UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Martyn Towner

Martyn Towner is a Natural Sciences Teaching Lab Technician at the Department of Chemistry.

Martyn Towner

1 May 2024

When did you take up this position? What was your position beforehand?

I took my position in 2013, just before the start of the new academic year. I had just finished my Chemistry degree at Kingston University, and prior to that I had worked as a technician for two years at a college. 

After finishing my degree, I initially wanted to do a Master’s in Green Chemistry but could not afford it, so I looked for a technician job to give myself time to figure out my next steps. 

I ended up in my current role at UCL and over the years have found my passion for education as well as developing my technical and instrumentation knowledge.

Tell us about your work at UCL - how do you spend your days, and what makes your role different to similar positions elsewhere?

The labs that I run in general are the same, so it allows me to plan, communicate and resource to provide the best service I can, which is only possible due to the people I work with (both academic and technical). However, there is always room for improvement, process change and development of new labs which provides an interesting challenge and keeps the role refreshing. 

Being in the teaching labs allows for direct support of the students’ practical education and is the part of the role I really enjoy. Being able to support students through their education, provide guidance and resolve issues is what I find most rewarding! 

I’m passionate about improving the experiences of students and staff alike and often develop ideas on how we can improve a system or develop guidance / health and safety related work to standardise approaches to activities that will improve user experience. 

So, my role can be quite varied, and I often find myself involved in a bunch of different things. It could be supporting colleagues, assisting researchers in their sample analysis, or raising and discussing ideas for future labs. 

Technicians are often forgotten, however, that is changing thanks to the work being done to raise awareness about technicians and how we all contribute to UCL's success. 

The Technical Staff Showcase 2024 happened recently and was a huge success! Technicians from all over UCL came together to demonstrate the wide breadth of talent and knowledge available in the technical community. I encourage everyone to attend what I hope will be the Technical Staff Showcase 2025!

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What are some of your favourite things about working at UCL? 

My role allows me to be involved in the teaching labs and the flexibility to pursue my interests relating to instrumentation. My favourite part of the job is preparing and discussing the upcoming teaching labs. 

Firstly, the academic staff I speak with are fantastic, they really encourage me to be a part of discussions and value my input. I could not enjoy my role without the academic staff engaging and having the same goals I have, which is to provide the best possible lab experience. 

Secondly, I really enjoy the challenges that come with setting up labs. Some work I do can be repeated from the previous year, but it seems every year brings its own unique challenges such as an increase in numbers, a change in experiment or process. Being able to be part of that problem solving discussion is something I really enjoy doing. 

I also like the wide range of backgrounds that people come from and perspectives or experiences they bring. Several times have I changed how I did a process or activity after speaking and learning from other people. Seeing how people approach issues or problems allows for the opportunity to develop my own skills and knowledge which can then be passed on to others. I really enjoy that experience and working with different people.

Can you tell us about any projects you're currently working on?

I don't like to sit around and always try to have a project or long-term idea in development. I'm currently working on a couple projects relating to instrument training and a chemical database along with other members of the Chemistry department, however, I also have some lab-focused ideas (in collaboration with my colleague, Claire Gacki) on improving lab experience for the students. This will involve things like better signage, audio / visual, clear access to information etc.

Have you always been based in London? If not, when did you move here, and how did you find adapting to living in London?

I was born in Birmingham but moved to Essex when I was 13. I moved to outer London for University, and I still live in outer London travelling into UCL. 

Initially, I wasn't sure on what work life would be like but quickly I fell into the travel routine. London is a great place to work, just wish the trains were a bit more reliable!

Finally, tell us about your non-work life. Do you have any hobbies, or favourite places to go in London?

I recently took up the electric drums which has been fun to learn! I have a dog, Zero (named after The Nightmare Before Christmas), and so regular walks happen. 

I enjoy board games and PC games. Although not quite a hobby, I do enjoy making puns to the disapproval of... most people, but if you ever need a pun or bit of word play, I could probably think of something!