A Career in Toxicology: From CDI to HAZMAT (and Everything in Between)


By Pamella Tijerina posted 10-18-2018 14:34


This blog joins others in Eye on CDI that feature the career paths of students who started in toxicology at the Society of Toxicology (SOT) Undergraduate Diversity Program and now are in the scientific workforce.



 This photo captures my receiving the 2014 Perry J. Gehring Diversity Student Travel Award from CDI leaders Kristini Miles (left) and Ofelia Olivero (right).


As with many scientists, my journey began at an early age with telescopes and science fair projects. With the support of my parents, I attended a science magnet school and eventually pursued a bachelor’s degree in Biology. It wasn’t until late in my undergraduate career at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) that I began laboratory research under the mentorship of Drs. Rama Ratnam and Gail Taylor.

While attending a Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) conference, I met Dr. Bill Atchison, who recommended the SOT Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI) undergraduate program. In 2011, I attended the CDI Undergraduate Diversity Program where I was introduced to the field of toxicology. The concepts of novel research, medical applications, and protecting public health were all appealing reasons to pursue a career in toxicology.

After graduating from the UTSA in 2011, I participated in a postbaccalaureate program at the University of Rochester Medical Center in the laboratory of Dr. José Lemos. During this time, I took a Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology course offered by Dr. Richard K. Miller in which I became increasingly intrigued by perinatal toxicology. In 2012, I began my graduate education at New York University under the direction of Dr. Judith Zelikoff, focusing on the repercussions of perinatal exposures. 

Throughout graduate school, I remained involved in SOT by presenting posters and attending mentoring sessions. I served as the graduate student representative for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter and the Hispanic Organization of Toxicologists (HOT) Special Interest Group (SIG). Over the years, I received several student awards, including the Perry J. Gehring Diversity Student Travel Award, the Inhalation and Respiratory Specialty Section Mary Amdur Award, the HOT SIG Award (Sponsored by Celanese), and the Ethical, Legal, and Societal Issues (i.e., ELFSI) Graduate Student Award. The SOT Annual Meeting served a vital role in introducing various career paths and providing a vast network of mentors and colleagues.

Upon graduation, I returned to Texas to be closer to family (and further from snow). As a toxicologist with the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, LLC., I have remained engaged in academia by offering career presentations and internships to students from local universities, including participating in the SOT ToxScholar program. An average day as an emergency response toxicologist varies from working at a nuclear waste site to engaging members of the community regarding their water supply. I am continuously fascinated by the wide breadth of knowledge demonstrated by my team in unordinary situations. When I am not out in the field, I spend my time conducting occupational exposure assessments and product safety evaluations. 

My experiences as a toxicologist have only amplified my initial interest sparked during the CDI undergraduate program. I hope to continue my involvement with the CDI undergraduate program and have most recently used the SOT meeting as a recruitment arena for qualified candidates.

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