Ryan J. Keith | Researcher and Educator

Ryan J. Keith

I am an impactful educator and social-ecological scientist with eight years' experience teaching at universities, schools, and zoos. I am particularly fascinated by interactions between people and natural environments, with my research currently focusing on how urban children connect with nature.

Despite what this website's URL would have you believe, I'm not quite a doctor just yet. I am currently completing my PhD in the Integrative Ecology Lab at The University of Sydney, under the watchful eyes of Prof Dieter Hochuli, Prof Lisa Given, and Dr John Martin. I previously completed my Masters of Teaching at UNSW and recieved my bachelor's in ecology from my current institution.


Research

You may have heard that city kids are suffering from nature-deficit disorder as a result of their high-tech modern lives. The idea that our youth are disconnected from nature has been accepted as conventional wisdom, leading to concerns about children's health, wellbeing, and appreciation of the natural world. An evidence base for these notions is growing in the US and UK, though researchers from other cultures openly question apparent trends.

My mixed-paradigm research project, conducted in the global south, provides the first account of nature connectedness in a large sample of Australian children and adolescents. Instead of privileging an adult-driven discourse that may inadvertently marginalise urban youth, it honours the voices of local children. Some of my findings, such as a teenage dip in connections to nature, interestingly align with demographic patterns emerging overseas. Others—like the fact that half of the primary school students I surveyed had strong nature connections—trouble the deficit narrative and open up exciting new avenues for further research.

For a more detailed summary of my findings, please take a look through my recent publications. I periodically tweet about my research, so follow me if you want some to-the-minute updates.

Teaching

Teaching is my vocation. I was invited to deliver my first guest lecture (on diversity in fishes) as a precocious second-year uni student. The audience? My peers in Vertebrate Zoology! Surprisingly, it was received well, and I wasn't mercilessly teased for being the biggest teacher's pet to ever roam our campus. The experience lit a fire that led me to formally train as a high school teacher specialising in biology, chemistry, and earth & environmental sciences.

I started teaching zoology in a non-guest capacity during my undergraduate honours year and haven't stopped since. Most recently, I co-developed the online course 'Science of Australia's Deadly Animals' with Prof Dieter Hochuli. I built modules showcasing snakes, spiders, sharks, and a veritable "fisherman's basket" of marine species. (Don't worry — we also explain how these "usual suspects" aren't Australia's deadliest animals.)

My teaching style involves exploring the natural world alongside my students with curiosity and wonder, nurturing a love of nature and fervour for conservation. I am told it's effective; for example, a former student shared the following impression in a course evaluation:

"Ryan was amazing and his interest in the subject helped students keep their interest in the subject as well. You can tell he is passionate and very informed about the information we cover."

Outreach

My teaching has always extended beyond the Hogwarts-esque halls of USyd. Throughout my Masters and most of my PhD, I engaged zoo visitors from all corners of the Earth in public talks about Australia's unique fauna. I now organise school incursions focused on similar topics through my ongoing role as a Committee member of the Wild Life Conservation Fund.

Outside of schools and conferences, you can also find me presenting my research to local community groups such as the Australian Plants Society. If you are seeking a speaker with my expertise, you're welcome to drop me an email.

I occasionally write for The Conversation and The Urban Field Naturalist Project. You, too, can contribute to the latter.

Papers

Keith, R. J., Given, L. M., Martin, J. M., & Hochuli, D. F. (2022). Urban children and adolescents' perspectives on the importance of nature. Environmental Education Research , Online.

Keith, R. J., Given, L. M., Martin, J. M., & Hochuli, D. F. (2022). Collaborating with qualitative researchers to co-design social-ecological studies. Austral Ecology , 47(4), 880-888.

Keith, R. J., Given, L. M., Martin, J. M., & Hochuli, D. F. (2021). Urban children’s connections to nature and environmental behaviors differ with age and gender. PLOS ONE , 16(7), e0255421.

Santori, C., Keith, R. J., Whittington, C. M., Thompson, M. B., Van Dyke, J. U., & Spencer, R.-J. (2021). Changes in participant behaviour and attitudes are associated with knowledge and skills gained by using a turtle conservation citizen science app. People and Nature , 3(1), 66–76.

Contact

My address on campus is as follows:

Room 408
Heydon-Laurence Building (A08)
The University of Sydney
NSW 2006 Australia

Please see below for an email option, plus links to my accounts on other platforms.