Forensic toxicologists are specialists within the field of forensic science. They analyze body tissues and fluids for evidence as part of a criminal investigation, testing for the presence of alcohol, drugs, poisons and other chemicals. They may work in crime labs, police departments, medical examiners' offices or clinical laboratories. To become a forensic toxicologist, you must earn at least a bachelor's degree in forensic toxicology, forensic science, chemistry or a related field.
Though you will need a four-year degree to begin work as a forensic toxicologist, an associate degree can allow you to start your education or can open up opportunities for working as a lab technician or assistant and gaining valuable experience, according to the Society of Toxicology. Some programs may lead to a degree in toxicology, and others may lead to a degree in forensic science. You can customize these programs by using elective credits to take courses specific to forensic toxicology.
Students interested in becoming forensic toxicologists can choose from a number of degree options. ExploreHealthCareers.org says forensic toxicologists can major in chemistry, clinical chemistry, pharmacology or another scientific field. Many forensic science programs have degrees in forensic chemistry, which provides the necessary training for forensic toxicologists. The forensic chemistry program at Waynesburg University includes training in microscopic digital imaging, computerized data acquisition, gel electrophoresis, scanning electron microscopy techniques, spectroscopy methodology, electrochemical analysis and infrared microspectrophotometry. At Western Illinois University, students in the forensic chemistry program take courses in organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry and DNA analysis.
Completing a master's degree or doctorate can expand your career options and increase your earnings potential. For example, those with a master's degree or doctorate may be able to run a forensic lab, teach forensic science or conduct research. Master's programs take two years to complete, on average, but Ph.D. programs can take four to eight years to complete, depending upon the nature of each student's research. For example, if laboratory results disprove a student's hypothesis, it may delay completion of the dissertation, which may delay the time to graduation.
The American Board of Toxicology and the American Board of Forensic Toxicology both offer certification for forensic toxicologists. Certfiication is not required to work, but it can show employers your dedication to your field, which can increase your career opportunities and earnings potential. Applicants to the ABT must have a degree and professional experience. Undergraduate degree holders must have 10 years of experience, master's degree holders must have seven years of experience and doctoral degree holders must have three years of professional experience. When applicants are confirmed to be eligible for certification, they must take and pass a certifying exam, which consists of three parts with 100 multiple-choice questions each. The ABFT requires that applicants have a bachelor's degree and at least three years of professional experience. Those who then pass the certifying exam will receive the Certificate of Qualification as a forensic toxicology specialist, valid for five years.