As part of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) ToxScholar program, a few regulatory toxicologists from the US federal government visited Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC, to start a dialogue with the students at Trinity about pathways to careers in toxicology. The day started with a presentation I gave to a 100 level chemistry class on the importance of chemistry in the work we do in toxicology. Specifically, I talked about how new approach methodologies rely on understanding the physicochemical properties of chemicals and how these properties can help to predict chemical activity.
Following this presentation, I was joined by Dr. Frederic Moulin (US Food and Drug Administration, US FDA) and Dr. Pedro Del Valle (US FDA) for a career panel discussion. For this panel, the students from the chemistry course were joined by students from other STEM departments at Trinity. We had a great turnout (~45 students). I’m sure not just because we offered free pizza. The students ranged from those who have been doing toxicology work (and had already submitted abstracts for the Annual Meeting in Baltimore!) to those who were really being introduced to what toxicology is and how degrees in a variety of disciplines can lead to careers in toxicology. Although on paper the three of us on the panel may not seem that diverse, as we spoke with the students about our path to toxicology, it became clear that there are multiple ways for all to arrive at similar careers.
Dr. Pedro Del Valle (far right) and I enjoyed discussing career pathways in toxicology with these students.
One of our panelists (F. Moulin) started as a large animal veterinarian in France, and he ended up supporting human drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry and later drug approval at the US FDA. Another (P. Del Valle) started in the field of marine biology and aquatic toxicology. That prompted him to come to the US for his master’s degree in environmental toxicology. During his doctoral studies he detoured to mammalian toxicology and then work in drug development after graduation. And I started in the field of dental research, detoured into cancer research, and ended up working in toxicology as a side effect.
Students were very interested not only in the diverse starts to our careers, but also were reassured that you can change your mind as you go through your career, and still end up thriving. We talked a lot about taking advantage of opportunities—-attending meetings, networking, and finding online webinars for topics that interest you. We also highlighted these types of opportunities through SOT, particularly the free SOT student affiliate status for undergraduate students and all the benefits that membership entails. I’m hoping there will be a surge in undergraduate affiliates in the DC area! Students came away from the meeting having learned more and showing an interest in careers in toxicology. Our final pieces of advice to the students: find a job you enjoy and don’t be afraid to shift gears and try something new, especially if that shift in gears leads you to careers in toxicology!
Following the meeting, we shared information on joining SOT, joining the National Capital Area Chapter of SOT, and undergraduate and career resources through SOT.
Applications for funding through the Domestic ToxScholar program are accepted at any time to support travel and event costs for toxicology presentations at undergraduate institutions.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the US Environmental Protection Agency.