Becoming a forensic toxicologist may be the ideal career choice for those interested in studying science and criminal justice.
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 2022) projects careers for the related career of forensic science technicians to grow 11 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than other occupations (5 percent). The average annual salary of forensic science technicians is $69,260, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $39,710 per year and the highest 10 percent earning more than $104,330 (BLS May 2022). 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 various 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. They 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, forensic toxicologists’ educational opportunities are not limited to bachelor’s degree programs. Colleges and universities also offer one-year certificate programs and 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 levels and ensures that a program or institution has met rigorously high standards for educational quality. Students planning to finance their education with federal loans must 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 must 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.
Made up of 124 credits, the program includes courses such as forensic chemistry; criminal investigation for forensic science; general chemistry; genetics; microbiology; biochemistry; bioinformatics; organic chemistry; and analytical chemistry.
Graduates will learn about scientific methods, statistics, and about making courtroom presentations. They will also be prepared to pursue their choice of postgraduate programs in forensics where they could get the training they need for becoming medical examiners, psychological profilers, or forensic specialists.
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, biology, or both 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; principles of criminology; introduction to forensic anthropology; forensic chemistry; toxicology; and a required internship in forensic science.
Graduates will be ready for roles such as forensic scientists, forensic biologists, forensic chemists/toxicologists, forensic anthropologists, crime scene technicians, evidence technicians, forensic technologists, and forensic pathologists, to name a few.
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 bachelor of science program in forensic science is an inter-college collaboration among academic units and provides students with a solid foundation in the physical, biological, and mathematical sciences, introducing them to relevant topics in forensic chemistry, criminalistics, crime scene investigation, forensic biology, and appropriate social sciences. Comprising 122 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to forensic science; essential practices of forensic science; courtroom proceedings and testimony; a scientific approach to crime scene investigation; criminalistics; the profession of forensic science; and introduction to biostatistics, among others.
The master of professional studies (MPS) program in forensic science features an innovative and exciting curriculum that offers students hands-on training in crime laboratory methodologies and crime scene investigation techniques. This 41 to 42-credit program includes courses such as drug chemistry and toxicology; chromatography and electrochemistry; molecular biology of the gene; forensic molecular biology; sociology of deviance; sexual and domestic violence; and organized crime.
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 unique program 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.
In collaboration with the Center for Forensic Science Research & Education (CFSRE), Thomas Jefferson University offers a master of science program in forensic toxicology preparing students for professional development and advancement in the specific field of forensic toxicology. This partnership provides graduates with expertise in all areas of toxicology, including post-mortem analysis, workplace drug testing, human performance toxicology, business & management coursework, and legal procedure and ethics.
Students will also be provided with hands-on training through the Center’s internship program. This internship immerses candidates in mock casework samples and provides them with experience in toxin and drug detection and extraction, quantification, instrumental analysis, data interpretation, and report writing. The program culminates in moot court experiences.
This 40-credit program includes courses such as analytical forensic toxicology; legal procedure and ethics; advanced analytical forensic toxicology; general pharmacology; statistical methods of data analysis; interpretative forensic toxicology; regulatory issues in forensic toxicology; and fundamentals of clinical trials management.
Arcadia University offers a master of science degree in forensic science preparing students for collecting, identifying, analyzing, and classifying physical evidence related to criminal investigations. Using ever-evolving technologies, students learn about performing tests on substances or weapons, such as fibers, tissues, and hair, for determining their significance to criminal investigations. Additionally, graduates train as specialists in areas like fingerprinting, ballistics, biochemistry, or handwriting.
Through internships, research, and collaborations with one of our nation’s premier forensic science labs, this program provides professional high-quality forensic science education and training. Notably, Arcadia’s program focuses primarily on the fields of forensic biology, forensic toxicology, trace evidence analysis, and forensic chemistry. Comprising 66 to 72 credits, the program includes courses such as instrumental analysis in forensic toxicology & chemistry; crime scene analysis; research methods in forensic science; forensic microscopy; forensic trace evidence analysis; forensic toxicology; and criminal law and ethics.
Lasell University offers a bachelor’s degree program in forensic science preparing students for careers in crime laboratories, crime scene investigations, commercial laboratories, and trace evidence examination. Students learn the application of science to law. Students in this program take a wide variety of courses in both criminal justice and the traditional sciences.
Applied coursework is focused on conducting quality assurance, criminal investigations, evidence analysis, and evidence collection and preservation. Notably, this program offers unique internship experiences at several sites and a research-based capstone course.
Made up of 121 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; forensic science; criminology; criminal investigations; forensic DNA analysis; criminal procedure; and trace evidence & microscopy.
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.
Consisting of 36 credits, the program includes courses such as survey of forensic science; physical evidence at crime scenes; expert witness preparation and practice; serology and immunology; trace evidence; drug analysis; forensic toxicology; and DNA analysis.
Graduates can take up roles such as forensic toxicologists, crime laboratory supervisors, crime scene investigators, forensic chemists, forensic engineers, and forensic latent print examiners.
Mesa Community College offers several certificates of completion. These include administration of justice; corrections; crime scene investigation; fingerprint identification and photography; law enforcement; legal studies; and victimology. Out of these certificates, only the victimology certificate of completion is offered in an online format.
The certificate of completion in victimology comprises 15 credits and includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; domestic violence; criminology; the criminal justice system handling of the mentally; and victimology and crisis management.
Students can choose between two associate’s degree pathways in the administration of justice studies and forensic science. The forensic science pathway is offered on-campus, while the associate degree in the administration of justice studies is offered online. Graduates of this program go on to pursue degrees in forensic science or careers such as bailiffs or correctional officers.
The associate in applied science degree in the administration of justice studies is made up of 61 to 65 credits and includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; ethics and the administration of justice; substantive criminal law; the correction function; criminology; current issues in criminal justice; juvenile justice procedures; and procedural criminal law.
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.
Notably, the master’s degree in forensic toxicology includes courses such as general toxicology; forensic toxicology; drug biotransformations & molecular mechanisms of toxicity; toxic substances; literature survey of forensic toxicology; special topics in forensic toxicology; introduction to forensic medicine; applied statistics for data analysis; and principles of forensic science.
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 that 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: @racheldrummondyoga).