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Tropical Research And Education Center

Tropical Research And Education Center

Dr. Yuncong Li

Professor — Soil and Water Quality

Dr. Yuncong Li is the Professor of Soil and Water Quality in the Department of Soil, Water, and Ecosystem Sciences at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center. He is also an Affiliated Professor at the University of Florida’s Center for Tropical Agriculture, Hydrologic Sciences Academic Cluster, School of Natural Resources & Environment, and Water Institute. He has authored or co-authored over 329 research papers, 115 extension articles and 6 book chapters. He co-edited two books, Water Quality Concepts, Sampling, and Analyses and Handbook of Soil Sciences. He serves as an associate editor for two journals, Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology and Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis. Additionally, Dr. Li has chaired or co-chaired 34 PhD and MS students, served as a committee member for 47 other graduate students, and supervised 16 postdoctoral fellows and many international visiting scientists and students from more than 25 countries.

  • Teaching

    Dr. Li involves in advising and mentoring undergraduate interns, graduate students, postdoctoral research associates, and visiting scholars. Previously, he taught graduate courses of “Communication in Academia” and “Advance Soil and Water Chemistry”.

    Statement of Teaching

    As an off-campus faculty stationed at the Tropical Research and Education Center in South Florida (Homestead), I have no formal teaching appointment. However, I am actively involved in teaching, advising and mentoring undergraduate interns, graduate students, postdoctoral research associates, and early career scientists. I regard my teaching and mentoring activity as a great privilege with an important responsibility. It affords me the opportunity to work with very bright and talented young people who will hold important positions in future years and allows me to introduce these future scientists to subject matter that I feel is critically essential to improving living standards and environmental quality. I also have a great deal of empathy for graduate students when I remember my path to acquire an education and to make my way in the scientific community. I was fortunate to have professors who helped me over many rough patches. Likewise, I try to be helpful to students as they cope with the various difficult challenges and circumstances they encounter.


    Teaching philosophy

    I like to use “Ingredients for a Good Advisor” to summarize my mentoring philosophy. This topic is a segment from one of my lectures for the campus-wide course entitled “Communication of Academia- Guide for Graduate Students” developed and taught by one of my colleagues and me. I believe that a good advisor should: 1) establish a relationship of respect, trust, and honesty with each student and discuss research ethics as early as possible. I believe science is about discovery and moving forward based on truth, and there is no room for dishonesty and fearfulness in a high performance laboratory; 2) always be available to graduate students. I maintain an open-door policy. Students should feel free to approach me in the laboratory, field, or my office. I often take graduate students with me when I am asked by growers or extension agents for farm visits to deal with specific problems. Field trips provide many opportunities to explain concepts differently, review critical terms, and advance the learning process; 3) encourage students to write refereed research papers starting their first semester. The road to success in the world of academia is writing and publishing high quality papers. All of my graduate students have to submit at least one manuscript (MS) or three manuscripts (PhD) to journals before graduation. I also strive to reward students for their achievements and help them obtain recognition for outstanding contributions; 4) be a role model and set a good example for students; 5) be enthusiastic and have up-to-date knowledge of a research field. It is important to challenge graduate students with new ideas and require them to read new materials; 6) take students to professional conferences and introduce them to colleagues. Professional networking is crucial to the success of a student’s career. I use any opportunity to introduce my student to other scientists; and 7) mentor graduate students throughout their academic careers.

    In summary, I seek to be a professor who is supportive but instills discipline in students, pays students well, purchases everything needed for students’ research, meets with students regularly, invites students for lunches or dinners, helps the student identify research topics, encourage students to write papers from day one, reviews their papers promptly, gives students proper

    credits for their work, takes students to conferences, introduces students to other scientists at conferences and other opportunities, writes them good letters of recommendation, and offers advice and assistance with their career decisions.


    Mentoring style

    I divide the styles of general mentoring into three categories. First is a “hands-on” approach. A professor with a “hands-on” style works very closely with students for every step of their research. They spend many hours with students, provide detailed instructions, and personally teach specific skills. The second style of mentoring is a “hands-off” approach. A professor with a “hands-off” style allows students to explore everything by themselves. They will give general direction for potential research topics, but students have to formulate the hypothesis, objective, and methodology. Some students may feel lost during the early stages of their programs, but many enjoy the challenge of independence. This approach is similar to an old Chinese proverb, “Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.” The third category of the mentoring is a style between “hands-off” and “hands-on”. I consider myself as a professor with a “hands-off” style. A critical part of my mentoring style is to require students to be very familiar with the research topic before beginning their research by searching many references and continuing to read papers throughout their program.


    An example of how to become an excellent student and scientist:

    My major professor at UGA, used to tell a story about the importance of reading literature in one's research area. The story goes that more than sixty years ago, a young PhD student from South Africa arrived at the University of Oxford to study soil chemistry. He was summoned to the professor's office just a day after he arrived, where he found the professor doing calculations with a slide rule, as there were no computers at that time. The professor paused from his calculation for a moment, stared at the student and asked “What would you like to study?” The young fellow said he liked to study soil colloids, which is a branch of soil chemistry. The professor replied “Go to the library and read Gerry’s papers!” and went back to his calculations.

    The young man went to the library looking for Gerry’s publications, but after a whole afternoon of searching, he couldn't find any of Gerry’s papers. He thought that he had to ask the professor exactly who Gerry was. But early the following day, he went to the professor’s office to find that the professor had just left for Turkey on a three-month consulting trip. There was no email or even phone number to connect to professor’s host institution. It would take over a month to get the professor’s response using regular mail. I can imagine the young man’s dilemma and frustration; he probably said to himself “Shit! What should I do?” He had no choice but to go back to the library. He found a chair in the chemistry section and started reading books and journals.

    Three months later, the professor returned from travel and summoned the student to his office again. He asked the student, “Did you read Gerry’s papers?” The young man replied “I could not find Gerry in any author index.” The professor stared at the student unhappily and said slowly “The man’s name is Gerhardus (Gerry) Bolt!” Not only had he failed to give the correct surname, but he had also used his nickname. No wonder the lack of success on the part of the graduate student. The young man replied “Oh! Yes Sir! I found his papers and read them all. I also read books and journals in the soil chemistry section from A to Z.” At that stage, it was still

    possible to read the entire literature on soil chemistry. After that, the young man became one of the professor’s favorite students. Unfortunately, the professor, Dr. R.K. Schofield, a pioneer in soil chemistry and soil physics, died a year later, leaving the student without a guiding light. Nevertheless, the young graduate student completed his research under his own guidance and graduated within three years. That young man was Dr. Malcolm Sumner, who went on to become one of the most productive and influential soil scientists of the last 60 years. He has published over 300 refereed journal papers and 40 book chapters, and is the editor of eight books, including the two-volume Handbook of Soil Sciences published by CRC Press Taylor & Francis. Dr. Sumner is now the Regents' Professor Emeritus of Environmental Soil Science at the University of Georgia.

  • Research

    Dr. Li’s research program focuses on developing management practices to improve nutrient use efficiency, characterizing nutrient cycling in soils, and balancing agricultural and natural ecosystems. The unique soils, climatic extremes, and diverse crops and native plants have posed great challenges to his soil and water research program in South Florida. 

    Current Research Areas

    • Salt Water Intrusion
    • Controlled-release fertilizers
    • Amino acid foliar/liquid fertilizers
    • Bio-fertilizers
    •  Humic Acids
    • Salt index of fertilizers
    • Testing methods for slow-release fertilizers
    • Soil testing calibration for calcareous soils
    • BMP for tropical fruits
    • Cover crops and soil amendments
    • Water quality index
    • Everglades restoration
  • Extension

    Dr. Li’s Extension program includes training of nutrient management practices and water quality for extension agents, researchers and others; organizing and participating workshops, demonstrations and field days; publishing extension articles and newsletters; and providing technical assistance to county extension agents on isuuses realted to calcerious soils.

  • International Activities

    In collaboration with international colleagues, Dr. Li has conducted field research in Asia and South America and these activities have resulted in many scholarly publications and changes in practices. In collaborations with over 200 international scholars from 27 countries, he co-edited the Handbook of Soil Sciences. The book is a comprehensive and cohesive reference on the discipline of soil science and serves as a valuable resource for soil scientists, agronomists, engineers, ecologists, and biologists. His second book entitled “Water quality concept, sampling and analyses” has been distributed worldwide and used by scientists and environmental professionals for protecting water resources. He has hosted many international scientists and students for long term studies and short visits and made significant international contributions to promote research, teaching and extension of soil and water sciences. He has been invited to give keynote talks and lectures in many countries and taught short courses on integrated nutrient management and soil and water quality in Brazil, China, Columbia, Haiti, and Mexico.

Dr. Yuncong Li


18905 SW 280 Street
Homestead, FL 33031-3314
(786) 217-9251

  • Education
    • Ph.D. Environmental Science, University of Maryland, 1993 
    • M.S. Agronomy/Soil Chemistry, 1990 
    • B.S.  Soil Science, Shandong Agricultural University, 1982
  • Publications
  • Awards and Honors
    • Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2021
    • Faculty award for the most publications, UF/IFAS TREC
    • Term Professorship Award, University of Florida, 2017
    • Research Foundation Professorship, University of Florida, 2017
    • Kingenta Agricultural Science Award, American Society of Agronomy, 2016
    • Distinguished Alumni Nomination Award, Shandong Agricultural University, 2012 & 2015
    • Distinguished Career Award, Association of Chinese Soil & Plant Scientists in North America (ACSPSNA), 2014
    • Art Hornsby Distinguished Extension Professional and Enhancement Award, Extension Association of Florida, 2012
    • International Educator of the Year, Senior Faculty Award, UF/IFAS, 2011
    • Fellow of American Society of Agronomy (ASA), 2010
    • Fellow of Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), 2010
    • UF/IFAS Research Innovation Award, 2010
    • Senior Faculty Award, the Gamma Sigma Delta, the honor society of agriculture, 2009
    • Wachovia Extension Professional and Enhancement Award, Extension Association of Florida, 2008
    • Research Foundation Professorship, University of Florida, 2007.
    • Junior Faculty Research Award, the Sigma Xi, the international honor society of science and engineering, 2004
    • Jim App Award for Outstanding Design Team, UF/IFAS, 2002
    • Outstanding Paper Award, Florida State Horticultural Society, 2001
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