Dr Ralph Thompson aims to inspire interdisciplinary collaboration at Bath Spa, helping to develop creative, innovative approaches to protecting the natural world.
Ralph joined Bath Spa in January 2020 as Lecturer in Animal Biology and Behaviour. He leads teaching in animal behaviour and contributes to modules in various areas of biology, particularly in animal ecology, conservation and ethics.
His interest in – and study of – wildlife has led to a growing concern about the state of the planet and the life on it. "Human activity has brought about an ongoing mass-extinction, only the sixth in the Earth's history," Ralph explains, "yet we are a part of nature, our society relies on functioning ecosystems, and our lives can be enriched by maintaining a healthy connection to wildlife.
"We have both a duty to limit the destruction that we cause, and an interest in preserving and encouraging vibrant, intact wild spaces. I believe that the whole planet can benefit from people having a better understanding, and increased valuation, of the natural world around us."
Here, Ralph discusses his work in wildlife conservation and how the diversity of our campuses feeds into our new BSc Wildlife Conservation course.
“I think the pandemic has been an opportunity for a lot of people to reflect on what is important to them. For many people feeling a connection to nature has revealed itself as a source of comfort and fascination.”
Building a "nature university"
One of Bath Spa's biggest assets is Newton Park campus, which is set in beautiful countryside with wildlife literally on the doorstep. This is something Ralph takes advantage of in his teaching, explaining that the University's location is "ideally suited to provide an immersive education that reflects on the natural world around us, and confronts the threats that nature faces: one of humanity's greatest challenges. Our commitment to 'creativity in all things' is vital for this, as creative new approaches are in great need."
Ralph has ambitions to make nature a core tenet of the University's work, and is working with other academics on several initiatives including the development of a campus natural history museum to display the University's zoological collections.
Ralph says, "We want Bath Spa to set an example for how nature can be holistically integrated into higher education, creating an institution that students, staff and the wider community can be proud of".
Bringing together art and science
Away from his work life, Ralph enjoys spending time in nature, exploring, camping and hiking, and he also has a strong interest in fine art. He draws and paints, "focusing mainly on the human figure as an exploration of our shared and diverse human nature". And when he's not teaching biology, you may well find Ralph leading life drawing classes.
This view of the natural world, seen from both scientific and artistic perspectives, is something that Ralph hopes to bring to the new Wildlife Conservation degree.
Ralph explains, "I recognise that students are rounded people who have interests in different areas of study, while wanting to develop into capable practitioners in their own area. The Wildlife Conservation degree has been formed around these ideas - allowing students to practice both analytical and creative ways of operating while retaining a focus on the end goal of gaining the skills and knowledge required to aid the protection of wildlife."
By utilising academics from across different areas of the University, all of whom have a range of interests and experiences they can bring to the programme, Ralph hopes the course will "bring together the best of Bath Spa", inspiring interdisciplinary collaboration and creating graduates that are able to sit at the centre of this approach.
“The creative process of art has provided me with a calm escape from academic life and has also helped me to develop my scientific understanding of the world and complemented my scientific work. This is why I think it is important to nurture the creativity as well as the analytical skill of our science students.”
Ralph's route into academia was traditional, beginning at the University of Cambridge to study Natural Science, eventually specialising in Zoology. This was followed by a Master's in Integrative Bioscience at the University of Oxford and then a PhD at the University of Bristol, during which he further explored his interest in animal behaviour.
Ralph started teaching during his PhD and enjoyed it so much that he began work as a lecturer, teaching at the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh and Limerick before joining Bath Spa.
Ralph's current main focus is the development of the new BSc in Wildlife Conservation, which he will lead when it begins in September 2021. Drawing on creative and artistic talent from across the University, the course will not only provide a scientific education but will also be "an exciting new mission-focused interdisciplinary degree which will provide students with the opportunity to approach the challenges of wildlife conservation from multiple viewpoints".
“We hope to give our students a connection to, and understanding of, the natural world that will enrich their lives and prepare them to be leaders of a future in which humanity can live in harmony with nature.”