Ross grew up across southern Africa and developed a dual interest in mining and wildlife governance. He studied a B.Com in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he then completed an M.Phil in Public Policy. He was awarded his PhD in Economics, also at UCT, in 2019. His thesis explained institutional divergence between Nigeria and Angola, Africa's two biggest oil producers. From 2010 to 2011, he lectured in political economy at UCT. The following year he worked as a parliamentary researcher. In mid-2013, he became a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, where he worked until 2019. His initial work examined labour relations in the mining space in the aftermath of Marikana. He worked on a range of mining and wildlife governance projects thereafter and published a number of academic papers and research reports. From May 2019 to April 2020, Ross operated as an independent consultant in the wildlife governance space. On 1 May 2020 he became a director of research and programmes at Good Governance Africa and is a senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg's Institute for the Future of Knowledge.