Focusing on the Bright Side

Marca Doeff finds opportunities in tough times

Marca Doeff, Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL), is also Deputy Division Director of LBNL Energy Storage and Distributed Resources. During the shut-in, she works at her dining room table with a view of San Francisco Bay. She describes San Francisco without traffic, developing coping skills, and new research funding opportunities. A former chair of the ECS Battery Division, she is now Secretary of the ECS Board.

The pause that refreshes

“I used to commute to my office every day and complained constantly about the terrible Bay Area traffic. Now I only go in once a week to check on things and make sure nothing’s blown up. It’s ironic because there’s no traffic! I work almost exclusively from home and commute from the bedroom to the dining room. Working from home is not all it’s cracked up to be. I miss my routine and contact with my colleagues and post-docs. Although I meet and speak with people regularly through Zoom and other platforms, it’s not the same as face-to-face—but it is better than complete isolation.

My group is experimental, so we’re not generating new data; nor are my students and postdocs. We keep busy catching up on reports and writing papers. We have virtual meetings for some projects, and prepare virtual presentations like for the annual DOE merit review.

Normally I try to keep up, but I am so busy, I don’t have time to really sit down and read all the literature. So now, in my weekly post-doc and student meetings, we each report on literature we’ve read. This prompts me to read articles, too, which is stimulating.

 On the bright side, various Berkeley Lab science groups invite each other to their virtual workshops and review meetings. We recognize that we have issues in common and could benefit from working together. We’ve been getting in touch with people we wanted to work with in the past, but didn’t have time to, and saying, ’what can we do together?’ We’re making new connections. It’s the pause that refreshes!”   

New opportunities

“We’re looking into opportunities for new funding that will arise as a result of the current situation. Our main funders at DOE indicate that in my field, batteries, there are notices of intent and indications that there will be calls on projects in certain topics.

A research consortium led by Berkeley Lab will head a DOE desalination hub to provide secure and affordable water. That’s a completely new subject which I am learning about.

My postdocs have time now to work on professional development and learn something about a subject that they can apply to their research. ECS’s online webinars are great for this. An LBNL administrator posts information on webinars and professional training to alert postdocs to these opportunities.”

New coping skills

“My main concern is the mental health and stress on some of the young professionals in our division. So far, they seem to be taking it in stride and doing pretty well. But I worry about their frustration at not being able to generate data.

To maintain psychological equilibrium, I encourage people to do what they can within the constraints of sheltering-in-place. Maintaining my usual routine helps me—and moving; it’s important to exercise. My post-docs clear their heads by running. One tells me that walking around the neighborhood and looking at flowers helps her mood. I do a lot of baking. I’m not very good, but I’m learning! Also, my four lazy cats keep us entertained.

I worry about small businesses. The yoga and dance studios where I practiced have moved to Zoom and Vimeo. As I want them to be open and thriving when this is over, I try to take a class every day in spite of space constraints. I dance in my kitchen which is pretty small, so I’m always kicking a counter!

My advice is, ’Hang in there.’ I am an optimist. This too shall pass. A lot of work is going on, and as we get farther along in this pandemic, medical professionals and scientists will have a better idea of how to handle the COVID-19 illness and develop a vaccine. Things will get better. We’ll be off to a running start when it’s over. ”

Opportunities for ECS

“I’m excited about my new role as ECS Secretary and seeing the Society’s inner workings. I want to say to people, it’s always good to tell us how we can improve. But I hope everyone realizes how much work goes into the meetings, and how dedicated staff and volunteers are to making things run smoothly. To make the Society successful, scientists put in their time, uncompensated, to run symposia, sit on committees, and more.

ECS meetings are enormously valuable for battery research. They are the most satisfying conferences for me because they encompass so many of my interests—energy, water, corrosion, nanoscience; they are like one-stop shopping. You hear talks about batteries or other electrochemical topics at other society meetings, but it’s not their main focus so you don’t get it all in one place. ECS is the right size; not too small and not too large. Other societies are huge and their conferences are overwhelming.

I look forward to PRiME 2020. Since PRiME is digital, the talks should be published online and made available to members. People would love to take recorded short courses at their own leisure. These online offerings could continue beyond the pandemic.

A lot of papers are coming in to ECS. I’ve gotten a lot of requests to review articles. I think everybody wants to write reviews because that’s something that you can do from home and not necessarily be dependent on generating new data! Perhaps ECS should consider some special pandemic issues on whatever topic is hot.”


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