Pros and Cons of a Career as an Ecotoxicology Risk Assessor
Ecotoxicology risk assessors study the affects that chemicals and toxins have on the health of both singular organisms and the greater environment. The following will help you consider the pros and cons of the career before making a final decision.
|Pros of Ecotoxicology Risk Assessor Career|
|Helping the environment and the survival of species****|
|Relatively new field ('ecotoxicology' first appeared in the 1960s)**|
|Real world application of research ( determine effects of oil spill on marine species, make policy recommendations)***|
|Variety of employment settings ( consulting firms, industry, government, research institutions and scientific facilities)*****|
|Can specialize ( aquatic ecology, hazard assessment and biomarkers)******|
|Help develop non-animal testing methods*|
|Cons of an Ecotoxicology Risk Assessor Career|
|May come in contact with dangerous or noxious substances*****|
|Might have to experiment with animals*|
|Extensive education may be required (2-6 years of study beyond a bachelor's degree)*******|
|Involves exact, precise, small measurements ( acute toxicity ranges from 1 ppm (part per million) to 100 ppm)*|
Sources: *AltTox.org, **University of Maryland, ***Nature.com, ****University of Arizona, *****Society of Toxicology, ******University of Michigan, *******Careerbuilder.com
Job Description and Duties
Ecotoxicology is an area of science that combines toxicology and ecology to study the effects of pollutants and toxic substances on populations and ecosystems (fish, plants and wildlife). Risk assessment is the identification of possible detrimental health effects as a result of ecological and human exposure to hazards in the environment. Manufacturers of pesticides and chemicals must provide regulatory authorities with ecotoxicology risk assessments to have their product approved or registered. Ecotoxicology is a branch of environmental toxicology, which looks at the harmful effects on living organisms by various agents.
An ecotoxicology risk assessor first determines if a hazard or an environmental stressor is present that may harm an ecosystem. He or she then performs an assessment of dose-response, determining if the dose received by the ecosystem is sufficient to cause an adverse effect. Next he or she performs an exposure assessment. This measures the duration, frequency or intensity of exposure to harmful agents present in the environment. Lastly, the assessor does a risk characterization to estimate the rate of occurrence under the exposure conditions of step three of an adverse effect. The assessor collects data (soil and water samples), performs tests on animals or uses mathematical models.
As an ecotoxicology risk assessor, you can specialize in a variety of areas. For example, you could work with pharmaceutical industries, performing risk assessments on new products. You might find employment with a government agency or perform research on environmental health hazards at a university. You could also possibly become a consultant or analyst for public agencies or private industries.
As ecotoxicology is a specialized branch of medical sciences, salaries for ecotoxicology risk assessors are not complied separately by the BLS; however, medical scientists who perform scientific research and development services in the physical or life sciences had a median annual salary of $101,280 as of May 2014.
What Are the Requirements?
Most employers require that you have a Ph.D. or a master's degree in a related field. You may start your career in ecotoxicology by enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in environmental science, possibly specializing in environmental chemistry and toxicology. Courses may include biochemistry, analytical chemistry, quantitative analysis, organic and inorganic contaminants, environmental toxicology and aquatic toxicology.
Graduate programs, such as a Ph.D. in Toxicology, are available and offer concentrations in ecological toxicology. You may take courses in ecotoxicology, quantitative ecotoxicology, biomarkers and aquatic toxicology. Another choice is a Master of Environmental Management specializing in areas like ecotoxicology and environmental health. An institution may also offer master's and Ph.D. programs in ecology concentrating in ecotoxicology.
To work in this field, you'll need a strong interest in research and good communication skills. The ability to work in team situations could also be helpful. Advanced math abilities and collaborative skills may also be required.
What Do Employers Look For?
Employers look for individuals with an advanced degree and experience. You don't necessarily need a degree in ecotoxicology. Rather, employers accept candidates with a degree in biology or ecology. Here are some recently advertised positions open as of April 2012.
- An agribusiness company in North Carolina advertised for an ecotoxicologist and environmental risk assessor to conduct quantitative risk assessments and to give advice for risk mitigation and determination. Applicants needed a Ph.D., background in ecological risk assessment, ecology, toxicology and ecotoxicology and experience.
- A science and engineering company in Delaware sought a research investigator - global regulatory ecotoxicologist to develop strategies for ecological risk assessments for registration of new protection chemicals to be used on crops. The company asked for applicants with a Ph.D. in a biological science area, project management skills, experience in guidelines for pesticide registration and ecotoxicology experience.
- An engineering consultant firm in Colorado advertised for a quantitative senior ecologist to work in their ecological sciences and risk assessment group. The firm would consider an applicant with a bachelor's in ecotoxicology, fisheries, wildlife, biology, zoology or ecology and eight years of experience, but preferred an applicant with an M.S. or Ph.D. in the above listed disciplines and ten years of experience.
How to Stand Out
Ecotoxicology is a combination of ecology and toxicology, and employers ask for knowledge in these areas. Therefore, you might consider certification in both areas to stand out in this field. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) offers a Certified Ecologist credential. The ESA offers three levels - Associate Ecologist, Ecologist and Senior Ecologist. Each credential has educational and/or experiences requirements, and you must recertify every five years. The American Board of Toxicology Inc. (ABT) certifies candidates as Diplomates of the American Board of Toxicology. To be eligible to take the ABT diplomate exam, candidates need a combination of education and experience. The Academy of Toxicological Sciences (ATS) offers an ATS Fellow, which requires a combination of education and professional experience to qualify.
Complete an Internship
Since most employers require experience, you might consider completing an internship while in school. You could complete an internship in either ecology or toxicology to acquire on-the-job experience. You may find an internship geared toward upper-level undergrads or one for graduate students operating during the summer. You might also complete an internship as part of your degree program.
For a job that requires a Ph.D., consider publishing papers in academic journals to help establish your reputation. Employers may look for applicants with demonstrated publishing ability. You may want to start in graduate school by working to get your dissertation or other research efforts published.
Alternate Career Paths
If this field doesn't sound like the right career for you, you might consider other options. If you don't want to spend all that time in school getting a Ph.D., you could decide to become an environmental scientist. Environmental scientists help solve or eliminate problems involving the environment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental scientists made a median salary of about $63,000 in May 2011, and jobs for environmental scientists were anticipated to increase by 19% from 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov).
Wildlife Biologist or Zoologist
If you like working outdoors and helping the environment, but would rather work more directly with animals, a zoologist or wildlife biologist might be a better career choice. Depending on your actual job, you may spend most of your time in the field. A Ph.D. is needed if you want to conduct your own research, but you can find entry-level jobs with just a bachelor's degree, the BLS reports. Wildlife biologists and zoologists made a median salary of about $57,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS. The BLS also found that jobs for wildlife biologists and zoologists were expected to grow by seven percent in the 2010-2020 decade.