CAREER INFORMATION

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IAN – ACADEMIC TOXICOLOGIST

What career path and training has led you to your current job?

I studied for a BSc in Pharmacology, which encompassed aspects of pharmacology, toxicology and drug safety, at The University of Liverpool. The third year of my degree included an 8-week laboratory-based research project that involved examining one of the elaborate ways in which the body defends itself against toxic chemicals. This was the most challenging and enjoyable aspect of my degree, and, having fueled my interest and enthusiasm for laboratory-based research, I decided to do a PhD in Molecular Pharmacology. This involved three years of planning and conducting experiments, interpreting results, presenting findings at national and international scientific conferences, and writing papers (scientific reports) describing the findings of my research. These papers have been published in scientific journals that are read by fellow scientists all over the world. Having gained my PhD, I remained in academic toxicology as a Post-doctoral Research Associate investigating the mechanisms of toxicity of a class of anti-malarial drug, with a view to making sure that new anti-malarial drugs are designed to be as safe as possible.
 

Why did you want to study Toxicology?

I had always been interested in human biology, and I was particularly keen to apply my knowledge to the study of medicine or therapeutics, but with a focus on laboratory-based research. During my BSc I was particularly fascinated by the study of adverse drug reactions, i.e. understanding why certain drugs have severe side effects. Adverse drug reactions are a major cause of patient suffering and death, and have led to the withdrawal of many useful medicines from the market. Therefore, by conducting research to better understand why certain classes of drug cause adverse reactions in certain patients, I can contribute to the ongoing effort to ensure new drugs are as safe as possible.

What’s a typical day at work like?

I get into the lab and make preparations for the day’s experiments, many of which can be quite long in duration, with gaps of an hour or so between each stage. As such, there are often opportunities for me to catch up on the latest publications that impact upon the field and my research. Having amassed a sufficient amount of experimental data, I will spend time writing up the findings of my research in the form of a scientific paper that will be submitted to a journal in order to be considered for publication. We have frequent visits from scientists with similar research interests to ours, and they give seminars that the majority of the department will attend in order to expand our knowledge of the field. I regularly give presentations myself (this may be to a small group of fellow researchers in the department, or to a much larger audience of scientists at a conference that I have been invited to attend) and so I often spend time preparing PowerPoint slides summarising my research findings. As I move further down the academic career path I will spend time preparing and delivering lectures and tutorials to undergraduate students. In summary, it is often a very busy, but varied day at work!
 

What are the best things about being an academic toxicologist?

Knowing that you are contributing to the future safety of patients who are reliant on a certain drug for their health and well-being is very rewarding. As an academic you get the opportunity to meet and interact with world experts in toxicology, and learn from them as a result. There is also a good measure of ‘academic freedom’ – the opportunity to adjust the focus of your research based on your developing scientific interests and ever-expanding knowledge, reflecting the adaptability you need be an academic toxicologist.