Ian Thompson was born in Tynemouth, UK in 1953. He was admitted to read Medicine at the University of Oxford, taking a BA in Physiology and Psychology in 1975. He received his PhD, in Visual Neuroscience at the Physiological Laboratory, University of Cambridge, in 1980. In 1979, he was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at St John's College, Oxford and started his research group in the University Laboratory of Physiology. During this period, he spent time in the laboratories of Prof. Gunther Stent (UC Berkeley) and of Dr. Ron McKay (Cold Spring Harbor). In 1983, he became an MRC Senior Research Fellow based in the University Laboratory of Physiology, Oxford. In 1986 he became a University Lecturer in Physiology and medical tutor at Christ Church, Oxford. In 2006, he moved to the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, KCL as Halliburton Chair in Physiology, becoming an Honorary Professor in the Department of Developmental Neurobiology in 2015.
He has served on the Editorial Board of Current Biology and is on the Editorial Board of Neural Development.