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Tropical Connections Fellow Ana Maria Bocsanczy shadows a UF-IFAS Dean

2015-10-18%2017.42.59As a part of their professional development, all Elsevier Tropical Connections Fellows have opportunities to shadow academic leaders. Dr. Bocsanczy was selected to shadow UF IFAS Dean Dr. Jackie Burns.  We interviewed Ana Maria about her shadowing experience.

MT: Ana Maria, please introduce yourself to our readers.
AMB: My name is Ana Maria Bocsanczy. I am a postdoctoral associate at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (MREC) in Apopka working with Dr. David Norman. I conduct research on the plant pathogen Ralstonia solanacearu2015-10-18%2017.51.02m, a soil borne bacterium which causes disease in many plant species. My area of expertise is molecular biology, genomics, proteomics, and learning more ‘omics’ applied to molecular microbe-plant interactions.
MT: Ana Maria, please describe what you thought dean’s responsibilities were prior to this shadowing experience.
AMB:Before this experience I really did not pay much attention to what deans do. I vaguely imagined that they spent all day in meetings, but I had no idea what kind of meetings or the impact of those meetings on university life. I was not aware of the size of IFAS and its reach.
MT: What did your shadowing experience entail?
AMB: During my shadowing experience I followed the Dean to three meetings, the first was an internal meeting with her team. They discussed several subjects, including selection of a new communication specialist, awards, reports and metrics, financial reports. At the meeting, I saw the Dean in command but in an atmosphere of participation and opinions were solicited from the associate deans. The second meeting was an IFAS meeting to discuss the enforcement of the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the involvement of IFAS in the delivery of the required training to farmers and producers. I heard the pros and cons of UF delivering the training and the discussion about the work involved, and the lack of specialists at national level. Another long time food safety leader in Florida was present and I was impressed by her knowledge and confidence. Here the Dean participated more as a team player in the discussion. The last meeting was IFAS Faculty Assembly. This meeting involves faculty representatives from all IFAS units and it happens monthly. Issues that pertain to faculty, such as tenure expectations, benefits, liaisons with other groups are discussed and proposals are voted on. There was no quorum when I attended; however I got to hear some of the issues. I also heard vice-president’s report. In this meeting the Dean was more an observer. In between meetings we had a little time to talk about me and I had a chance to ask her questions about her career as a woman in science and about her position.
MT: Did this experience change your thinking about dean’s responsibilities?
AMB:After this experience I realized that a Dean has great responsibility. She is responsible for research from 500 faculty members, all the Research stations and other units as well. She has to plan, oversight and evaluate all research from the units. Wow!
MT: What skills do you think a person needs to become a successful academic administrator?
AMB:As I observed Dr. Burns, I noticed that she has several skills important for a leader. She listens to people, really listens. Then she shows a lot of confidence when she talks, especially when she has to give her opinion or decide. She is organized. And tries to have all the information before she makes a decision. She trusts and relies on her team. She values their opinion and weights them before deciding.
MT: Do you see yourself one day in the university administration? 
AMB: I do not see myself in the university administration in the near future. I still have a long way to go. It seems to me that to achieve a high position you need to have a lot of experience first. I realized that even if you are a regular faculty, you still need to have leadership skills. You still have a team to take care of, you have to report to your department, you have to interact with the finance and administrative personnel, and most important you have to get grants.
MT: Was this experience worth your time and would you recommend it to others?
AMB: It was important for me to understand how things work at IFAS and the important function the Deans and vice-president serve to make things work, to take care of the faculty/staff and accomplish the mission of IFAS. I really recommend this experience to other postdocs, even young faculty.