Molecular Toxicology

Molecular toxicology professionals analyze the properties of chemicals and determine if they are dangerous to living organisms. Find out about job responsibilities, salary info, related degree programs and course topics.

Is Molecular Toxicology for Me?

Career Overview

As a molecular toxicologist, you will study chemicals to determine whether they cause harm to life and if so, how, why and when. You may investigate a chemical's toxic properties or determine the risks chemicals pose to an organism based on that organism's environment. You may also help inform people about how to prevent, limit or control the negative effects of chemicals.

In this field, you may study how and why certain chemicals damage living things. According to the Society of Toxicology, you may analyze the cellular, molecular and biochemical processes that occur when living organisms are exposed to chemicals, which can include reactions as severe as cancer (www.toxicology.org). As a toxicologist, you may determine which chemicals can be safely used around humans and their environment without future risk of disease.

Employment Options

There are different types of responsibilities you may have as a toxicologist. You may work in several different fields, such as environmental protection, public health, pharmacology, forensic sciences, medicine, biotechnology and even the food industry.

Job Outlook and Salary

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide employment data specifically about toxicologists, it does include this profession among the wider group of medical scientists (www.bls.gov). The BLS predicted that job opportunities for medical scientists will increase by 13% between 2012 and 2022.

According to the Society of Toxicology, education and experience are major factors in determining yearly earnings in this field. As of 2014, entry level professionals with doctorates earned between $35,000 and $60,000, but most executive positions in toxicology earned over $100,000 with education and experience. Individuals with master's or bachelor's degrees are likely to earn less, but salaries are still competitive with other science-based careers.

How Can I Work in Molecular Toxicology?

Undergraduate Education

If you want to work as a molecular toxicologist, you'll want to consider at least obtaining a bachelor's degree in a related field. Since this field is related to such a wide variety of sciences, there are several majors that you may pursue, including chemistry and biology, but many schools offer combination programs in areas such as molecular toxicology, biochemistry or toxicology. Undergraduate students take courses in molecular biology, organic chemistry, statistics, physics, computer science and math. If you want to carry more of a competitive edge in the job market, you may want to consider graduate level training. The Society of Toxicology also reported that there is a growing market for doctorate-holding toxicologists.

Graduate Studies

As a master's degree-seeking student, you may have an option to pursue a research-intensive or non-research-intensive curriculum that could either lead to producing an independently researched thesis or a literature review, respectively. You'll take courses such as pharmacogenomics, molecular structural biology, drug metabolism and toxicology of oxidants and free radicals. If you're pursuing a doctorate, you'll be required to not only take additional advanced courses such as cell physiology or molecular pharmacology, but also complete written and oral qualifying exams for Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) candidacy. Finally, you'll have to complete a doctoral dissertation that you have researched yourself and defend it to your advisors and faculty. A Ph.D. program can take up to five years to complete.

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