Responsibilities of a Forensic Toxicologist (Plus Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 18, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you enjoy solving problems and helping others, you might consider pursuing a career in forensic toxicology. Forensic toxicologists are scientists that perform diverse job duties while making a positive difference in the lives of others. Learning more about the various responsibilities that these forensic scientists conduct may help you determine if this career matches your professional abilities, experiences, preferences, and goals. In this article, we discuss what the responsibilities of a forensic toxicologist are, explore what skills they possess, and provide the answers to frequently asked questions about this profession.

6 responsibilities of forensic toxicologists

The following are six fundamental job duties of forensic toxicologists:

1. Collect samples

Many forensic scientists who specialize in toxicology gather their samples from the field. This might involve visiting a crime scene or collecting samples from inanimate bodies or people potentially involved in the crime, like a suspect. They typically collect blood, hair, urine, or bodily tissue samples.

Related: How to Become a Forensic Scientist in 6 Steps

2. Conduct lab tests

One of the primary responsibilities of a forensic toxicologist is to perform various tasks on their collected samples within a laboratory environment. They may use various chemical or biomedical substances and tools to conduct these tests. For example, they might implement a process called math spectrometry, which involves using magnetic and electric fields to identify various chemical substances.

3. Analyze test results

After performing their laboratory tests, forensic toxicology professionals evaluate their results. While assessing these test results, they may look for the presence of substances such as alcohol, metal, prescription drugs, or gases like carbon monoxide. Forensic toxicology scientists also evaluate the amount of these substances contained within the sample, such as if they're trying to determine someone's blood alcohol level. They may use data software to help them organize or interpret the results of their tests.

Related: How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator in 5 Steps

4. Collaborate with others

Forensic toxicology specialists frequently collaborate with other professionals in the scientific field. They might work with pathologists, medical examiners, coroners, laboratory assistants, or technicians. For example, toxicologists in forensics may team up with a medical examiner and a coroner to evaluate someone's cause of death. These toxicologists also often collaborate with law enforcement professionals, including crime scene investigators, police officers, detectives, or forensic artists.

Related: How Much Do Forensic Scientists Make and What Do They Do?

5. Explain their findings

Many toxicologists specializing in forensics explain their test results and subsequent conclusion to law enforcement and scientific professionals. They might present their findings through written reports or oral presentations. Forensic toxicology professionals understand how to explain complicated scientific or forensic concepts and terminology using simplified language that those in other fields can comprehend.

6. Provide court testimony

Sometimes, a forensic toxicology specialist may provide testimony in court. For example, they may offer expert testimony in a court case involving the suspected use of prescription drugs to commit a crime. To perform this duty, these scientists may bring their laboratory reports as evidence or speak to the jury about the chemical substances they detected during their evaluations.

Related: How to Become a Forensic Medical Examiner (With Steps)

Skills for forensic toxicology

Forensic scientists specializing in toxicology typically have a diverse set of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are abilities developed through training or studying, such as conducting chemical analyses or safely operating laboratory equipment. Soft skills refer to personality characteristics and behaviours that might influence how a professional acts on the job, like communication, organization, adaptability, and teamwork.

Here are some of the hard and soft skills that forensic toxicology professionals typically possess:

Critical thinking

Toxicologists in forensics use critical thinking abilities to help them solve crimes through their scientific evaluations. They often organize disparate sources of information, such as lab test results and crime scene drawings, to help them determine crime scene elements such as potential witnesses or causes of death. These critical thinking skills might include inference, problem solving, and logical reasoning.

Related: 6 Critical Thinking Skills and Why They Are Important at Work

Occupational health and safety

A forensic toxicology specialist may frequently work with potentially hazardous chemical or laboratory equipment. Their thorough understanding of occupational health and safety can help protect themselves and others in the laboratory environment. It's also vital for these scientists to implement health and safety practices when collecting samples, such as blood or urine, to minimize the risk of contamination.

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Organization

Specialists of forensic toxicology often balance multiple tasks simultaneously. Having organizational abilities can help scientists work efficiently while meeting various deadlines. These toxicologists can benefit from developing organizational skills, such as task prioritization and time management.

Related: What Are Organizational Skills? (With Improvement Tips)

Scientific knowledge

Forensic toxicology professionals possess extensive scientific knowledge. They're often highly familiar with scientific fields such as chemistry, anatomy, biology, and pharmacology. A forensic toxicology scientist also tries to stay current on the latest trends or developments in the field.

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Attention to detail

It's vital that forensic toxicology professionals perform their job responsibilities with extreme precision. When collecting or analyzing laboratory samples, these toxicologists use strict quality control measures to obtain accurate results. This may also involve ensuring that samples remain uncontaminated, as this could potentially invalidate the evidence of a police or court case.

Technology skills

Specialists in forensic toxicology know how to use advanced software and technology. They may use these programs or devices for detecting compounds, calibrating substances, and confirmation testing. These scientists are also highly proficient at troubleshooting or fixing their computers or laboratory equipment.

Communication

Scientists of forensic toxicology use communication skills to help them effectively collaborate with both scientific and law enforcement professionals. They know how to convey their meaning to others while being tactful. Communication skills can also help them effectively interact through different mediums, such as in-person or written communication.

Fine motor skills

Many of the responsibilities of a forensic scientist involve fine motor skills, meaning small and precise hand movements. These responsibilities might include measuring, pouring, or mixing various substances. They typically have good motor skills and strong hand-eye coordination to complete their tasks.

FAQs about forensic toxicology professionals

Following are the answers to some frequently asked questions about forensic toxicologists:

What degree do you need for forensic toxicology?

These professionals typically possess a bachelor's degree in a scientific field. Subjects that an aspiring forensic toxicology professional might choose to study include chemistry, biology, pharmaceutical sciences, and toxicology. Some forensic toxicology scientists may also decide to pursue an advanced scientific degree or earn a certificate as a forensic scientist or toxicology professional.

How long does it take to become a toxicologist in forensics?

The time it takes to become a specialist in forensic toxicology can vary based on a few factors. For example, a forensic toxicology professional who decides to earn their certification might take five or six years to enter this profession, while those who choose only to get a bachelor's degree may begin their careers in about four years. It might also take less time for a professional transitioning from an adjacent career, such as a forensic technician, to become a forensic toxicology scientist.

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What are the pros of being a forensic toxicology professional?

Becoming a forensic scientist who specializes in toxicology can offer professionals an array of benefits:

  • Enjoy mentally engaging tasks: A forensic toxicology professional performs various job duties daily. This diversity in professional responsibilities can make a career in forensic toxicology mentally stimulating, which may also improve overall job satisfaction.


  • Use critical thinking skills: Many scientists of forensic toxicology appreciate the opportunity to use their critical thinking skills. They often spend most of their time analyzing and extracting meaning from various informational sources, including test results and police reports.


  • Help solve crimes: This type of toxicologist can help law enforcement professionals solve crimes currently under investigation.


  • Make a positive difference: Many forensic toxicology professionals appreciate their ability to make a positive difference in the lives of others or their communities. For example, these forensic scientists might contribute to overturning a wrongful conviction through their thorough evaluations of their lab results.

Related: How Much Does a Forensic Pathologist Make? (With FAQs)

Where do toxicologists who specialize in forensics work?

These forensic scientists can find employment opportunities in diverse work environments, including:

  • Criminal justice organizations

  • Law enforcement agencies

  • Drug testing facilities

  • Morgues

  • Governmental departments (such as those related to drugs or law enforcement)

  • Research facilities

  • Industrial labs

  • Police departments

  • Academic Institutions

  • Hospitals

Is it difficult to become a toxicology forensic scientist?

Becoming a forensic scientist specializing in toxicology can be challenging, as this profession requires extensive scientific training. Many specialists in forensic toxicology ultimately find this career path rewarding because of the diverse job responsibilities they're entrusted with daily. A forensic toxicology professional usually also enjoys a good salary and job stability.

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