What Is a Toxicologist? A Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Look at the toxicologist's role as a potential career choice. Discover the specifics of toxicology, duties, salary, and how to qualify for toxicologist roles.

[Featured Image]:  A toxicologist, wearing a white lab coat, head covering and blue gloves is working in the laboratory.

A toxicologist is responsible for investigating the adverse effects of chemicals on the health of humans, animals, and the environment. Those effects may come from new medicines, illegal drugs, materials, natural substances, and radiation. Toxicologists work in various areas for many different types of employers after pursuing education to a high level.

What does a toxicologist do?

A toxicologist works in the laboratory and the field as part of a team, studying the risks associated with substances and conducting risk assessments on exposure scenarios to decide the best resources to keep the public safe. Part of the role is assessing the effects on future technology and developments relating to the findings, such as drug treatments, building materials, and consumer products. 

Areas of toxicology

The toxicology field is wide-reaching. You’ll find various areas of toxicology that you can work in, from forensics to medical. Within these disciplines, you can hone in to specialise further. Specialisations include:

  • Clinical toxicology: Providing toxicological diagnosis for poisoned patients

  • Regulatory toxicology: Assessing health hazards

  • Occupational toxicology: Investigating health risks of chemicals in the workplace

  • Forensic toxicology: Providing information to the legal system on illegal drugs and chemicals

  • Medical/pharmaceutical toxicology: Investigating the unwanted effects of drug treatments

  • Environmental toxicology: Investigating the impact of chemicals on the environment

  • Aquatic toxicology: Investigating the effects of chemicals on marine organisms

  • Industrial toxicology: Ensuring the safety of people who work with hazardous materials 

What are the primary duties and responsibilities of a toxicologist?

The primary duties and responsibilities will vary depending on the speciality area, but generally, a toxicologist carries out a wide range of tasks. Researching substances, conducting experiments, and producing reports are everyday tasks for many toxicologists. Other typical duties and responsibilities you can expect to perform as a toxicologist include:

  • Researching and identifying any substances harmful to humans, animals, or the environment

  • Participating in controlled experiments to evaluate the safety of chemicals and assess the risk of usage

  • Devising regulations for the uses of certain substances and providing advice on their handling

  • Complying with regulatory bodies to ensure safe practices within local, national, and international guidelines

  • Producing reports, presenting findings, and advising on effective treatment for organisms or environments affected by adverse chemicals

  • Providing rigorous quality control and data management

Each specialisation may have its unique tasks. For example, a medical toxicologist’s role would include diagnosing poisoning and advising on effective treatment. It may consist of people who have come in contact with certain chemicals or ingested them as a drug overdose. Forensic toxicologists might have to present findings and evidence in court if the legal situation involves the illegal use of chemicals.

What qualifications are required to become a toxicologist?

To work as a toxicologist, you should take a science course at your senior secondary level. After that, you'll need to pursue undergraduate qualifications. Many toxicologists earn a Bachelor of Science or B.Sc in toxicology or biological sciences may include botany, veterinary science, biochemistry, microbiology, zoology, or medicine. 

While you can become a toxicologist with just a bachelor's degree, some areas and specific jobs will require more advanced degrees, like a master of science M. Sc degree or a Ph D. To participate in these programmes, you'll need to pass an entrance exam. Some of these include: 

  • National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) 

  • Combined Biotechnology Entrance Examination 

  • Delhi University Medical Entrance Test (DUMET) 

  • National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences Entrance Exam

  • National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research Joint Entrance Examination – NIPER JEE

  • Punjab Medical Entrance Test 

  • Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences Post Graduate Entrance Test

Sometimes, you may only need to take additional courses or earn a college diploma in certain areas. Some common diplomas and certificates include:

  • PG Diploma In Medical Toxicology

  • Short-Term Certificate Course In Forensic Medicine And Toxicology

  • Universal Certification In Forensic Medicine And Toxicology

  • Certificate Programme In Emergency Toxicology

  • Certificate Course In Analytical Toxicology

  • PG Diploma In Industrial Toxicology

Experience is essential for almost any job, but it can be precious in toxicology, especially if you want to work in a particular niche. Consider applying to internships or apprenticeships through your university or with organisations that employ toxicologists. If possible, shadow a toxicologist or look for a part-time job while pursuing your education. 

What skills do I need to become a toxicologist?

In addition to specific technical skills that come with the territory, toxicologists should possess some critical workplace skills essential to the role, including excellent communication, data analysis skills, and attention to detail. 

Attention to detail

It’s essential to pay close attention to detail when dealing with substances that could be dangerous to health. You must be patient, efficient, and able to gather results under pressure without compromising quality.

A logical mind

You need to be logical and have an independent mind when conducting research. You must be open to all possibilities but logical in approach. 


Toxicologists typically work in a team to conduct research and analyse findings. This type of work setting requires excellent teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others. You may work with people and bodies outside your team on projects impacting public health. 


Being able to communicate well both verbally and in writing is essential. Much of a toxicologist's work translates complex information into a way the public can understand. You may achieve that through writing reports or presenting findings to your team, the public, or relevant public bodies. 


Being organised is critical in a laboratory setting to ensure everyone follows health and safety procedures. Labels should be clear, and everyone in the lab needs to know what they should be doing, especially as you are likely to work with hazardous chemicals. 

Time management

Working as a toxicologist can be time-dependent; for example, when working on a public health problem, it needs answers quickly to ensure the health and safety of others. Working to deadlines and time frames is part of the role. 

Data analysis

As a toxicologist, your role includes conducting research and analysing the data. Therefore, toxicologists are skilled in collecting and translating data into something meaningful, writing reports, and presenting findings.

Where can I work once I’m qualified as a toxicologist?

Toxicologists can find government jobs, such as working in police forensic labs or as food inspectors, and private jobs in industries like health care and pharmaceuticals—many work in labs, researching and developing new products for private companies or colleges and universities. Consider writing books, consulting, or creating educational material for college courses as your career advances. 

What do toxicologists earn?

The demand for toxicologists is high worldwide, including in India. According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for a toxicologist in India is ₹8,63,496 [1]. 

Get started

A career as a toxicologist begins with earning a science-related bachelor's degree. If you’re interested in learning more about a toxicology career and are unsure where to start, check out this beginner's Evidence-Based Toxicology course offered by Johns Hopkins University on Coursera as a starting point. 

Article sources

1. Glassdoor India. “Toxicologist Salaries in India, https://www.glassdoor.co.in/Salaries/india-toxicologist-salary-SRCH_IL.0,5_IN115_KO6,18.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed March 27, 2024. 

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