Martyn Symons

NDRI Research Fellow
February 2022
Each issue we ask someone from the alcohol and other drugs sector to share a little about their work and life... If Martyn wasn't so tall, he might have been a Fighter Pilot. Instead, he's fighting an inability to finish almost-written papers, wanting to take the holiday he planned two years ago, and hoping AOD issues will one day be viewed as a health issue.

This weekend I will...Go to a friend’s place for a barbecue, join another group of friends for beer tasting, probably go to the beach, and the rest of the time I will be playing some big, newly-released computer games.

I'd originally planned to work...I was going to be a Fighter Pilot in the Air Force – that was the only thing I wanted to do when I left school. Unfortunately, I had asthma and I was too tall. Tall people are no good for flying fighter planes. You don’t fit into the cockpit and, because you’re so big, when you experience high G-forces you tend to black out much earlier. I may have dodged an air-to-air missile there.

The qualities I most value in my colleagues are...Inquisitiveness, honesty, and respect. Respect for everyone, but in particular for people taking part in their studies. It’s more fun if the people you work with have a sense of humour as well but that’s not essential.

I'll never forget...Getting married – at least I hope I won’t. I studied psychology so I’ve seen videos of people forgetting who their spouse was because of an acquired brain injury or memory loss.

If I had more time, I'd...There are so many things to do. I’d spend more time learning Turkish – my wife is Turkish so we’ll inevitably end up retiring in Turkey. I’d spend more time travelling the world, playing games, reading books, doing music. I’ve just started learning keyboard and I’d like to learn to play the drums as well.

I'm most scared of...Messing things up and letting people down. If nobody else is involved and I mess things up, that’s not as big a problem.  

For my next holiday...Which I had planned over two years ago…I’d like to take a trip starting in Germany, going through Poland, and then up through the western ex-Russian states: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. I’ve met some people who come from that area and they say it’s very nice.

I can't get enough of...I think it’s hard to eat enough pizza. And music. If there is a song I get obsessed with, I can listen to it 15 or 20 times in a day.

I'm really terrible at...Finishing things off. I get to a point where in my mind the problem is solved and, at that point, I really have to put in a lot of effort to finish it off. If I could get a full-time Research Assistant just to finish off papers, I would probably publish a lot more.

My goal for 2022 is...I would really like to see my wife, who’s in Turkey. I haven’t seen her in two years because of Covid.

Career wise, I’m most proud of...Helping evaluate the Nurturing Families Program. I’ve been working over the past three years with Women’s Health and Family Services. They’re delivering a three-year case managed outreach program for pregnant women who have issues with alcohol and drugs but aren’t connected to services. The work those case managers do is just amazing. It’s a life changing program so being able to evaluate it and help get the word out is what I feel best about. Tomorrow, I’m going out to get the last piece of data for the full three year evaluation of the first cohort.

The sector's biggest challenge going forward is...I believe we have the evidence for an awful lot of alcohol and drug related issues, the biggest challenge is to get policy makers to act on that evidence. We know the harms caused by alcohol. We know some of the policy measures that can be taken to reduce those harms but, for a lot of different reasons, they are not acted upon.

My big hope for the drug and alcohol sector is...That we can encourage the general population and policy makers to take the view that alcohol and drug use is more of a medical issue than a policing issue. The ‘war on drugs’ has failed so I hope one day all drugs can be legalised and the appropriate supports put in place to help people who get into trouble using them.

Find out more about Martyn

If Martyn wasn't so tall, he might have been a Fighter Pilot. Instead, he's fighting an inability to finish off almost-written papers, wish he can take the holiday he planned two years ago, and hoping alcohol and drug issues will one day be viewed as a he