Assistant Professor in Big Data Analytics in Agricultural and Natural Resources Systems

University of Florida

Gainesville, FL, US

This is a 9-month tenure-accruing position that will be 60% research and 40% Extension in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department (ABE), Institute of Food and Sciences (IFAS). This assignment may change in accordance with the needs of the unit as well as the interests and skills of the faculty, to create a mutually beneficial, rewarding and productive path forward.

Current developments in data sciences are producing fundamental shifts in many economic sectors. However, in spite of their central role in human welfare, the potential for big data and analytics for Agricultural and Natural Resources systems remains largely untapped. The time horizon in the “farm to fork” ecosystem must be re-visited using better data, curated data, small data, big data, “bigger” data. Hence, making data and analytics meaningful in the context of a wholistic “farm to fork” concept (which spans several organizations and industries) is central to advancing the mission of agriculture and food systems for the future. The successful candidate must grasp the immense significance of ABE related research in helping to feed 10 billion people in the world, circa 2050. Where and how can data, information and knowledge help in this gigantic jig-saw puzzle? If data is the “new salt” then how can it improve lives and the future of agricultural and natural resources systems?

The faculty member in this position will be responsible for building an active, successful, internationally recognized, and externally funded, research and extension program, which will embrace big data and analytics, with a focus on, but not limited to, the convergence of food, agriculture and natural resources systems. The systems and solutions approach to real world problems cannot be contained by departmental silos. Hence, ABE at UF is seeking a visionary who values inclusion, convergence and integration, to help ABE by removing the barriers that often constrain academic departments and old-age boundaries. UF/IFAS ABE is seeking intellectual leadership that sustains cross-fertilization as a key to create that which is not yet conceived, or yet to be created, or even imagined. The candidate should be able to effectively interface with others in UF and reach out to local, national and global partners and stakeholders to inculcate and uphold UF/IFAS high standards and vision.

The candidate will be sufficiently versed in the academic underpinnings (mathematics, statistics, computation, ML) and at a pragmatic level will qualify as a “data engineer” and/or data scientist. The successful candidate will conduct research in food, agriculture and natural resources systems aimed at one or more of the following (not limited to):

[1]   trans-disciplinary ideas that break the status quo in the analysis and management of these systems.

[2]   identify and combine current multiple big data types from these systems and future data needs

[3]   create new sets of data curation technologies to extract value from unstructured big (large) data

[4]   innovate tools to explore meaningful identification of information from data (big and small)

[5]   invent new automated feature engineering and feature selection mechanisms

[6]   develop novel algorithms to challenge current ML, ANN and AI approaches

[7]   integrate ontology, semantics and knowledge representation in analytics

[8]   simulate “what if” models (spatio-temporal, time series, agent-based, etc.)

[9]   uncover non-obvious relationships and patterns to explore “unknown unknowns”

[11] connect globally with industry, scientists and institutions

The successful candidate is expected to view research and development outcomes also from the perspective of entrepreneurial innovation, social business, and systems integration, which, if adequately implemented, may improve lives and help civilization, at large. A case in point is the abundance of miscellaneous high performance computational platforms available across academia, yet the gap between research, analytics and application, is an ever-increasing chasm. Can integration of high performance virtual environments serve as a bridge to improve the future of food, agriculture, and natural resource systems?

Background in agricultural and biological engineering, or any related engineering or quantitative scientific discipline is desirable. Interest in the land-grant mission of ABE and IFAS, however, is necessary. The ability to re-learn, and un-learn, is crucial. The desire to delve deeper will determine success, in the context of making data and information meaningful, and relevant, in near real-time, to support operational decision systems in complex systems and system of systems, pertaining to the current and future ecosystem of agricultural, food and natural resources. Making the tools of data, information, and knowledge discovery relevant to biological engineering in agriculture will be an important step forward.

The successful candidate is expected to create an innovative Extension program, that may include online components, workshops and other forms of training and information delivery that embrace novelty and inspire stakeholders.  The successful candidate must have an interest to partner with stakeholders and content experts to identify how data may be catalytic in the context of the content related to the plethora of sub-fields in this domain, for example the vast nexus of FEWS (food/energy/water/sanitation) issues.

Successful applicants will create their own brand of interaction including directing graduate student research, establishing a publication record, attract federal and industrial extramural funding, shape the future through thought leadership, participate in multidisciplinary teams, and work with international organizations (FAO, UNDP, ADB, EBRD, World Bank), foundations, and industry, to create new partnerships, to bolster the role of data analytics and real-time applications, at the edge, in the field. UF/IFAS offers the candidate immediate access to UF Informatics Institute, UF Research Computing, UF Water and Climate Institutes, Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research, UF ECE MIST Center for Internet of Things (IoT), UF Nanoscale Research Facility, UF Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute and other programs at various UF schools, including medicine, law and the school of business management.

UF IFAS is a land-grant institution. Faculty are expected to support and engage in all three mission areas—Research, Teaching and Extension—regardless of the specifics in the position description. The successful candidate is expected to implement her/his own key performance indicators (KPI) which will change the future of measuring academic progress, institutional recognition and impact parameters. In keeping with the overarching mission of UF/IFAS, leadership is essential to create new leaders from the student body, research is necessary to provide a new compass for the world to adopt in their quest to draw a new map of the future, and extension is key to share the fruits of leadership and research with the ecosystem of institutions, industry and international bodies, to lift many boats, locally and globally.