Meeting Mentor Magazine

September 2018

Is Your Science Conference Family Friendly?

A group of female academics is calling on organizers of scientific conferences to do more to accommodate new parents and nursing mothers — removing a significant barrier to women, in particular, who are beginning their careers in science.

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In an article published March 5 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors set out some simple steps conference organizers can take to make conferences more family friendly. These include:

Provide childcare services: “There are a number of ways to do this, including financial support for individually arranged childcare for smaller conferences or on-site childcare for larger conferences. On-site facilities, such as those provided by the Society for Neuroscience and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, allow for frequent check-ins from parents and support breastfeeding.”

Why is this important? “In academia, many parents of young children are students, postdoctoral fellows or early-career researchers. At these early-career stages, many have limited income. Thus, the price of hiring a childcare service on top of registration, travel and hotel stay may be prohibitive. These are precisely the sensitive periods when attrition of female researchers is highest.”

Explore options for paying for on-site childcare: These include modestly increasing registration and/or exhibitor fees or soliciting donations from registrants and/or exhibitors on their registration forms “for which donors would receive a decal advertising their support for parents in science.” Conference organizers could also offer discount registration to parents who can attend only a portion of the conference. Some organizations offer grants to fund travel and housing for a caregiver to attend the annual meeting with the parent.

Pick family-friendly conference dates: “It is often difficult for parents to find full-time childcare on weekends and around holidays because daycare centers and schools are closed. These times are also considered important family time by many parents.”

Establish a parent/caregiver social network. A conference-specific parent social network can provide a convenient virtual place for parents to find and share information before, during and after a conference.

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The authors point out that a practical way to incorporate these guidelines is to appoint “a knowledgeable committee dedicated to this cause.” — Regina McGee

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