Mother-friendly conference organising: an experiment

To see how far we could get with small fixes — improving the aspects of academic conferences that are pretty easy to change — I organized an experimental conference along with June Gruber, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder (and a fellow academic mom). The conference, held at the University of California Berkeley earlier this month, brought together an outstanding group of speakers using the latest psychological work to challenge misconceptions about the mind — from the idea that pursuing happiness is a good way to achieve it, to the idea that babies are born racist. We called the conference the Misconceptions of the Mind Conference: MoMiCon 2016. And we didn’t just invite the mommies: We invited the babies.

For more, go here.

4 thoughts on “Mother-friendly conference organising: an experiment

  1. I wonder…how many conference organizers out there find these suggestions practical? For example, the suggestion that organizers arrange for childcare for kids of conference-goers. Also, I am wondering about peoples’ personal experiences getting (or not getting) parent-friendly accommodations at philosophy conferences. I myself have been super impressed with how friendly and helpful fellow philosophers have been when I’ve needed kid-related accommodations of various kinds. But I am not sure whether my experiences are representative. Interested to know…

  2. This is so, so important. I am aware of very few conferences that offer child care; usually they are locally oriented and a tenet of their organization is social justice. I think that lack of accommodations for parents, particularly those parents that might most need the accommodations (i.e. single parents, graduate student parents) is what keeps many people from attending and presenting at conferences regularly.

  3. Maybe I should share some specifics about kid-relevant accommodations that I’ve received. Here are three examples:

    (1) At a conference being held in my home department (University of Utah), I asked if I could bring my daughter to the conference dinner. The organizer—one of my colleagues—was emphatic that the dinner was to be family friendly.

    (2) When my daughter was two months old and I was a graduate student, I was invited to present work-in-progress at a conference in France. I live in the U.S., so it was a long trip. My partner was able to come with me so as to provide childcare. He planned to bottle feed my daughter while I was at the conference all day. Unfortunately my milk spoiled. My partner rushed to the conference from across town with a screaming baby in hand. He arrived ten minutes before I was supposed to present. The conference organizers pushed back the opening of my talk fifteen minutes and found an empty classroom where I could breastfeed. My daughter was at the conference for the rest of the day and the conference organizers invited my partner and her to the conference lunch. I was able to fully participate. Everyone seemed super happy to have a baby around.

    (3) A few months ago, I agreed to give a talk at a conference in May. In the meantime, my partner found out that he would have to be away for the entire month of May. That meant my daughter (who is now 3) would have to travel to the conference with me. I told the conference organizer that I was not sure that I could attend the conference because of childcare issues. He said that he would find childcare for me during the two-day conference (and, to my surprise, actually did!) and that my daughter could come to the conference dinners. Plus he said that the conference would pay for my daughter’s childcare.

    Again, I wonder how unusual these kind of accommodations are. Before I had a child, I never noticed people getting accommodations such as these. But maybe I was just clueless/not paying attention.

    I myself am organizing a series of conferences with Jules Holroyd. For the conference at my home institution, I hope to be able to provide childcare to participants who need it. I also hope to make all the dinners kid-friendly, to whatever extent that is possible.

    One worry that I have about providing childcare at conferences as a rule is that the burden of providing this care will fall primarily on women faculty and graduate students. I cannot tell from the MoMI-con website who exactly provided childcare for the kids. The website says that travel funds are provided for one caretaker. Does this assume that all participants have family or friends available to accompany them—or that they can afford to pay caregivers for two-day trip? Did any of the participants arrive as single parents without caretakers and rely on childcare that was provided at the conference? If so, did faculty or graduate students donate time or were they paid?

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