The Beat Goes On During the Pandemic

Alex Peroff

Alex Peroff, PhD, with (from left to right), Pine Research mascots the Post-Duck and Dr. Reducks.

Alex Peroff Looks on the Bright Side

Last spring, when the Society spoke with Alex Peroff, PhD, Electroanalytical Scientist at Pine Research, we were impressed by his positive attitude in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic. We wondered if, after a year of living under COVID-19 restrictions, he was still as upbeat. The short answer: yes! The long answer follows.

Life not on the road

Before 2020, Peroff traveled extensively. Since spring 2020, he’s worked from home. “My only travel was to drive to Pine’s Pennsylvania facility last summer. There were a lot of social distancing protocols to make sure that everything was safe. Before, everyone worked together on a first shift. Now there are two shifts. I don’t think there’s going to be much safe travel until more people are vaccinated and the numbers of new cases significantly decrease. It’ll be a slow process.”

A high level of activity helps Peroff pass the time during the pandemic. “To a certain extent, I’m too busy! Between work and YouTube [Peroff has his own station], relationships, food, faith, exercise, and reading, I find that there’s no shortage of things to keep me very, very busy. And if there are things I can do to help people, I do those, too.”

Snarled Supply Chains

While new product development continues, supply chain disruptions impact production. Positive COVID-19 tests cause “big rippling effects.” If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, not only do they need to quarantine at home, but the colleagues working next to them are required to work different shifts for at least two weeks. While many inquiries for products or technical assistance come in, the U.S. is slow compared to countries where the pandemic is under better control.

“There has been plenty of time for new product development. Activities like writing software and designing a circuit board can be done from home. However, having a prototype circuit board spun requires components that might be delayed due to the pandemic. Production has been a problem; some companies were forced to close due to government lockdowns. Factory shut downs affect the supply chain. There are delays in delivering products to customers and to product development. When building that prototype circuit board, if some of the components don’t exist, or can’t be accessed, that prototype circuit board can’t be made or tested. That’s the bottleneck to further progress.”

Digital marketing a must

Peroff uses Zoom, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email, telephone—whatever it takes to maintain client contact. “Before, if someone was on the fence about buying a new potentiostat or rotator, I drove or flew there to show them the instrument. Can’t do that now. Before, digital was an important complement to our ‘outbound’ or ‘boots on the ground’ marketing efforts. Now it’s the major form of engagement. To support our customer base, I’m improving the quantity and quality of our YouTube videos, for example, a two-part spectroelectrochemistry video with the first section on hardware and the second on software and methyl viologen. Recently, we released a five-part EIS webinar series run by Dr. Neil Spinner. It can be taxing to manage each different social media platform, but we make a big effort to do so.”

“Everything moving digitally has created new opportunities to engage with customers. I love hearing about a professor who just got their publication out or won a grant. They’ll say to me, ‘I was able to finish this proposal while my kids were screaming at me.’ And I hear the noise and dogs barking in the background! I help by giving them support and encouragement. When someone tweets a weird-looking cyclic voltammogram, and people put a little dot and smiley face on it and comment, ‘It’s a duck’ or ‘It’s a giraffe,’ I join the social media conversation. It’s fun; it’s part of the community; it’s keeping people’s spirits up. Chemists and electrochemists are people too. We have emotions, we have feelings, and yes, these are not just clients to us!”

Value added is value earned

Pine Research Instrumentation is an ECS Institutional Member at the Benefactor Level and supported the Society’s digital PRiME 2020 meeting. “We definitely know that all of the people at ECS are our potential customer base. They’re definitely more important to us than a (larger society) where there’s a much bigger, broader audience that’s not as tuned to us. We may get more leads in a (larger society) meeting, but they’re not the kind of qualified—or quality—leads we want. With ECS, almost every single person is a quality lead and somebody we want to talk to and do business with.”

“It’s important that people know who they’re talking to. If they have a technical question, the person on our end is not an MBA who only knows about sales. All the chemists at Pine have PhDs and can troubleshoot with you. It’s about talking to you, relating to you, and ultimately building trust. I can talk about fundamental science—and have extensive knowledge of electrochemistry, too. At Pine, we want to help—and believe there’s a lot of value in doing that.”

Getting to the other side

“I remember Chris Beasley from Gamry saying (in an ECS blog) that science will survive. I echo his sentiment. Science will persist. We just need to endure, be patient and rational, and above all, be kind to each other and ourselves. Don’t beat yourself up over making huge strides and progress in research. Work at a good pace.”

“I know it’s a scary time. There are lots of questions about funding, finishing grad school, finding jobs. These are all real issues. Even though we’re all really tired of the pandemic, be patient. It might sound clichéd, but it’s darkest before the dawn. While COVID numbers are rising, we now have a vaccine. Most grad students (depending on their health) are okay, and may be the last to get the vaccine. I’m probably one of the last, too. My goal is to stay strong and be disciplined until then.”

“I look forward to traveling, interacting with people, meeting in their labs, learning about their great research, catching up on cool stuff at ECS meetings, and learning what the academic crowd has been doing. But for now, we have to be safe, mindful, and vigilant—not necessarily for ourselves but for others.”

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