Chemicals have several positive and negative effects on various parts of the human body. It takes the professional expertise of forensic toxicologists to identify these effects. They examine samples of body organs, fluids and tissues to detect the presence of chemicals and other substances. As such, they help crime investigators to determine whether poisons, illegal prescription drugs or other toxins led to death.
What Do Forensic Toxicologists Do?
On a day to day basis, they perform the following tasks:
- Conducting laboratory tests on human samples – such samples are usually collected by forensic pathologists
- Setting up and operating technologically advanced biomedical instrumentation
- Determining the presence or absence of certain chemicals or gases in the collected samples
- Documenting the experiment procedures in accordance with forensic toxicology laboratory guidelines
- Giving expert witness testimony in courts of law
- Supervising forensic lab technicians and assistants.
It is essential to note that these toxicologists don’t only work to determine the causes of death. Others work in doping control, where they detect the presence or measure the levels of performance-enhancing drugs in athletes.
Forensic toxicologists work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. They spend their workday in a laboratory environment where they perform experiments. While at work, they wear gloves, surgical masks and other pieces of protective gear because handling human tissues can be a messy task.
The job can be physically demanding, since forensic toxicologists are often on their feet.
What is the average annual salary for forensic toxicologists? Find out below:
To become a forensic toxicologist, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic and toxicological chemistry. This program, which covers units in molecular genetics, forensic microscopy, analytical chemistry and forensic chemistry, is offered in West Chester University and other few universities.
It is also possible to get started through a bachelor’s degree in:
- Clinical chemistry
Beyond earning a bachelor’s degree, you should take some time to read industry journals to keep pace with new chemical, experiment methodologies and laboratory technologies.
- An appetite for little details
- Strong practical and technical skills
- The ability to work calmly under pressure
- Fine motor skills
- The ability to accurately follow instruction
- Emotional resilience- forensic toxicologists are often exposed to details of crimes
- Strong laboratory skills
- Strong analytical, problem solving and decision making skills
- An awareness of laboratory health and safety regulations
- Strong computer skills
- Good speaking
- Report writing skills
As a newly-qualified forensic toxicologist, you may begin as an assistant working under experienced practitioners. As you gain more experience, you can undertake the following activities to improve your competence and progression prospects:
- Earn a professional certification through the American Board of Forensic Toxicologists – You will need three years of professional experience to qualify for certification
- Pursue a master’s degree in forensic toxicology
- Join professional associations, such as the Society of Forensic Toxicologists and the International Association of Forensic Toxicologists
Qualified forensic toxicologists can find jobs at:
- Surgical hospitals
- Government laboratories
- Research facilities
- Scientific consulting companies
- Private drug testing facilities
With vast experience and a professional certification, you can become a senior forensic toxicologist or the head of forensic toxicology laboratory. If you fancy moving into academia, you should obtain a PhD in forensic toxicology.
Although forensic toxicologists have strong job prospects, the best opportunities are available to individuals with an advanced degree in the field.
So if you have a nose for science and would love to help solve mysteries, then maybe this is the best career for you.