Toxicologist: job description

Toxicologists use analytical and scientific techniques to identify toxins such as chemicals, biological substances and radiation, and to assess the potential risks and harmful effects posed by them.

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There are a number of different types of toxicologists, including forensic, contract and occupational.

What does a toxicologist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Toxicologists investigate toxic materials and how they can affect the environment and living organisms. The majority of toxicologists’ work is laboratory-based.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • designing, planning and undertaking controlled experiments and trials
  • devising and testing hypotheses; using appropriate analytical techniques to identify and quantify toxins
  • analysing and interpreting data
  • giving evidence in court
  • carrying out field studies
  • studying relevant literature
  • writing reports, reviews and papers
  • performing risk assessments to determine the likelihood of harmful effects
  • assisting in establishing regulations to protect humans, animals and the environment
  • collaborating and sharing expertise and research findings with scientific and technical staff
  • supervising staff
  • managing laboratories

Most opportunities for promotion arise in consultancy or staff or project management.

Typical employers of toxicologists

  • Water, pharmaceutical and chemical companies
  • The Health and Safety Executive
  • The Environment Agency
  • Universities
  • Hospitals
  • Forensic laboratories
  • Specialist research organisations and consultancies

Vacancies are advertised online, by recruitment agencies and careers services, in newspapers and in relevant scientific publications, such as New Scientist and its respective website. The British Toxicology Society can provide further careers information. It is advisable to apply for jobs early in the academic year.

  • The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.
  • If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.

Qualifications and training required

You can only become a toxicologist if you have a degree in an appropriate scientific subject, such as biology, biochemistry, chemistry, life sciences or medical sciences. A postgraduate qualification in toxicology or forensic science can be beneficial. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options.

Key skills for toxicologists

  • A logical and independent mind
  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Good teamworking abilities

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