If you have a methodical, scientific mind and enjoy carrying out experiments, a career in toxicology may be for you
As a toxicologist, you'll look at the impact of toxic materials and radiation on the environment and human and animal health. You'll plan and carry out laboratory and field studies that help to identify, monitor and evaluate this impact and will also consider the use of future technology.
You may work in different areas of toxicology, which include:
The tasks you carry out will vary depending on your specific area of work but in general, you'll be:
If you work in the pharmaceutical industry, one of your most important tasks will be making sure any potential new drugs are safe to test on humans. This will involve:
Salaries may be lower in some public sector and contract laboratories and location will influence salary.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll usually work regular hours from 9am to 5pm but may be required to be flexible if you're carrying out experiments. Some weekend or evening shifts might have to be covered on occasions depending on the priority of the work.
You need to have a degree to become a toxicologist. While there are few degree courses specifically in toxicology, there are many in related subjects, such as pharmacology or biomedical sciences that contain a significant toxicology component.
Subject areas likely to be of use include:
You need to make sure that your degree gives you a sound background in chemistry and a good understanding of biological systems. Entry without a degree or with a foundation degree only isn't possible.
You don't need to have a pre-entry postgraduate qualification but you may want to take one if you feel your first degree wasn't completely relevant. A Masters course that combines toxicology or forensic science with subjects such as analytical chemistry or immunology might be particularly helpful for toxicology work.
If you want to specialise in a particular area of toxicology it might be worth considering a specific postgraduate course in a related subject such as pharmacology, food science or environmental management. Search for postgraduate courses in biochemistry.
You will need to show:
Employers always value relevant work experience and some degrees provide related placements as part of the course. These, along with part-time work in a research laboratory, can help you develop practical skills and build up useful contacts.
You could also look for student membership of a professional organisation such as the British Toxicology Society (BTS). It will provide you with networking opportunities and keep you informed of developments in toxicology.
Employers include private companies in a range of industries, government departments and contract research organisations (CROs). You may find work in the following areas of toxicology:
Look for job vacancies at:
Job prospects are fairly good and direct entry into the profession following your degree is common, particularly in contract research organisations.
Once you're in the job, you may want to work towards a Masters or PhD relating to your specific area of toxicology. For example, if you're working in environmental or ecotoxicology, you could take a Masters in a subject such as pollution science, waste management or aquatic resource management. This could be helpful for longer-term career progression and some employers may support and even sponsor you to do this while working.
You can also take relevant advanced qualifications at diploma level through the following organisations:
In addition to practical laboratory-based and good laboratory practice (GLP) training, you're likely to receive training in project and study management, data interpretation, report writing and presentation skills. If you're involved in forensic work you will be trained in court reporting as well.
Toxicologists working within the NHS have to undergo specific training, which varies depending on the entry route to the profession. Get more information from Health Careers Analytical Toxicology.
It's likely that as your career progresses, you'll spend less time on practical and laboratory-based scientific work and more time on office-based and supervisory work. You can progress into project management, having the responsibility of directing others. There may be opportunities to move into consultancy work.
There is scope to specialise within toxicology or to move into related scientific fields. Opportunities depend on your background and experience but specialist areas include:
Once you've gained some experience, you'll be able to apply to become a Registered Toxicologist on the UK Register of Toxicologists. To become registered you need to:
Gaining entry to the UK Register gives you automatic membership of EUROTOX - Federation of European Toxicologists and European Societies of Toxicology.