Forensic Toxicologist Job Facts

Research what it takes to become a forensic toxicologist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Forensic Toxicologist?

As a member of a crime investigation team, a forensic toxicologist performs laboratory tests on tissue samples and bodily fluids using advanced chemicals and instruments. Forensic toxicologists look at how chemicals affect the human body, by examining crime scene evidence and corpses. These professionals may do fieldwork or work exclusively in a lab. They may also serve as expert witnesses in court.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Forensic science, physical anthropology, chemistry, biology, physics
Key Skills Computer operation, biochemical and pharmaceutical testing and analysis, crime scene analysis, mathematics, communication
Job Growth (2014-2024) 27% (for all forensic science technicians)*
Average Annual Salary (2015) $60,090 (for all forensic science technicians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Educational Background Will I Need to Become a Forensic Toxicologist?

To become a forensic toxicologist, you'll need a minimum of a bachelor's degree, either in forensic science or a related field such as biology, physical anthropology, chemistry or physics. You'll learn about organic analysis, fibers and hairs, explosion and arson investigations and forensic serology. Your curriculum will also offer classes in pharmacology and statistics.

Knowledge of computers is important for forensic toxicologists, as is the ability to communicate effectively. A background in trigonometry and geometry will be helpful, too. Upon completion of your bachelor's degree, you may pursue postgraduate studies in molecular biology or biochemistry, which can increase your job opportunities and further advance your career.

What Skills Will I Learn?

Your studies will teach you how to analyze blood splatters and how to distinguish animal hair from human hair. You will be able to gauge blood type through blood or saliva analysis. As you test bodily fluids, you will learn to detect the presence of drugs, poisonous substances or alcohol. You may learn to use polygraph equipment, which analyzes breathing and pulse rates to reveal whether or not a suspect is being truthful. Other skills will include the ability to describe different weapons and to determine the admissibility of collected forensic evidence in a court of law.

What Job Duties Will I Have?

As a forensic toxicologist, you will visit crime scenes to collect and take pictures of evidence. You will regularly use potent chemicals for fingerprint analysis. Sometimes, you may reassemble crime scenes to investigate how separate pieces of evidence are related. You will always need to maintain accurate documentation of the evidence you collect and the methods you use to investigate it. Once you have come to a conclusion about the evidence in a case, you may need to give court testimony about your findings.

What Salary Could I Expect to Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May 2015, forensic toxicologists, counted among all types of forensic science technicians, earned an average annual salary of $60,090. Salaries were higher for experienced forensic specialists and laboratory directors, with the highest salaries paid by federal government agencies at an average of $100,400. The BLS also notes that forensic science technicians could expect job growth of 27% during the 2014-2024 decade, which is much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. Those who have a bachelor's degree in natural science and a master's in forensic science have the best job opportunities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other career options in this vein may be a biological technician or a chemist/materials scientist. Biological techs assist biological and medical scientists in their lab tests and experiments. The latter develop and test products by using chemical analysis. Both require bachelor's degrees. Those seeking to move up in their job may earn a doctoral degree to become a biochemist or biophysicist, who study biological and chemical processes.

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