by Heath Brown, Associate Professor, John Jay College:
I sobbed on my way to my first conference after my son was born in 2017. The Lyft driver was confused and worried. I knew it wasn’t just being away, it was being away from him and my wife for the first time.
I pulled myself together in time to get through security on my way to Chicago for a convening of the Scholars Strategy Network. Gratefully, SSN meeting planners figured out how to squeeze five days of work into 12 hours of non-stop action and I was soon on my way back home by the next evening. They’d also been incredibly well organized and I knew long before the event exactly for how long I’d be gone. Early notice is a very family-friendly conference practice.
Not every conference is so well-organized, and this is especially burdensome on parents. If you don’t know when your panel is scheduled until a month before the confeneve, the juggling of support and coordination of schedules is unnecessarily hard, an enormous burden on all attendees, particularly those with young children.
The first thing every academic conference planner should prioritize is letting speakers and presenters know incredibly quickly the date and time of when they are on the agenda. Only when parents have sufficient time can they make the complex arrangements to balance parenting and conferencing.
Also critical is how responsive conference planners are to requests from presenters for the best time to fit into the conference schedule. Weekdays are hardest for my family, for other families weekends are worse. Giving presenters the chance to pick when they present is a huge help to families and a hugely appreciated aspect of a conference, even if every request cannot be granted.
As important as logistics are simply feeling welcome and having the chance to share the experience with family. At least one reception or meal open to family members sends a powerful message that families are a part of an academic life, not something to be ignored or placed at the margin. Findings ways to incorporate family is a family-friendly way to organize a conference.
Our son is now nearly three. Taking him to a conference is something I look forward to. Better planning and a big welcome will make that a great experience for us.
About the author:
Heath Brown is an associate professor of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center. He has worked at the US Congressional Budget Office as a Research Fellow, at the American Bus Association as a Policy Assistant, and at the Council of Graduate Schools as Research and Policy Director.