Rob obtained his BSc(Hons) from the University of Tasmania in 1979 and went on to complete a Diploma of Education in 1980. From 1981 to 1983 he was employed by the Tasmanian Education Department as a Maths/Science teacher in the Secondary-School/College system. Following this, he went back to the University of Tasmania to undertake postgraduate studies and obtained a PhD in Chemistry in 1987. From 1987 to 1989 he undertook postdoctoral studies at the Research School of Chemistry (ANU) in the Inorganic Spectroscopy group of Professor Elmars Krausz.
In the latter half of 1989, he was appointed as a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Queensland and in 1995 moved to a similar position in the Department of Chemistry at ANU. In 1996 he was promoted to Senior Lecturer, in 2000 to Reader, and in 2003 to Professor. He is a Chief Investigator in the Australia-China Joint Research Centre for Functional Molecular Materials and a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.