Managing Expectations

Janine Mauzeroll on balancing life under COVID-19

In our series, The ECS Community Adapts and Advances, Janine Mauzeroll reflects on balancing professorship and motherhood while home schooling and dealing with loss. Janine is Associate Professor of Chemistry at McGill University, Canada. She received her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, US, and did her postdoc at the Université de Paris, France. Her research group studies electron transfer reactions using electrochemical and biochemical methods and scanning electrochemical microscopy to study transport events in and out of human cancer cells. Janine serves as technical editor for the organic and bioelectrochemistry (OBE) technical interest area of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

Not sweating the small stuff

“At home, I’m now a primary and high school teacher, cleaning lady, short order cook, running coach, and psychologist—on top of research and teaching. With all these additional tasks, I can’t be as productive as I used to be. So I had to learn to manage my expectations. I try to find practical ways to be satisfied with balancing home and work while not prioritizing one and feeling bad about the other. After all, I still have to feed the kids!

Running every day with my kids, no matter what, helps me manage stress, anxiety, and the additional tasks. I try to have fun with homeschooling. I’m teaching them science in an open lab format. So far we’ve done botany, fermentation, explosions, and holograms. The chemistry of food, which is highly focused on desserts, is very popular. ‘Let’s see what effect sugar crystal size has on a meringue’s taste!’

We have had to find ways to stay positive. Most of us are not patient; I only have patience for a very short amount of time. So to be more patient and creative at home and at work, I’m trying not to sweat the small stuff. Of course, I only talk about the great breads I made, not the 16 loaves that failed!”

Losses bring the community together

“Sadly, on April 13, 2020, a longtime member of the ECS OBE Division, Dennis Peters, succumbed to COVID-19. This brought a great sense of loss, but it also brought the community together to write Dennis’ ‘In Memoriam.’

The cancellation of the 237th ECS Meeting was also very disappointing for us in Montreal. However, we are collaborating on a Canadian training grant (NSERC CREATE) to fund our ECS Canada Section workshops.

I am very involved with the ECS Montreal Student Section. They were devastated when their big spring symposium was cancelled. Now, we will work together and invest all their great efforts in our next symposium.”

Struggle and opportunity

“We had two weeks to switch to remote learning. I was teaching numerical simulation in my electrochemistry class and had no online lectures for this. Within seven days, everybody at McGill had Camtasia and Zoom. Camtasia is a great software for creating video tutorials and presentations directly via screencast or a direct recording plug-in to Microsoft PowerPoint. However, being on-screen is challenging. I have to think about reflections in my glasses and crazy stuff that I never worried about when I wrote on the board, even though I was covered in chalk!

I struggle constantly with telling my students who love lab that they can’t use it. It’s most difficult for the advanced students who need to complete their last experiments. Students lost out on lab research experience funded by Canadian national grants as the funding agencies decided not to prolong these grants.

McGill is an English-speaking university in a French-speaking province; I may only have two native English speakers in my group. They and I (also a non-native English speaker) struggle to write well in English. So we’re doing the exercises in Oxford’s Writing Like a Chemist to improve our scientific writing. It’s a worthwhile assignment that we would not have done otherwise.

My university colleagues are concerned about COVID-19’s impact on tenure. McGill is allowing professors to defer the tenure process for a year in certain situations such as caring for a young child. Other concerns are, will jobs or the budget be cut to maintain salary mass.”

Effective communication

“I had to accept that communication wasn’t going to be as personal as I like. Zoom isn’t perfect. I haven’t found the magic questions to ascertain if a person is really okay. It’s hard to create an environment on Zoom where students feel safe to say ‘I’m not feeling great,’ or ‘I haven’t met this objective,’ or ‘I’m not that productive.’ This is important to solve, especially when we return to the lab. I don’t want people who are working with hydrogen to be anxious or uncertain about their safety. I reword my questions to be less pressure, so instead of assuming they are looking forward to something, I ask, ‘would you feel comfortable doing…?’

It’s easier with colleagues. Now we are allowed to slowly return to research, everybody wants to participate in the planning and organization. So we had a little Friday digital aperitif together. Everybody’s kids were running around. It made everybody seem more human!

A doctoral student of mine defended their thesis via Zoom. It went well, however I regretted that we couldn’t include their parents because defending before five people is not the same as defending with the people who root for you and have your back. We told the university and now we stream defenses via YouTube. Friends and family can participate virtually.”

A catalyst for change

“The old teaching paradigm was archaic. Change is now inevitable. From my limited experience, it seems that students’ ability to absorb information online is shorter. It may help students—and professors—to break classes into 15- or 20-minute spots on one concept rather than long 50-minute courses. For inspiration, teachers can turn to ECS’s excellent short courses.

Moving to 100 percent digital raises the issue of what lectures and slides are copyrighted and which are not. In order not to ‘reinvent the wheel,’ it would be useful to have access to a copyright-free library of electrochemistry digital resources. That’s why I love ECS’s Free the Science initiative. Open access completely shines with my philosophy!”


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