Forensic Toxicologist Career Facts

Forensic toxicologists work with natural poisons and man made chemicals, studying their effects on human physiology.Forensic toxicologists work in a range of areas of employment including law enforcement, government agencies, academia and the military.

The Work Environment

 The usual workplace for forensic toxicologists is a lab, but this job often involves field work as well. This role involves a specialized form of pathology, investigating and identifying toxins and their effects.

To give some idea of the scope of the work of a forensic toxicologist, there are literally tens of thousands of natural toxins, and nearly as many man made poisons. The effects of toxins can be highly variable, too, and these are critically important to analysis. To be an effective forensic toxicologist, you really do have to be an expert. Degrees in forensic toxicology include doctorate and post doctorate levels.

Forensic toxicology, in the investigative role, often involves mapping toxins and their effects. If someone has been poisoned, the job of the forensic toxicologist is to discover the cause, and discover how the toxin acted.

Some forms of toxic materials are highly destructive, but not necessarily fatal. Investigating a case of industrial safety, for example, the forensic toxicologist may have to investigate toxic fumes affecting people’s health. This job would involve positively identifying the dangerous elements, and proving the toxicity to a court.

This is a very demanding science, in the legal field. The adversarial nature of the court process means that the forensic toxicologist’s findings and methods may be challenged by other experts, so the quality of the work has to be very high.

The scientific field is just as demanding. Forensic toxicologists may submit papers for peer review in their fields. Forensic toxicologists work in an area where the pathologies of their cases often involve new forms of analysis and investigation, and the result of scientific method is that those ideas are tested by others.

Salary: Varies depending on qualifications, years of experience, type of work, and employer. The median salary for the profession is approximately $90,000, but starting salaries are very much lower.

Hours: May involve extensive hours in the law enforcement role, and field work.

The Career Environment

Forensic toxicologists naturally tend to specialize, like many scientific careers. In this field, however, the form of specialization may have a lot to do with the career track. Specialists in forensic science usually develop their skills in particular areas, and in forensic toxicology, there’s a large range of toxins and applications to choose from.

A forensic toxicologist may specialize in for example:

  • Plant toxins
  • Complex industrial toxins
  • Neurotoxins
  • Necrosis and related organic toxins

It’s a big field, there are many more different areas of specialization, and it’s difficult science. The career progression is based on demand for experts.

The demand also intersects with basic toxicology. There are always options in the commercial fields of employment. Forensic toxicologists are still toxicologists, and their advanced skills are particularly useful in “normal” toxicology, like pharmaceuticals, where their analytical skills and experience are invaluable.