Education and Training Requirements

High School

Take courses in both the physical and biological sciences (chemistry and biology, for example), algebra and geometry, and physics. English and other courses that improve written and verbal communication skills will also be useful, since toxicologists must write and report on complicated study results.

Postsecondary Training

Most toxicologists obtain their undergraduate degrees in a scientific field, such as pharmacology or chemistry. Course work should include mathematics (including mathematical modeling), biology, chemistry, statistics, biochemistry, pathology, anatomy, and research methods.

Career opportunities for graduates with bachelor's degrees are limited; the majority of toxicologists go on to obtain master's or doctorate degrees in toxicology. More than 76 percent of toxicologists hold doctorate degrees, according to the Society of Toxicology. Graduate programs vary depending on field of study, but they may include courses such as pathology, environmental toxicology, and molecular biology. Doctorate programs generally last four to five years.

Other Education or Training

The Society of Toxicology offers continuing education classes at its annual conference. Past classes included "Applications of Computational Systems Biology for Toxicology," "Toxicity of Metals," and "Current Trends in Genetic Toxicology Testing.” The American College of Medical Toxicology also provides professional development opportunities.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification reflects an individual's competence and expertise in toxicology and can enhance career opportunities. The American Board of Toxicology certifies toxicologists who meet educational requirements and pass a comprehensive examination. To be eligible, applicants with a bachelor's degree in an appropriate field must first have 10 years of work experience; with a master's degree, seven years; and with a doctorate degree, three years.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Toxicologists gain experience through internships and entry-level roles. They must be hard workers and be dedicated to their field of study. To succeed in their work, they must be careful observers and have an eye for detail. Patience is also necessary, since many research projects can last months to years and show little results. The ability to work both alone and as part of a team is also needed for research.

Because of the nature of their work, toxicologists must also realize the potential dangers of working with hazardous materials. They must also be comfortable working with laboratory animals and be able to dissect them to examine organs and tissues. Efforts have been made to limit and control live animal experimentation, but research still requires their use to identify toxins and, in turn, protect the consumer public.