Spotlight on... Douglas King

Douglas King, Head of UCL’s Cruciform Teaching Facilities Unit.
Douglas King, Head of UCL’s Cruciform Teaching Facilities Unit.
This week we speak to Doug, Head of the Cruciform Teaching Facilities Unit, who takes us through his varied 20-year career at UCL and his involvement in UCL’s new technical careers framework.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I’m the Head of the Cruciform Teaching Facilities Unit (CTFU). The unit delivers laboratory sessions to, amongst others, students in the Division of Biosciences, the MBBS, the Division of Medicine, the Cancer Institute, the Division of Infection and Immunity (I&I) and UPCSE. Covering everything from Microbiology to Pharmacology, to Molecular Biology, and all points between. I liaise course leads and teaching administrators, manage the CTFU staff, budget, timetabling, safety and general administration.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I came to UCL early in 2001, working at the Institute of Child Health in the Molecular Immunology Unit on immune reconstitution in children treated with gene therapy for x-linked severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome (X-SCID), bone marrow transplantation, Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis and HIV. I had a year away in 2005 where I worked for a biotech on immune system retargeting in pancreatic cancer before returning to UCL in 2006 to the Division of Infection and Immunity. I stayed in I&I until 2020, managing the laboratories and safety, with a particular interest in the containment level 3 laboratories and high consequence pathogens. I made the switch to the CTFU at the start of 2020, initially as a secondment (a system which I can thoroughly recommend) and had just started to get to grips with the role when the pandemic hit and things changed for everyone.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

A surprisingly tough question. I’ve done a varied number of things. I’m fairly handy in the lab and I believe some of the assays I established at ICH to monitor immune system shape and function are still in use today (I’m not going to bother fact checking that in case it turns out not to be true). I managed a speedy move of a research Division to a new location, I’ve been heavily involved in the design of new buildings and facilities. I moonlit from my present position to plan and re-equip the CL3 labs in I&I to work on SARS-CoV2 during the recent pandemic whilst managing the CTFU to support the transition from in person to remote delivery for practical classes. To be honest though I’d say it’s remaining largely unflappable in the face of whatever might get thrown at me... I’m also pretty discreet, which is why nothing here is going to need redacted for legal/moral reasons.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list

Increasing the visibility and standing of technical staff. It’s a massively diverse group of staff and it’s heartening that the university seems willing to really get behind this initiative. There is a new technical careers framework and there should be a technical staff showcase in 2023.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Huge temptation here to include "worthy" options; however, let’s go for the pulp.

  • Album: American Idiot (Green Day)
  • Film: True Romance (Tony Scott)
  • Novel: The Colour of Magic (Terry Pratchett)

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

"My dog’s got no nose"

"How does it smell?"

"Terrible!"

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

My friends and family. I can’t think of a much duller event than having to make small talk with the great and the good because you’d always wanted to know something about them but couldn’t be bothered to read their biography. Unless your idea of a good time is spending the evening trying to summon the courage to make a pass at Florence Nightingale, in which case fill your boots.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Not to listen to time travellers from the future claiming to be older you. Has Back to the Futureátaught us nothing?

What would it surprise people to know about you?

My current fad is smoking meats.

What is your favourite place?

As with most things, context specific. Right now anywhere cosy with an open fire.

  • University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT (0) 20 7679 2000