is enough job opportunities for a qualified individual.