For our series, The ECS Community Adapts and Advances, Alice Suroviec describes pandemic-related challenges—and benefits—of being a mother, professor, scientist, researcher, administrator, homeschooler, and crisis manager. Alice is Professor of Bioanalytical Chemistry and Dean of the College of Medical and Natural Sciences at Berry College, Georgia, U.S. Her research focuses on enzymatically modified electrodes for use as biosensors and the use of self-assembled monolayers on gold nanoparticles. Alice is associate editor of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society and guest editor of Interface. Formerly chair of the Division of Physical and Analytical Electrochemistry, Alice now chairs the ECS Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Inclusivity, and serves on the ECS Individual Membership Committee and the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Subcommittee.

Alice Suroviec chairs the L01 Poster Session in PRiME 2020, on Tuesday, October 6, from 1800-2000h.

Overcoming chaos

“As the mother of a newborn and a seven-year-old, the first months of the pandemic were challenging. It was pretty terrible when it was just me, the children, and my husband in the house every day, all day. The baby caught head lice at day care, gave it to Peggy, who then gave it back to her. Then we had a cockroach infestation. They chewed up electrical components and the dishwasher broke. This compounded the terribleness—but we’re good now. We are lice and roach free, I have a new dishwasher, and the baby returned to daycare!

Home schooling seven-year-old Peggy is challenging. We used to butt heads all the time about homework. Now it’s magnified because we’re around each other 24/7. Peggy stomps off, locks herself in her bedroom. Talking to other parents, I’ve learned that pre-teen drama starts at seven and her behavior is normal!

My top challenge is sleep deprivation. I get up at 4:30 am and work for three hours before the baby wakes up. When everyone else is awake, I do mom stuff. When everybody goes to bed, I squeeze in a bit more. So, if I ignore an email during the day, it’s only because my time to respond is between 4:30-7:30 am or between 9:00-10:00 pm!”

Coping mechanisms  

When everybody needs something from you, there’s no time to think. It’s almost impossible to be alone, so I walk by myself for about an hour every day. This give me some freedom and time to reflect and make decisions. Netflix helps me cope and I exercise more, too!  I limit my time watching the news and social media because I was drowning in over-information.

I have standing video chats with friends. We play JackBox, have Zoom happy hours, and watch a terrible movie together. While it’s not the same as seeing each other, we’re interacting and having fun.

Having a lot more family time can be a positive. We get to spend time together and there’s no place else to be. I don’t have that worry about being late for something. No having to rush home to pick up the kids to get them to their lessons or activities. No getting take-out food so that we can eat in the 20 minutes before bedtime. There’s less chaos and life is usually more slowly paced.

I stayed home for health-related reasons when Berry allowed staff to return to campus. My husband wears noise-canceling headphones for his many Zoom calls, so he’s unaware that he’s yelling. For the first weeks (of working from home), people speaking with me via Zoom from their offices would say, ‘Whoever has someone shouting in the background, please mute!’ That was me! So I bought a desk and moved upstairs to the guest bedroom—which also helped reduce chaos!”

Rethinking teaching

“Having only three or four days to convert to online teaching helped me focus on what I want my students to know. No one enjoys watching a regular, traditional lecture on video. By tracking who watched my videos, I knew who didn’t. If the non-watchers could complete the class assignments successfully, then my lectures were not useful. I have ideas about how to teach more efficiently going forward. There are good resources for online labs including simulators where students input parameters and the predicted output is provided. You can design a lab that is close to hands-on; but the students don’t gain actual hands-on skills.

Colleges are facing potential financial disasters. Students who only buy-in to schools when they visit over the summer may decide not to come. What if teaching is 100 percent online and students decide that a semester of community college is a better bargain? Or they choose to study online, but since they aren’t on campus, they don’t pay for room and board. Will student life and dining hall staff be furloughed because they aren’t needed? If education from beginning to end—elementary, primary, and secondary—goes completely virtual, what is the impact on the future of education? It’s going to be a new type of normal that we will have to figure out, because you have to be in-person in a lab to really teach chemistry.

This is the time to sit back and ask, ‘How can we do this differently? How can we do this better? How can we engage with those around us more, either in a classroom, lab, or with our peers and colleagues around the world that we may only see at a meeting?’ Collaborating on video calls has become commonplace, but is it comparable to face-to-face?”

Open access is critical

“As technical editor, I think it’s critical that ECS disseminate as much open access research as possible. The pandemic has shown us how important that is. People who weren’t interested in the science and scientific innovation before, are now looking for solutions developed by our scientists.”