University Staff Spotlight on... Alex Ball

I’ve worked here for 12 years and my role has changed quite a lot over that time. I’m currently a Research Data Librarian with responsibility for the Research Data Archive. I help researchers archive and share the data that is underlying their published research results.

1. What would you most like to achieve while at the University?

We face a big challenge to change the culture of research to be more open, transparent and verifiable. It’s a global challenge and we’re doing the best we can to try and make people understand the importance of the open science movement, and to ensure the quality of research is high, so it gets taken seriously by external stakeholders and policy makers. It’s something we must try to address; especially when scepticism around climate change science and research has crept into some governments around the world.

2. What piece of advice would you like to give to a student?

Don’t just concentrate on trying to pass the next exam, think about the wider and deeper issues in your area of specialism. Try and think about how your work relates to the issues going on around the world and the difference you can make.

3. Name one thing that makes you feel proud to work at the University of Bath?

We are at the forefront of research data support here and we have a very active team. We have our own archive which is growing at an ever faster rate and the things we do here are at the forefront of best practice.

4. Who was your most influential teacher/educator, and why?

It was a Logic Professor at Oxford, Bob Hargrave, who is sadly no longer with us. He taught symbolic logic when I was studying Physics and Philosophy in my first term at University. He made a subject which could be very dry and baffling to many people, really come alive. It was very inspiring.

5. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My earliest ambition was to be an inventor. I liked the whole idea of finding new solutions to problems and coming up with new ways of making things a lot easier for people. I was into those popular science books which predicted robots would be doing everything for us in 20 years – of course we are now starting to get there with advancements in artificial intelligence.

6. What’s your favourite book or album and why?

My favourite book is The Lord of the Rings, not because it’s the greatest book that I’ve ever read, but it’s emblematic of the sort of things that excite me about literature. I’m probably one of the few people who was more excited about the appendices than the story!

What I loved about it was the detail around the ‘world building’ and the care that Tolkien took in how the mechanics of how this imaginary society was working.

7. When are you at your happiest?

When I’m spending time with my children.

8. If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and why?

Possibly Albert Einstein. I’d start by talking through the philosophical issues - and the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

9. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a keen choral singer. I’m a member of my local parish choir and a group called the St George Singers. We’re a thriving community choir and we use our concerts to raise money for a different charity every year.

10. Tell us your favourite joke...

A man goes into a seafood restaurant and picks a squid to eat from the tank. The squid looks a bit sickly, and like it has a moustache with strange bristles around its mouth. The chef, Gervais, is just about to cut the head off the squid when it lets out a little scream! On hearing this, Gervais can't bring himself to go through with the act, and asks the dishwasher, called Hans, to dispatch the squid. Hans picks up the cleaver and is just about to cut the head off the squid when it lets out another faint scream. Hans then also feels bad and can’t go through with the act.

All of which just goes to show that Hans that does dishes can be soft as Gervais, with mild, green, hairy-lip squid!

If you know of a colleague who’d like to raise the profile of their work or has an unexpected hobby, email comms@bath.ac.uk with the subject ‘Staff Spotlight recommendation’.

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