Patrick Bateson

11 08 2017

Screenshot 2017-08-11 11.15.27My former PhD supervisor Pat died last week. He was 79, and had had a heart condition for a while. But he had remained so incredibly intellectually active (writing books and papers, and being involved in Royal Society activities), that I always assumed I’d see him again at some meeting or other. So, it hit me hard.

As an actual PhD advisor, he was frankly over-stretched: Paul Martin had just left Madingley to become a spy (or so the legend went), leaving Pat with 14 students to look after. And with me doing my own project (on, guess what? – stereotypic behaviours of course, first aspiring to work on zoo animals, then using mink as a model), I was basically left feral: quite alarming (although ultimately good for me). My scattered memories of him from that time include that, absurdly, it took me well over a year to call him “Pat” like everyone else (I’d been in his undergrad classes the year before, and in that context he was most definitely “Professor Bateson”); how supportive and kind he was (e.g. coming out to visit the mink farm when I first contacted the farmer, and bowling them over with charm); his great advice when I was (ridiculously) worried about sharing ideas (“If you work with your office door open, more comes in that goes out”); and getting introduced to his wonderful daughter Melissa.

But it was really in the years since then that he became more important as a friend and colleague. It’s not just that he was an intelligent, left-wing, atheist cat-lover (what’s not to love about that?), nor that he was always supportive and enthusiastic. We shared interests in play and the effects of early experience (I just had a flashback to the IEC in Rennes, where he was appalled to discover that outdoor-reared piglets often end up in indoor intensive systems, and another to the IEC in Newcastle where he was enthusiastic and lovely with my student Jamie). He also became really interested in the scientific study of animal welfare. He did great work, for example, on the hunting of deer, on cost benefit assessments for research animals, and on pedigree dogs’ health issues.  And I always loved watching him in action as Chair of the ZSL Animal Welfare Committee: he was so adept.  I really am very, very lucky to have had him as a mentor, and still can’t quite believe he has gone.