I Want to Work in .... Toxicology, Pharmacology or Immunology



Toxicology helps us understand the harmful effects of chemicals on living organisms: pesticides in the food we eat, pollutants in air, chemicals in water, toxic dump sites.  Which chemicals are really dangerous? How much does it take to cause harm? What are the effects of a particular chemical?

The job involves isolating and identifying toxins or radiation and their harmful effects; conducting laboratory experiments; analysing and evaluating data; researching scientific literature; carrying out risk analyses, assessing toxicity and creating safety profiles; writing reports and papers and presenting findings; developing models to predict the long-term effect of chemicals within the environment; advising on the safe handling of toxic substances and radiation and liaising with regulatory bodies.

Forensic toxicologists deal mainly with medico-legal aspects of drugs and poisons, their main responsibilities are to establish and explain the circumstances of legal cases where drugs or other chemicals are implicated. These can range from ‘drink driving’ cases to murder investigations where deliberate or accidental poisoning is suspected. Forensic toxicologists must be able to isolate, identify and quantify toxic substances in biological materials. This involves using modern analytical procedures, from immunoassays to identify groups of drugs to sophisticated chromatographic and spectrometric assays to measure minute amounts of drugs - often in tiny biological samples. They may be called by the Courts as an ‘expert witness’ to identify a drug, to say how much was found, when the drug entered the body, and how.

You need a good background in chemistry and some biology, to be organised and methodical, problem-solving skills, the ability to work well in multidisciplinary teams, to collect and analyse large amounts of data from experiments, a procative approach to work and ability to write reports and communicate results effectively.

Taught postgraduate courses in Toxicology are available at the Universities of Surrey, Birmingham, Ulster and Cranfield .The University of Nottingham has a toxicity research group. Although a relevant postgraduate qualification is not essential to work in toxicology, it will help your chances of entry. A strong knowledge of chemistry is essential, as well as a good knowledge of biology.

The British Toxicology Society www.thebts.org  has a Careers in Toxicology Brochure you can download. It also advertises vacancies. Oethr job sources include Nature Jobs , New Scientist Jobs , NHS Jobs  and scientific recruitment agencies.

Graduate Career Stories: 100 graduate employees describe how they ended up in their current roles. Including toxicologist/forensicscientist.

A student in a prize winning project urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical dihydrogen monoxide as it can:

  1. cause excessive sweating and vomiting
  2. it is a major component in acid rain
  3. cause severe burns in its gaseous state
  4. accidental inhalation can kill you
  5. contribute to erosion
  6. decrease effectiveness of automobile brakes
  7. it has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients.

He asked 150 people if they supported a ban of the chemical.

  • One hundred forty-three said yes.  
  • Six were undecided
  • Only one knew that the chemical was…


The title of his project was, “How Gullible Are We?” He was trying to show how conditioned we have become to the alarmists practising junk science and spreading fear of everything in our environment. ”Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.”


Toxicologists work in the Chemical, Consumer Products, Pharmaceutical and Other Industries, Universities, Government Agencies and Laboratories. Clinical toxicology is carried out in larger hospitals, as well as NHS regional toxicology units. Environmental toxicologists work on environmental hazard assessment in government, industry and consultancy.  Forensic Toxicologists work in the Forensic Science Service, private forensic labs and hospital departments of forensic medicine (see our forensic science careers page)

Other employers include:

Consulting laboratories/private research organisations


Pharmacology is related to toxicology and involves study of the effects of drugs and chemical compounds on humans and animals. Pharmacologists work as part of a team including chemists, biochemists, geneticists, microbiologists, molecular biologists, toxicologists and pharmacists. They work in research, development and clinical trials of drugs.

Pharmacologists are employed by pharmaceutical companies, universities, chemical, food and drink, household goods and cosmetics manufacturers, hospitals and Public Health England  www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england, and government or charity-funded research institutes such as the Institute of Cancer Research www.icr.ac.uk

Taught postgraduate pharmacology courses are run at the Universities of Southampton, Exeter, Oxford, Sheffield Hallam, Kings College London, Strathclyde and others.



Immunology involves the study of the immune system (a body's defensive systems against disease). Viruses, bacteria and parasites are constantly attacking the body, and can lead to serious illness. It also involves investigating malfunctions of the immune system in autoimmune diseases, hypersensitivities, immune deficiency and transplant rejection).

Clinical Immunology involves the diagnosis and treatment of patients with allergy (e.g. to pollen), immunodeficiency, autoimmune diseases and also contributes to the success of organ transplantation.
Laboratory immunology
involves analysing blood samples, running PCR gels, and looking at tissue sections under a fluorescence microscope. In the past immunologists spent most of their time in a laboratory, but now the broad and complex nature of the immune system means they adopt a multidisciplinary approach to their work.

Skills required

Where are they employed?

Taught Postgraduate Courses in Immunology

Further Information


Clinical Trials Careers Chart

Last fully updated 2015