In our series, The ECS Community Adapts and Advances, Alex Peroff spoke to us from his home office. Whereas travel used to be the largest part of his job, now he focuses on developing content and meaningful communication. Alex joined Pine Research Instrumentation, Inc. as an Electroanalytical Scientist in 2016 after completing a PhD at Northwestern University. His thesis work was on mechanistic studies of pyridinium electrochemistry. Alex serves as a member of the ECS Sponsorship Committee. Pine Research is an ECS Institutional Member at the Benefactor level.

Doing what you didn’t have time for before

Newswise — “Pine Research develops research products for the electrochemistry community such as electrode rotators, potentiostats, electrodes, and cells.  My work at Pine involves sales, developing documentation and marketing material, supporting engineers creating new instruments, providing technical support—and traveling a lot! COVID-19 pushed travel and face-to-face customer-related activities to the side. Now I focus on communicating with customers and developing marketing materials—documents, YouTube videos, and digital assets that answer customers’ questions.

Before the shutdown, I moved the equipment I need to shoot videos (cameras, lights, backdrops) and develop content to my home. My work computer is here because I need a powerful machine with software for video editing.

My supervisor told me, 'Any videos that you’ve been itching to make, now is the time to do it. Because when travel restrictions are lifted, we’re going out hard, visiting as many people as possible, and returning to trade shows. Anything you need to stay put to work on, now is the time. I write a lot of documents, too; for example, how to fix this electrode, or why does your potentiostat do this type of behavior—things that could be useful to the community. So I’m busy!”

Contact is key

“Today, the key to happy customers is keeping in touch. I use whichever mode of communication the customer prefers—Skype, phone, email. We back that up with social media to say, ’Hey, Pine is still here. We’re doing things. If you need assistance, contact us. We’re more than happy to help.’ If chemists and grad students have fundamental questions about science, they can ask me. It’s really good to talk to somebody if you’re not 100 percent sure about something.  

We engage by doing more digital workshops. For example, in the past we delivered our cyclic voltammetry and EIS (electrochemical impedance spectroscopy) boot camps in person. Now I do online bootcamps and share my screen to demonstrate fundamental ideas or concepts, and answer questions directly.

One good thing. In the past, grad students I’ve known and worked with for a while, when they defended their theses, they were too far away for me to attend. Now their thesis defense is on Zoom, and it’s open to the public. They send me the link to their defense and I get to hear and celebrate with them!

We all need some level of human interaction. We usually get it from being near each other physically, but we right now that’s not advisable. You would be surprised by the impact of maintaining communication. If you email a customer with whom you’re normally always brass-tacks trying to figure out the next thing, and ask ‘how are you doing,’ that little gesture goes a long way. Because if someone is really feeling bad, you can help them, whether they need a short 15-30-minute conversation or a two-hour conversation. It helps them and it helps you stay sane!”

Simple steps to staying sane

“Maintaining continuity, routine, and productivity in this new and different time is challenging. Although I can’t go to the gym, I still exercise from home. It’s easy to walk down the trail near where I live and stay six feet away from others. Getting time outdoors helps me feel good. Where I might normally have lunch with somebody once every week or two, now I have Zoom lunch meetings with that person.

Sticking to a regime is good. I write a list of the things I want to accomplish, even very simple things. I make the goals easy. Instead of reading a whole book, my goal may be to complete one chapter. Even making a start on a task helps. At the end of the day, knocking off that small task gives me a sense of accomplishment.

As scientists and electrochemists, the ECS community needs time to reflect, and this situation gives us that. Some of the most creative scientific ideas come when all we can do is think. Stay the course, stay focused, talk to people. Use this time as a gift, and you will not only survive, but you will thrive. When life returns to normal, you’re going to hit the lab hard, and you will have all these great ideas—but don’t burn yourself out!”

Stronger and closer on the other side

“It’s hard to say how it’s going to be going forward. Every few days or weeks, something new happens. If COVID cases start to decrease, it’s going to be a slow ramp-up back to some level of normalcy. With different states on different schedules, it’s going to be difficult to return to normal travel.

It’ll be good to see familiar faces and new faces at the next ECS meeting—whenever that is. I’ve stayed current with my clients’ activities through the pandemic thanks to ECS’s Twitter and Facebook updates. I look forward to congratulating whoever finished their thesis, won an award, or had a paper published since I last saw them. Also, since ECS is so international, I am looking forward to hearing what everyone’s experience has been through the pandemic. There is this sense of unity with people around the world since we are all going through the pandemic together. Ultimately, we will get through this hard time and be stronger and closer for the experience.”