Forensic Toxicologist Careers

Overview

Toxicology is branch of science – more specifically, pharmacology – that carefully examines the effects of chemicals and other substances on living organisms. Then intent is to discover the stimulants, foreign bodies or external substances in the blood work that may cause the living organism (in this case, humans) to behave, feel or react differently.

A forensic toxicologist uses the principles and methodologies from toxicology to assist in the legal investigation of poisoning, drug use or death of a victim. The main struggle and objective of forensic toxicologists is to use their knowledge to accurately identify and interpret findings. If you wish to add value to the criminal and justice division by solving mysteries using science, then what you need to become is a forensic toxicologist.

Education Requirements

As with most fields of science, educational qualifications and academic achievements of the candidate are given emphasis. This is because there is almost no margin for error when the fate of human lives is being decided.

An undergraduate degree in toxicology is needed as the most basic entry level education in the field which may get you an assistant’s position. Further training can be received on the job – but it is necessary for you to aim for more advanced degrees if you wish to climb the ladder of success. During an undergraduate degree you will be exposed to many courses on toxicology that will help create a foundation base of knowledge.

It is preferred by employers that candidates trying to enter the field of forensic toxicologist possess a graduate degree in toxicology. Here you will be exposed to advanced courses on toxicology that can be of great benefit to forensics. Such courses include analytical chemistry, biological chemistry, pathophysiology, cellular physiology, blood analysis, applied forensics, advanced pharmacology and so on.

To further bump up your career prospects, you can complete a doctorate program which is likely to include a dissertation or a thesis project. This program may take around 3 years depending on your schedule. For certification needs you can turn to the American Board of Forensic Toxicology (abft.org).

Job Duties

Listed below you will find some generic and common job duties for a forensic toxicologist. Keep in mind that actual job duties may vary depending on your level of experience, the size of the lab, industry practices and the regulations of the work place.

  • Visit the scene of crime to collect and catalog evidence that may be in the form of fluids, skin, hair, nails or any substance that might have traces of DNA
  • Study and analyze samples collected from the crime scene. These samples must be studied under laboratory conditions and must be carefully handled and preserved
  • Identify external substances or anomalies in the evidence such as external DNA, poisons, drugs, chemicals and so on
  • Create detailed reports on the evidence highlighting the irregularities and existence of foreign chemicals and the like
  • You will need to formulate solutions, samples, chemicals and various mixtures that may be necessary for running tests
  • If needed, you will have to testify in a court of law about your forensic discoveries related to the case
  • Relate the toxicology findings with other departments that are working on the same case. Details such as fingerprints, ballistics, medical, documents and so on can be discussed
  • Examine evidence such as weapons, clothes and other physical items that may help you understand the toxicology findings
  • Stay up to date with research and the latest methodologies pertaining to your area of work
  • Maintain the lab, equipment and tools by ensuring they are sterilized and functioning

Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), the growth in employment for biological scientists, which also include forensic toxicologists, is expected to expand by 21% over the next few years. This growth in employment can be attributed to a number of factors such as increase in research and development for bio-technology, increased funding for forensic crime solving units and the increased need for transparency when passing judgments.

Yet another reason for this expansion can be explained by the increase in not only the number of crimes, but also in new criminal methods. New strings and types of poisons, drugs and chemicals have put pressure on the forensic crime solving department to accurately determine the cause of death and the guilty party. As a result, there has been an expansion in the field of forensic technology and forensic crime solving units.

Salary Prospects

The average annual salary for a forensic toxicologist is $59,000 (indeed.com). In this field salaries are largely determined by the level of experience possessed, the amount of hard work put in and ultimately how good you are at the job. Naturally the more experience you possess after working on a large number of cases, the stronger your market value may become.

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