For those interested in studying science and criminal justice, becoming a forensic toxicologist may be the ideal career choice.
Toxicology is the study of poisons. Forensic toxicologists use scientific knowledge to aid in criminal investigations to determine if accidental or intentional poisoning was a cause of death and to determine fault in criminal trials. Forensic toxicologists perform laboratory tests on biological samples such as tissues and bodily fluids collected by crime scene investigators. By testing for the presence of substances such as metals, alcohol, prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and poisons, forensic toxicologists can provide essential documentation for law enforcement, families, victims, and survivors of crimes.
Now is a great time to become a forensic toxicologist. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects careers for the related career of forensic science technicians to grow 14 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster compared to other occupations (BLS 2019). The average annual salary of forensic science technicians is $58,230 with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $34,600 per year and the highest 10 percent earning more than $97,200 (BLS 2019). Most forensic toxicologists work full-time and some may work on-call outside of regular business hours if immediate toxicology analysis is needed.
To adequately serve the needs of law enforcement, forensic toxicologists must be able to demonstrate a variety of skills. Forensic toxicologists must be meticulously detail-oriented when performing crime scene laboratory protocols. The variety of crime scene situations and collected evidence means that forensic scientists must think critically and be able to solve problems using the scientific method. Due to the legal nature of this career, forensic toxicologists must have excellent communication skills and may be asked to provide written or spoken legal testimony as evidence in criminal cases.
Forensic toxicology positions typically require a bachelor’s degree in natural science such as biology or chemistry or a specialized bachelor’s degree in forensic science. However, educational opportunities for forensic toxicologists are not limited only to bachelor’s degree programs. Colleges and universities also offer one-year certificate programs as well as associate’s and master’s degree programs in forensic toxicology for those who wish to try out the career or advance their knowledge. Forensic toxicology programs are offered on-campus and in hybrid and online formats.
With a bachelor’s degree and some on-the-job training, forensic toxicologists can begin a scientific criminal justice career without ever setting foot at a crime scene. Read on to learn more about schools with forensic toxicology programs.
When researching educational programs, accreditation is an important factor to consider. Accreditation is offered at the national, regional, and programmatic level and ensures that a program or institution has met rigorously high standards for educational quality. Students planning on financing their education with federal loans are required to attend accredited educational institutions.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the leading accrediting organization for forensic science programs and keeps a list of accredited forensic toxicology programs. Graduates and their prospective employers can be confident that forensic science programs with current FEPAC accreditation meet the highest standards of educational quality. The schools featured below all have regional, national or programmatic accreditation.
King University offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in forensic science. Students in this program are required to complete an internship in a field related to forensics in addition to their didactic and laboratory coursework in biology, chemistry, and physics.
Graduates from this program go to work in careers in odontology (forensic dentistry) and toxicology and as criminalistic practitioners. Students in this program participate in mock crime scenes to gain experience in gathering and evaluating evidence.
Offering the only FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science degree program in Michigan, Madonna University emphasizes hands-on learning to teach common protocols required in forensic science jobs. Students in this program earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic science with a minor in chemistry to fulfill FEPAC accreditation requirements.
The program’s independent research project component provides students with real-life critical thinking tasks typically found in graduate-level programs. Other courses include firearm and tool mark analysis, ethics and expert testimony, and a required internship in forensic science.
Accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), the Eberly College of Science at the Pennsylvania State University offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in forensic science. Graduates from the bachelor of forensic science and master of forensic science programs have gone on to pursue rewarding careers in crime scene investigation laboratories, university research laboratories, and other fields related to forensic toxicology.
The University of California at Irvine (UCI) offers an on-campus one-year clinical laboratory science/medical technology (CLS/MT) training program. This post-baccalaureate certificate program awards a certificate of completion to students with bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees. This is a unique program that does not charge tuition and is approved by the California Department of Public Health and the UCI Allied Health Committee.
This program prepares students to take the licensure exams through the American Society for Clinical Pathology. Additional requirements include maintaining a grade point average of “B” or better to be eligible to sit for the certification exams and taking prerequisite courses in medical microbiology, immunology, hematology, biochemistry, and analytical chemistry.
Stevenson University Online offers a fully online master of forensic science for current forensics professionals wanting to learn more about the current technologies and laws around collecting and presenting evidence in a legal context. Through partnerships with local and federal forensic law enforcement, students learn from leading forensic science investigative professionals.
Students can choose a biology or chemistry concentration and tailor their required, hands-on experiences by choosing to complete an online course in crime laboratory operations or an in-person practicum to gain professional experience.
Mesa Community College offers online certificates of completion and an online associate degree program in forensic investigation, including some introductory instruction in forensic toxicology. Students in this program take courses in forensic photography, best practices in the collection and preservation of evidence, and critical investigative strategies. There are two pathways for certificates of completion in fingerprint identification and photography and forensic investigation. Students can choose between two associate’s degree pathways in the administration of justice studies and forensic science. Graduates of this program go on to pursue degrees in forensic science or careers such as bailiffs or correctional officers.
The College of Pharmacy at the University of Florida offers a fully online 32-credit master’s degree program and a 15-credit online graduate certificate in forensic science. Each program has four specialization options, and students interested in the certificate may enroll as non-degree seeking students to learn more about the program before fully committing to graduate-level coursework. Graduates of this program can look forward to advanced career opportunities in medical examiners’ offices, hospitals, clinical chemistry laboratories, and local or federal law enforcement.
While certification is not typically required for forensic toxicologists in most states, having certification may increase applicants’ chances of landing interviews and negotiating higher salaries. Below is a list of organizations that offer certification and professional networks for forensic toxicologists:
Some laboratories may require professionals to provide proof of laboratory certification. Finally, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) offers a board of certification (BOC) credential which forensic toxicologists can use to verify their knowledge of laboratory safety procedures.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).