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A skull and crossbones might be a suitable symbol for this major. (That’s one way to explain that tattoo . . . .) Toxicology basically tackles issues involved with various types of poisons. According to the University of Arizona, toxicology is “the study of how chemical and physical agents adversely affect living organisms.” If you choose to major in toxicology, you’ll learn about these chemical and physical agents—where they lurk in the environment, how humans are exposed to them, and the problems they create in different arenas, like the clinical, industrial, and legal fields. This includes the study of how these agents enter the body, what happens to them once they’re inside, and how they can damage cells, tissues, and organs. You’ll also learn how toxicants pose a threat to our animal friends, along with examining poisons found in plants and foods, such as pesticides, food additives, and waste from industry. You’ll learn how to test food and water for unhealthy or dangerous levels of toxicants, and you’ll gain the skills necessary to counteract their effects or eliminate them altogether.

Toxicology is an important field for obvious reasons, and advancements can be rapid. Your course work might involve studying what sorts of environmental agents lead to cancer, or the effects these agents have on the neurosystem. You might engage in a study of chemical genomics and examine how toxicants affect gene expression—a hot topic these days. Or you might immerse yourself in drug research and development.

Your studies will go beyond the toxic agents themselves, of course. You’ll study safety procedures necessary to implement and adhere to during research, and you’ll learn how to collect and analyze data from the experiments you perform. Legal aspects of chemical use by industries and individuals will also be hashed out. And you’ll gain experience with research through laboratory work and, perhaps, an internship.


  • Analytical Chemistry

  • Aquatic Toxicology

  • Bioorganic Chemistry

  • Biostatistics

  • Chemical Speciation

  • Ecological Toxicology

  • Ecology

  • Environmental Geoscience

  • Food Toxicology

  • Mathematical Modeling

  • Molecular Biology

  • Neurobehavioral Toxicology

  • Paleobiology

  • Pesticides in the Environment

  • Pharmacology

  • Veterinary Toxicology


Toxicology is a science-intensive field, so your focus in high school should be on taking as many challenging science courses as possible. Biology, chemistry, and physics are all invaluable, especially if they have laboratory components. And since all scientists must be able to pass their ideas along to others clearly and effectively, you should take humanities courses that will improve your communication skills.