A toxicologist is in charge of identifying and studying the effects of chemicals and agents when ingested by a human being or an animal. Specifically speaking, the chemicals and agents here are actually toxic materials—substances that will do harm in a living body.
The area of study is quite broad, since the study of toxic materials—how they work and how their effects can be prevented—is necessary in many industries. Besides the pharmaceutical industry, other areas that need the expertise of a toxicologist include forensics, eco-toxicology and clinical industries, amongst others.
The work of a toxicologist includes studying toxic substances, doing experiments related to the toxic materials, making reports and writing formal research papers for public consumption, among others.
Salary & benefits
Toxicologists working for the public sector earn an annual salary of somewhere around £20,000.
Those working for the private sector can get around £25,000.
The work isn’t as stressful as other science-based jobs. However, this really depends on your field – forensics, for instance, is regarded to be a very stressful industry, due to the subject matter of the possible jobs here.
However, most toxicology jobs are research-based, and toxicologists tend to work on specific projects one at a time. While you will mostly be based in a lab, there is the possibility of occasional travel, especially when the research calls for it.
There are undergraduate programmes that focus on toxicology. However, those with degrees in pharmacy, forensic sciences, chemistry, and medical science will be considered. Professionals with degrees in specialist areas such as environmental science, veterinary science, and physical science will be considered for specialised projects.
Many senior toxicologists have doctorate degrees in the field, although further education in medical science, chemistry, and forensic science might help. Basically, the requirements differ from area to area, and depend on which niche of toxicology you want to focus on.
In general, you will need a good foundation in science training, good problem solving skills, and be able to produce formal reports and give presentations for both internal and external purposes.
Training & progression
Most toxicologists really start as trainees, so this makes up a large part of the training you will get in this industry. Some employers, however, actually sponsor the academic efforts of their employees, so this is something to look out for when searching for a job.
Toxicologists may be required to undergo good laboratory practice training as well. Once you gain extensive work experience, you should consider applying for a registered toxicologist title, as facilitated by the UK Register of Toxicologists.
Since the field is important to various industries, there are several job options for you here. Many toxicologists find career progression in this field rather fast—especially for those with the necessary academic credentials (postgraduate units, for instance).