Dr. Beth Mileson graduated in 1989 from the CiT, studying the effects of toxicants on the dopamine system in the brain with Dr. Richard Mailman. Since graduating, she worked as a Toxicologist for the North Carolina State Government in air pollution and as a senior scientist at International Life Science Institute (ILSI), a nonprofit research organization. Now, Dr. Mileson is a senior managing toxicologist at Technology Sciences Group (TSG), a consulting company in Washington D.C, doing risk assessment.
What is your story? How did you get interested in toxicology?
As I was finishing my Master’s in Zoology at George Washington University, I didn’t see much job potential in academia. Moving to the toxicology field was a way to stay in life sciences and still have a good, rewarding job. It also seemed easier to get a job in toxicology at that time.
What do you do now?
So many different things! I do a lot of exposure and risk assessment, currently a lot of work on biochemical pesticides, specifically ones that are naturally occurring substances. I do all the toxicology work to help clients get their products approved by EPA. “Toxicology work” entails researching and compiling the tox data for our client’s products that the regulatory agencies like EPA or FDA require. I do the research to find what studies have been done to support the chemical safety. I love the variety in my job; it is enjoyable most days!
How did you get there?
I did a post-doc in neuropharmacology at Duke, and found that there were very few jobs in academia (still!) upon finishing. I applied for a position as a Toxicologist with NC State Government in air quality and got it. When citizens had an air pollution problem, they would call our department for help. We collected air samples throughout the state, conducted risk assessment of toxic air pollutants, and designed studies to evaluate toxicity. I also coordinated a scientific advisory committee for the state. It was there that I got my introduction to risk assessment which led me to my next job at ILSI.
ILSI is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to bring scientists from industry, academia, government, and environmental groups together to reach consensus on scientific policy issues. It was an interesting job then in 1996 when the Food Quality Protection Act was passed and EPA needed to figure out how to implement the law. ILSI received EPA grants to help address these new scientific issues. I met a lot of interesting people from all walks of science and it was a lot of fun to talk about the issues and help develop science policy.
Then after a few years at ILSI, my boss left and our group was adrift. An acquaintance recruited me to join a large consulting firm, but after a few months there was not enough work and many of us got laid off. Moral of that story: be careful about the company you decide to join. Fortunately, a few days later (literally!), TSG called me and basically said “Hey, we heard you got laid off. Want to work for us?” And now here I am.
What are your next steps?
I really just followed the opportunities that arose throughout my career. If something more fun comes up in the future, I might do it!
Where do you see the future of toxicology/consulting?
Demand for consultants can be cyclical, but at TSG we always seem busy. Sometimes the big companies that hire us outsource work to consultants and sometimes they keep it in-house. Small companies that hire us often don’t have scientific and regulatory staff and so they hire us periodically as new products are developed. In the end most toxicology consulting is driven by regulatory demands. As long as companies have to meet toxicology requirements in order to get products approved or to maintain compliance with regulations, there will be opportunities for toxicology consultants. Toxicology consulting also depends on the businesses that have to meet those regulations–the clients! Since my job involves a lot of interaction with businesses, I got an MBA to learn more about it.
Any advice to current students/postdocs?
What I learned in school was to always to be open to new things and opportunities. Be flexible.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like traveling and scuba diving. My favorite place I’ve been scuba diving is in Indonesia, around Bali and the outer islands.
Interviewed by Mimi Huang