How Do I Become a Forensic Toxicologist?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A college education is typically required to become a forensic toxicologist. Most labs require at least a bachelor’s degree in toxicology, chemistry, or a related subject. Some expect job candidates to hold a master’s or doctorate degree, particularly at large facilities and some government agencies. Membership in a professional organization of forensic scientists can also be helpful, as it provides access to continuing education and may offer board certification. Being certified can make a candidate more employable and more respected on the witness stand.

Most labs require at least a bachelor's degree in toxicology, chemistry or a related subject.
Most labs require at least a bachelor's degree in toxicology, chemistry or a related subject.

The first step for someone who wants to become a forensic toxicologist is a bachelor’s degree. Many colleges and universities offer chemistry and toxicology programs, especially if they have a criminal justice program. While in college, people may want to consider participating in research and pursuing internships in crime labs and related facilities. This experience can be valuable in job applications after graduation or applications to graduate schools. Professors in the department may be able to provide information about opportunities, as can academic advisers.

It may be possible to start working for a lab with a bachelor of science degree. Pursuing an advanced degree can offer more opportunities, however, including more job openings and better pay. Limited numbers of universities offer postgraduate degrees in forensic toxicology and competition for available program slots to become a forensic toxicologist can be fierce. Competitive applicants typically have some internship experience and may have contributed to research, in some cases as joint authors on papers in scientific publications.

With an advanced degree, it is possible to become a forensic toxicologist in a wide array of facilities. These include government labs as well as private companies that handle drug testing, independent evaluation of evidence, and other topics. It is also important to access continuing education to keep up with developments in the field. Conferences and professional publications provide information about the latest research, equipment, and approaches to forensic topics.

Forensic toxicologists are not often called upon to testify, because their test results often speak for themselves. There may be cases where these professionals will be called to court to clarify results or offer more information. Someone who has become a forensic toxicologist can also work as an expert witness, providing a considered opinion on forensic topics like the validity of results, evidence handling procedures, and the quality of service at a lab, for either defense or prosecution teams. This may involve defending results for the prosecution or challenging the outcome of forensic testing on behalf of the defense.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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