What is a toxicologist?
While you might not realize it, the results of work done by toxicologists are all around us, and the research they conduct affects our daily lives. Are you ever concerned about potentially harmful chemicals that might be in the pesticide you put on your lawn, the water your city provides, in the beauty products you buy, or the food you consume? Researching the safety and potential harm caused by chemicals is the job of a toxicologist. Chemicals surround us, and many affect our health and the environment. Toxicologists use the latest, most advanced biotechnological methods to learn about toxins at the molecular level. They carry out many controlled studies and must determine the probability of harm and help establish regulations to protect the population.
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Where do toxicologists work?
As a toxicologist, you may work with pharmaceutical companies or other private industries to test their products’ safety. You could also work for the government and help develop laws to regulate the use of chemicals. Teaching at an academic institution is also an option once you have earned some experience. According to the Society of Toxicology, over half of toxicologists work in industry, 34% work in academia, and 12% in government.
What do they do on a regular basis? A Job Description
Research is a large part of most toxicology work. Whether you work for a nonprofit or academic institution, research as to how chemicals can be harmful to our health and environment is a constant and ongoing topic that is even becoming of interest to the general population. There are also subspecialties in research that you could pursue, including reproductive and developmental toxicology, immunotoxicology, chemical carcinogenesis, and risk assessment. Product safety evaluation is another area of work for toxicologists. Many toxicologists working in this area are employed by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Finally, teaching is an employment option for the qualified toxicologist.
Job outlook and salary information
Entry level salaries for a toxicologist can range from $35,000 to $60,000. Industry positions generally pay higher than academic, nonprofit, or government positions in this field. In addition to reasonably high salaries, toxicology is a career that will continue to develop and expand. As people are more concerned about the potentially harmful affects of products they use, medications they take, and the chemicals they’re exposed to in their everyday lives, the work of toxicologists will continue to grow. More stringent guidelines and new laws will likely come into play to enforce general public safety as well.
What level of education, training, or experience is necessary?
There are different ways to embark on a career in toxicology. With a two year degree you can still work in toxicology as a lab assistant or research technician. If you are still in high school, be sure to take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, as well as computer science. At the college level, you could major in toxicology or in biology or chemistry. In a toxicology program, you will also learn to understand which chemicals affect humans, how drugs and toxins affect organ systems of the body, how to assess safety of chemicals and drugs, and molecular and genetic approaches to toxins, drugs and diseases. With a bachelor of science in toxicology, you could study pharmacology, toxicology, biochemistry, physiology, pathobiology, oncology, or molecular biology at the graduate level. [Check out Toxicology Programs and related educational opportunities]
Certification for the experienced toxicologist is available through the American Board of Toxicology (ABT). This involves passing a three-part examination, and recertifying every five years through retesting or continuing education. With a bachelor’s degree, you will need at least ten years of work experience in toxicology. With a master’s, you will need seven years, and with a doctoral degree, you will need three years. [Get more information on Toxicologist Certification here] Get started first on a two-year or four-year degree, and then you can focus on which area of the field and which specialty best suits you. Regardless of the path you choose, if you are interested in scientific research and the principals by which chemicals can affect living organisms and the environment, this should be an exciting degree for you with plenty of options.
To learn more about becoming a toxicologist, you can contact schools that offer toxicology or science programs. You may also wish to take a closer look at the toxicology certification process for the experienced toxicologist. If you are still trying to determine the right career choice, take some time to explore additional careers in health care.