Douglas Academic Toxicology

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

I studied medical science (BMedSc) at Birmingham University with the intention of applying for teacher training afterwards. I received funding to work on a research project in a University lab during my second year holiday. I was then offered a job in the same lab as a technician after graduating and I had in mind that I would apply for teacher training later on. After a couple of months and a few prompts from other researchers I applied for a PhD at the University of Leicester. Three years later I submitted my thesis but couldn’t quite face another year of study for my teaching qualifications. So whilst finishing my PhD I applied for a number of jobs. I was offered a post as a regulatory toxicologist at the Health and Safety Executive in Merseyside. After four years there, and some work that re-ignited my interest in teaching, I started to re-consider applying for my teacher training. My only doubt was that I really enjoyed the toxicology I had learnt. However, I saw a lecturing post advertised at De Montfort University that involved a lot of student contact, whilst offering the opportunity to continue with research. The rest is history.

Why did you want to study Toxicology?

It was never a conscious decision to study toxicology. I had no idea until my second year of my PhD that my research was considered as ‘toxicology’. My supervisor encouraged me to present a poster at the BTS spring congress. Attending some of the diverse sessions at this meeting sparked my enthusiasm for my new found discipline. The following year, I attended another toxicology meeting in the USA. The Society there ran a programme where post-graduate students could go for lunch with an established toxicologist. It happens that the toxicologist I went to lunch with worked as a regulator in the USA government. Listening to his daily work made me think that a job in regulatory toxicology might not be a bad idea. Six months later I was working as a regulatory toxicologist.

What’s a typical day at work like?

My daily activities change depending on whether it is term time or student holidays. During term time I spend most my time teaching, marking, setting exam papers, writing lectures, and meeting students for tutorials. I might start the day in the lab with my research students, then lecture to groups of between 20 – 120 students, followed by a one-to-one tutorial, and end up back in the lab with my research students. Out of term-time, I have a little more time to continue with my toxicology research, but I still have marking to complete and need to plan my teaching for the next term.

What are the best things about being an Academic toxicologist?

Working with students is brilliant. I think toxicology is a great subject to teach as it brings together many aspects of anatomy, physiology and pathology that our students also study in detail. I consider my-self luck as many other academic toxicologists do not have the opportunity to concentrate on teaching related activities. I still however have plenty of opportunity to continue research that interests me.