Faculty of the Year: Robert Simmons

Celebrating 30 years of teaching at Georgia State, biology Professor Robert Simmons could not imagine himself anywhere else.

But that was not always the case. Growing up in Atlanta, Simmons always imagined himself moving away from Georgia. He did for a while, studying in Northern Ireland for seven years.

But, as fate would have it, Simmons came back to Atlanta and has stayed ever since.

Robert Simmons is a scientist, photographer, former bartender and current Georgia State professor
Robert Simmons is a scientist, photographer, former bartender and current Georgia State professor

“Georgia State has been a good home for me. I was very fortunate that when I came back, I could find a position and really grow,” Simmons said.

The combination of photography and biology meet in his imaging lab; from a virus to an eagle, Simmons photographs everything.

The biology imaging lab where Simmons currently works was a small operation when he started. Today, it is a large-scale operation and he could not be happier.

“We are doing advance research support, that’s really what our operation is about,” he said.

When it comes to his students, research and critical thinking skills are at the top of his list.

“Once you get out of school, problem solving is what it is all about. Once you understand the design of an experiment, you’re going to do better in your professional life,” Simmons said.

Being involved with his students is an important aspect in Simmons’ teaching skills. He believes that communicating with his students is key.

Having several different classes getting to his Ph.D., Simmons has had his fair share of professors who just did not care.

“Teaching is a performance art. You have to know your subject inside and out to be a good teacher. But you also have to know how to communicate to people that don’t know how to communicate.”

He believes that his life experiences have helped him to be the best teacher that he could possibly be. When he went to Northern Ireland in the 1970s, it was not the best of neighborhoods and because of that Simmons learned when to take life seriously and when not to take life seriously.

The same goes for when he was a bartender. There, he learned about social skills. He also gives credit to being a folk musician because getting up in front of a lot of people helped him with stage fright.

Simmons has used different pieces of his experiences and has applied them to his classrooms and teachings.

It is a feeling that he cannot describe when a student just gets it in the classroom.

“There are some students that are going to fall asleep, but there are always those few students that will answer your question. It’s hard to describe, It’s kind of an adrenaline rush,” Simmons said.

When Simmons is not in the classroom, or in his lab doing research, he is at home spending time with his wife, Camillia.

Together, they have a shed in their backyard where the two of them craft. On one side is his wife’s jewelry work, and on the other side is Simmons torch where he makes beads.

“A lot of weekends when we have free time we’ll go out to the shed together and we’ll just talk and spend time together,” Simmons said.

This year, the couple will be celebrating their 22nd anniversary.

Simmons is also in collaboration with the arts and science department at Georgia State with Pam Longobardi. Together they are dealing with plastic in the ocean, but it is just getting started. This is one of the few projects Simmons is working on.

“I see myself as an artist and a scientist. It’s a creative thought process that’s required for both. I’m really excited about collaborating with Pam Longobardi,” he said.

Simmons gives Georgia State credit to letting him do things that he would not have done otherwise.


“It’s given me the opportunity to do a wide variety of things. If I have to do the same thing all day everyday, I’ll go nuts,” Simmons said. “This is home.”