This is the Super Cool Toxicologist Page of Awesomeness!

By Emily Bresnihan

Job Description

A toxicologist uses his or her knowledge of chemistry, biology, and the environment to study the effects of chemicals that are potentially harmful to humans, animals, plants, or the planet. Examples of these chemicals are drugs, environmental contaminants, and naturally occurring substances found in food, air, water, and soil. More specifically, they study the detection, symptoms, mechanisms, and treatments for anyone or anything poisoned by these chemicals, which can then be used in the treatment of poisonings. Toxicologists can be employed to study a number of different things. Some merely conduct research and teach students, and some make sure that the chemicals in medicines, household and gardening chemicals, and industrial and natural chemicals that are used today are safe for humans, animals, plants, and the environment. A few are hired by companies to identify harmful effects of potential new products and to determine safe levels for any approved products.
Toxicologists with veterinary backgrounds can help make sure that cute little foxes like this one are not exposed to dangerous chemicals in pollution and are treated with safe medicines when they are sick or injured.

Personality Characteristics

Toxicologists would be of the "INTP" personality type. This stands for Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, and Perception. INTP is an abbreviation used in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) publications that refer to one of sixteen MBTI personality types. The MBTI assessment was developed from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl G. Jung by Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs.
Description of INTP's
INTP's are known as the "Engineers" or the "Architects" of the 16 personality types.
They live in the world of theoretical possibilities. They see everything in terms of how it could be improved, or what it could be turned into.
They live primarily inside their own minds, having the ability to analyze difficult problems, identify patterns, and come up with logical explanations.
They are easy going, flexible and adaptable.
INTP's usually prefer not to have to lead or manage people.
INTP's thrive when there are few rules, guidelines and restrictions. They need freedom.
Their internal world is highly structured and logical and does not need structure imposed by the external world.
Being introverted, reserved, objective, and logical, they may appear cold and hard to get to know.
INTP's prefer careers where:
  • Management allows people to be self directed
  • There are several opportunities to demonstrate competence
  • The culture appreciates fair but tough decision making
  • The work offers the opportunity to rapidly change direction and to respond to problems as they arise
  • The work is fun and allows for some spontaneity
  • You can apply your natural ability to focus and concentrate, rather than multitasking
  • The environment allows for freedom and flexibility and is loosely structured without too many rules
  • The environment, culture and pace allow you to consider things fully before having to respond
  • The work allows you to work at a careful steady pace
  • The work involves theory and speculation
  • The work allows you adequate private time to work alone and to concentrate
  • The work involves creativity, imagination and a creative approach to problem solving
  • The work involves looking beyond the present i.e. future possibilities, future products, future actions
  • The work is not limited to what exists today but involves "what may be" and "what could be"
  • The work allows you to utilize your natural ability to analyze and make objective, logical decisions
  • The work allows you to utilize your natural ability to provide others with direction and supervision
  • The environment is more structured and disciplined, being on time and following procedure is considered important

Working Conditions

As seen in my pie chart, 47% of toxicologists are employed by industries. Pharmaceutical industries employ 17% of toxicologists, and chemical industries employ 7%. These industries often employ toxicologists trained at all levels of education. Many industries have their own research and product safety evaluation programs, while others may contract their work to specific research organizations that are managed independently from the industry. Consumer products jobs employ 3% of toxicologists, and 20% of jobs fall into the “other” category. Product development, product safety evaluation, and regulatory compliance are examples of what is included in the “other” category. Most toxicologists in the industrial category would work in laboratories or factories. Academic institutions are the number two employers of toxicologists (21%). The rapid growth in toxicology programs has generated a large and growing market for toxicologists with doctoral level training. Although most of these opportunities are in schools of medicine and/or public health in major universities, smaller colleges are beginning to employ toxicologists to teach toxicology in basic biology, chemistry and engineering programs. Government is the third largest employer of toxicologists (14%). Although most government jobs are with federal regulatory agencies, many states are now beginning to employ toxicologists with master’s or doctoral degrees. An increasing number of toxicologists are employed in the professional services industry (12%). Providing professional guidance and advice to local public agencies, industries and attorneys involved in problems with toxic chemicals is a rapidly growing activity for the experienced toxicologist. Many graduates of baccalaureate and master’s programs in toxicology are finding employment with consulting firms. Individuals with doctoral training and several years of experience in applied toxicology may also find opportunities directing projects and serving as team leaders or administrators in the consulting field. A small proportion of toxicologists pursue research within nonprofit organizations (4%). Numerous public and private research foundations employ toxicologists to conduct research on specific problems of industrial or public concern. Toxicologists at all levels of education may work for these research foundations.

Toxicologists can face several health risks in their workplace. They spend their day examining the effects of chemicals on living things, so it is likely that the chemicals they examine could also harm them. However, as long as they are careful with hygiene and they dispose of their materials properly, there are no serious health risks.

Places of Employment

Various agencies where toxicologists work were discussed in the previous section. To represent the geographic distribution of toxicology jobs, I have provided an awesome picture. Although the majority of government and industry jobs are located in the eastern portion of the United States, employment opportunities at all levels are available throughout the country.
This picture shows that there are 167 jobs in the Northwest region, 951 in the North Central region, 1393 in the Northwest region, 571 in the Southwest region, 352 in the South Central region, 776 in the Mid Atlantic region, and 193 in the Southeast region.

Job Outlook

With the increase in our health consciousness, as well as concern for our environment, a wide and growing variety of career opportunities exist in toxicology. Numerous career options for toxicologists exist in the chemical, food, pharmaceutical, and environmentally related industries, in teaching and research, and in governmental regulation of chemical usage. It is expected to grow faster than average (14-20%) from 2006 to 2016.

Salary Information

As with any profession, the level of education and length of experience are key determinants of salary. Entry level positions for those with doctoral degrees are often in the range of $35,000 to $60,000, with rapid advancement possible. In general, positions in industry pay slightly better than government or academia. Mid-range professionals with a Ph.D. degree and 10 years of experience can expect to earn $70,000 to $100,000 annually. Most executive positions in toxicology exceed $100,000 per year, and some corporate executive toxicologists earn $200,000 or more. Of course, salaries for those with master’s and/or bachelor’s degrees in toxicology will generally be less than those for individuals with doctoral degrees, but are still highly competitive with other science-based professions.

Recommended Education and Training

High School – Reading, writing, mathematics, computer science and communication, along with courses in biology, chemistry, and physics form the basic foundation for any future scientist. In our global society, knowledge of a foreign language is important for exchanging information. Participation in science fairs and clubs can also build valuable leadership experience. Investing time in part-time or summer work in a research laboratory is also worthwhile.

Undergraduate Education – Of course, a major in toxicology would be best, but if you school does not offer such a program, a major in biology or chemistry will provide an adequate basis for a career in toxicology. Be sure to take as many biology and chemistry classes as you can. Physics, computer science, statistics, and mathematics (including calculus) are also good courses to take. Your goal is to develop a multidisciplinary foundation to increase your options and qualifications, and to improve your writing and speaking skills. Experience working in a laboratory or completing a student research project can be valuable to increase your skills and to help determine the kind of science career that suits you best. If possible, engage in activities that improve team-building aptitude and hand-eye coordination, such sports or video games.

Preparing For Graduate Education – If you are planning to proceed to a graduate program of study, there are several perquisites for admission at most schools. The most important of these is a baccalaureate degree in a field such as biology or chemistry. In addition to that, requirements include: advanced coursework in chemistry, especially organic chemistry, at least on year of general biology, a year of college math including calculus, and general physics. Additional courses in biochemistry, molecular biology, and physiology will often increase your chances of admission. Coursework in scientific writing and public speaking, as well as involvement in extracurricular activities to develop your leadership and communication skills is valuable because these skills are very important for toxicologists.

When your undergraduate education is complete, you should consult the programs of study that are of interest to you to determine their specific admission requirements. Demonstration of basic laboratory and research skills and leadership abilities, as well as a strong academic record, will increase your chances of admission to more competitive programs. Undergraduate research experience or working during the summer in a research laboratory is also extremely helpful. In addition to that, your performance on the Graduate Record Examination is also important. This exam measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking and analytical writing skills. You should prepare in advance for the exam, and you should take the exam at least 9 months before you plan to begin your graduate study.

Graduate Education – Identifying the right graduate training program is incredibly important and requires some advanced planning. First you should establish a potential career plan. There are several subspecialties in toxicology, such as neurotoxicology, chemical carcinogenesis, teratology, and many others. Attending regional and national scientific meetings will help you explore areas of interest. This choice is not set in stone, but it can help you decide which programs are best for you. Be sure you are able to satisfy all of the admission requirements before you intend to begin the program, because these may vary between programs.

Postdoctoral Training in Toxicology – Post-doctoral education of a toxicologist can take many forms depending on the goals of the scientist. This education is not required for most positions in government or industry, but is necessary for most academic and research positions. Post-doctoral experience can enhance to marketability of a toxicologist, because recent graduates may lack experience in project management, people management, and grant writing. This valuable experience can be gained during post-doctoral training.

There are also several other means of post-doctoral training for toxicologists. For example, if you have already completed a doctoral degree in a biomedical science, you can enter the field of toxicology by spending 2 or 3 years at a toxicology laboratory. Several government agencies also provide post-doctoral training programs in toxicology, such as the EPA, the FDA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the many National Institutes of Health laboratories. Many toxicologists enter the field through investigator-initiated research grants. Most research grants given to academic institutions have funds to support post-doctoral toxicologists. In addition to that, many companies that employ toxicologists provide post-doctoral training in toxicology or related disciplines.