GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When he was planting rice in valley swamps in Sierra Leone many years ago, Robert Gilbert never imagined he’d be a dean at the University of Florida. But now, here he is: dean of research at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station.
Gilbert will take over as UF/IFAS research dean from his current position as professor and chair of the UF/IFAS agronomy department, a job he’s held since 2014. Before coming to Gainesville, Gilbert worked at the UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade, Florida, where he rose through the faculty ranks to become center director.
“Dr. Gilbert has shown himself to be an outstanding scientist and administrator,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, who appointed Gilbert as UF/IFAS research dean. “As a faculty member improving Florida’s sugarcane at the Everglades REC, Dr. Gilbert was an innovative researcher, leading efforts to help growers produce one of South Florida’s signature crops. He also worked well with grower groups. I feel confident he can lead the UF/IFAS research agenda to meet our diverse statewide issues and help our stakeholders in agriculture and natural resources capitalize on the best science UF/IFAS can provide.”
Gilbert, a UF/IFAS faculty member for 18 years, earned his bachelor’s in biology from Carleton College in Minnesota, his master’s in agronomy from UF/IFAS and his doctorate in soil science from Texas A&M. He will start his new position in January, following the retirement of Jackie Burns, who has been research dean since 2014.
“The dean of research position represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a broad impact across diverse UF/IFAS agricultural, natural resources and human nutrition programs,” said Gilbert. “UF/IFAS faculty, staff and students are doing phenomenal work in these areas, and it is an honor and privilege to be able to help grow and promote these programs.”
“The dean of research can serve as a catalyst for our excellent research programs that are helping the residents of Florida, the U.S. and the world,” Gilbert said.
For example, smaller, so-called “seed grants” can provide funds to gather preliminary data necessary to attract large grants, he said. This approach has been useful for UF/IFAS faculty to successfully garner the funding necessary to tackle significant issues from citrus greening in Florida to sustainable livestock production in Africa.
Gilbert has numerous goals for his new position.
“UF/IFAS is such a broad and diverse organization that one of my immediate goals will be to learn as much as I can about our 14 academic departments, two schools and 12 research and education centers,” he said. “I also look forward to listening to clientele groups representing our diverse agricultural and natural resource base in the state.”
Gilbert also plans to examine ways to develop new initiatives on alternative crops for Florida. He has spent considerable time around the state, recently, talking to various groups about the UF/IFAS industrial hemp research project. Gilbert said those conversations have convinced him that there is a great demand across many agricultural sectors to examine profitable alternative crops.
“A major goal of UF/IFAS and UF is to increase our upward momentum and research pre-eminence,” Gilbert said. “Indeed, thanks to the hard work of Dean Burns, our research staff and our faculty, UF/IFAS just had a record year with $166 million in external funding.”
Toward that end, one of Gilbert’s long-term goals will be to help faculty with writing grant proposals and offering useful research forums.
“My ultimate goal is to be an effective dean by building effective teams willing to work on difficult tasks together,” Gilbert said. “It is truly humbling to have been chosen for this position. I have always strived for a life in academia; however, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, using a hoe and head pan to plant rice in inland valley swamps, I never would have dreamed I would one day become a dean at UF.”
“I am truly fortunate to have this opportunity and look forward to working with our faculty, staff, students and clientele to make a significant impact,” Gilbert said.
By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, firstname.lastname@example.org
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.