Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Bit Much

Not long ago, while availing myself of a mode of Public Transportation, I overhead a conversation involving three grad students: two women, one man. They were discussing a recent conference they had been to in their field of Science. When I tuned in, one of them had just mentioned an FSP who had attended the conference with an infant. The FSP had brought the sleeping infant to talks in some sort of snugli carrier. Their conversation went something like this:

The male grad student (MGS) said "I thought that was a bit much, that she had her baby with her at the conference."

One of the female grad students asked him: "Too much for what?"

MGS: Well, she had that baby with her all the time, and it just seemed like a bit much.

Other FGS: You mean, it was a bit much for you? Did it bother you?

MGS: No.. no, of course not. No.. it didn't bother me. I just thought that it was kind of a lot of Science for the baby. It was a lot of Science to take in.

FGS 1: Umm, the baby was not taking in any Science. The baby was asleep during the talks. I think it bothered you to see a baby at the conference. I think we need to figure out why it bothered you. Do you think women with babies should just stay home and not go to conferences?

MGS: No, it's fine with me, really, it was just weird.

FGS 2: Well, get used to it.

Yeah, get used to it. I suppose it can be strange to see a rather personal side of someone in a professional setting, but as long as the infant is sleeping through the talk, just like 34% of the audience is or wants to be doing, it shouldn't punch a hole in anyone's conference experience if someone in the audience is strapped to a sleeping baby.

I was impressed that the two FSGs were very polite and friendly, yet relentless in their effort to convince the MSG that he needed to rethink his views on babies (and their mothers) at conferences. Maybe next time he sees an infant at a conference, he won't think it is so strange. And then some day he may find himself at a conference, with an infant strapped to his chest, trying to figure out which conference sessions will correspond to naps and which will not.

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

My only concern would be: did the baby pay registration fee to be allowed into the room?

PhD Journey: fire, kids, erosion said...

I guess we need to see more babies at conferences so it is a usual site. Next stop breastfeeding at department meetings ; )

Yuriy said...

It doesn't really sound like the FGSs were "very polite and friendly." All the MGS was saying is that it's unusual. And it is unusual. I am certain (or as certain as I can be knowing nothing about the student) he would have said the same thing if a man had shown up to a conference with a baby.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! Especially loved the
"just like 34% of the audience is or wants to be doing". No reason why a sleeping baby should make an iota of difference to anyone.
Good for the two FGSs - learning early to stand up firmly.

I had imagined, in my childless days, carrying my future baby to talks and conferences. It never materialised, though; I adopted babies at an age when they would not have slept through.

MM

nicoleandmaggie said...

Awesome! And I second men with snuggled babies at conferences.

trimomremade said...

Love this. As a business woman who strapped her kids to her chest to return to office early I applaud it. Bored at home but not ready to separate from tender little ones, everyone wins as long as others can see that. We will never move forward as a society without it.

Female Post-doc said...

Good for those female grad students! Motivation to get my children used to being strapped on so they'll nap in public like that too. :-)

Alex said...

For as long as I can remember, I thought that scientists must be awesome. They've got lasers, and dinosaur bones, and spaceships, and these big machines called atom smashers, and they take apart frogs and look at stuff in microscopes and telescopes. So if somebody had taken me to a conference as a little kid, I would have just been in a state of awe.

Next year, a conference that I go to every year is going to be held the city where two of my favorite little nephews live. Maybe I should be the cool uncle and take one of them to the exhibit hall, so they can see the equipment.

Stephanie said...

OMG, he actually thought the baby was taking in science, or was he joking? It's hard to tell in written form.

Ann said...

Good for the FSGs.

SLAC Sci Prof said...

I am so glad to hear this story. I am just past the child bearing stage or I would take up this cause and bring my own infant. My husband traveled with me when my son was an infant and brought him over to the conference to nurse. This worked out well but did nothing to help my colleagues wrestle with the realities of being a science mom with the associated biological realities. I think I missed an opportunity here.

Anonymous said...

My husband chaired an end of conference review session with our 18-mo old daughter strapped to his chest, which I thought was priceless. She blinked a bit in the slide glare, but was otherwise content. I think it sent a great message to the young guys in the audience that family + science is ok. But I know he did just because he's such a proud papa and he was showing her off. =)

EliRabett said...

At many of the larger conferences Eli goes to the organization sets up day care for the kids, however it is not unusual (it is actually fun) to see a bunch of rug rats at the poster sessions. They enjoy running under the poster board mounts and playing with each other, the younger ones enjoy the attention from parents and others. Builds a happy session.

D said...

I am a female graduate student, and I'm sorry to have to agree with the male graduate student. To me a baby in such a setting is out of place, and somewhat distracting.

My feeling towards this are similar to seeing an inappropriately dressed conference goer.

But, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if my reaction is reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Remember it used to be considered weird to see women or minorities at conferences.

Get over it. Crying babies& senior faculty all need to be excused when they are rude.

Anonymous said...

I also used to think that showing up at work with your kid was a bit too much attachment parenting and/or poor planning. Three years later with a preschooler and an husband working in the same field I do, I know plans fall apart and that I can look calm and composed when wheels are falling off the wagon.

Let's keep in mind how much the stay-at-home-mom(dad) is a great help to her (his) partner's career.

PS: I am trying not to think about what will happen then my kid will be in school: no pulling him away for a conference... this gives me cold sweat...

Viv said...

I think it's awesome that they stood up for the women having the baby with her at the conference. As long as the baby isn't crying, it shouldn't make a difference if it is there or not.

The bit about it being a lot of science for the baby to take in is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

As a female faculty member with children, I have to disagree. I don't think children belong at conferences with mother or father. This is a professional setting. Although napping babies certainly don't bother anyone, having a child along in session prevents the parent from fully taking advantage of the professional learning and networking that happens at conferences. I support conferences providing childcare facilities and certainly think that a family member coming along to bring the child in for nursing on breaks is fine. For more informal interactions, e.g., a departmental retreat, it wouldn't be such a big deal.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine sat through a conference talk with a sleeping (and nursing) baby strapped to her chest. At the end of the talk, her (older male) neighbor stood up and said "Oh my god! There's a baby there!" He seemed really freaked out, apparently, but hadn't even noticed the baby until he got up to leave.

I suppose it is a bit startling to see a tiny person in a venue where you expect to see full-sized people. But I hope it becomes more and more standard.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't care one bit. As long as the baby is comfortable or well trained I don't see any problems...I actually had one of the lecturer's kids sit in our advanced LASER course and really made the course look easy (It wasn't!). The child was only 10!! It made us work so much harder just so as to not be embarassed too much. Though seeing babies in Chemistry, 70% male, AND strapped to daddies was sure as hell enlightening.

Anonymous said...

To me this seems far less distracting/inappropriate than the hordes of people taking photos of slides when it is clearly stated as not being allowed, or people using cell phones or lap tops during a talk.

Anonymous said...

Well, it's great if you have a baby who will go along with that. I had dreams of that until I had my baby, but then realized it would never work with her!

This is good thing to see, but on the flip side, we should never expect someone to do that. It is just as valid to expect and start to demand conference day care or funding support to bring a care provider along for a conference trip.

I prefer going to the meeting by myself while my spouse takes care of the kid at the hotel/event, and meets me for nursing sessions. We are already saving up funds for future conference travel with planned kid #2 -- these are the only "vacations" we get!

Ms.PhD said...

lol, great example of men who don't get it and women doing exactly the right thing. I love his attempt to get out of it and the comment re: registration fee.

I agree, breastfeeding might be a bit much for me, I might have to draw the line there, but probably only if it was happening on stage while giving a presentation. I've seen people do all kinds of personal (ahem) things while sitting in the audience at conferences.

Anonymous said...

"Well, get used to it"

Awesome response!!!

PS it is NOT unusual to see babies or even older kids at cell and developmental biology--e.g., the ASCB meeting or the National Drosophila meeting. ASCB is trying to make it even less unusual and easier. One place that used to make it VERY difficult--I hope they have reformed--were Gordon Conferences who essentially banned kids.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

There is an IEEE conference that actually runs a parallel session for kids up to grades 12 - they get to present and everything! And I applaud the FGSs - hooray for them! I've done exactly this (baby in sling at a conference and at work) and it has always been positive except for one women faculty member who told me that I was literally setting women's rights back 20 years by bringing my baby with me! How ridiculous is that?

theSpacemom said...

Until more conferences are willing to help with childcare grants, men and women do need to get used to it.

I brought my youngest to 2 meetings, one at 3 months old and one at 5 months old.
I left the room whenever she cried, she gooed at the poster rooms and got alot of attention.

I found more positive comments than negative ones.

Anonymous said...

A friend's response today upon seeing a Lactation room in our building.

"EWW! Why would you need a lactation room! Can't they just use the bathroom? What a waste of space. And gross."

Anonymous said...

I don't think the FGSs were being polite or friendly at all. I think they were being confrontational and not allowing the MGS to express his personal opinion but rather trying to change his view to theirs. they jumped to conclusions (about what his "issues" were) and told him he needs to think differently.

I'm a FSP by the way.

anne said...

Good for them. I like their approach.

Anonymous said...

I personally didn't like it the few times I had to bring my baby to a seminar, and I wouldn't do it at a conference (it was too distractive to me). But it's not a problem to have babies at a conference, provided there's some common sense (leave the room when baby cries, etc).
I did have problems though when one of my colleagues breastfed her 2.5 yrs old in front of the (male) students during a group meeting. I thought it was abusive, as the guys clearly could not complain. Some version of the golden rule should apply, like don't do in front of the students what you wouldn't do in front of your chair/dean/male senior colleague.

Female Science Professor said...

Of course, in real life the conversation involved tone of voice, body language, and other ways that people interact while speaking. This was definitely a friendly conversation among friends. They seemed to be very comfortable saying what was on their minds to each other and arguing in a friendly way with each other. Although I found the MSG's comments strange, mostly I found the conversation encouraging.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anything unprofessional should happen at conferences. Friends should ignore each other and certainly not sit next to each other in talks, no one should have a meal with anyone who is not a collaborator or potential collaborator, and speakers should not even attempt to make a joke during their talks. This is unprofessional in the extreme and is an insult to all the serious, professional people at the conference.

Anonymous said...

so is it OK if I bring my dog to a conference, then? He's real quiet, he'll just sleep on the floor next to my chair.

Anonymous said...

Anon@4:53: So you'd be ok with a baby breastfeeding but not a 2.5 year old or are you saying you just don't want breastfeeding in any situation where other people can see? I'm trying to figure out exactly where you offense is - the fact that the kid is older or that fact that she dared to breastfeed at all.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago my husband and I had to attend a (large, international) conference together when our son was just a year old. We don't have family around so the only real option was to bring him, and run back and forth between the hotel room and conference rooms (on an alternating schedule).

I was really amazed just how many people, men and women both, asked "why don't you just bring him to the sessions with you? I've seen lots of people bring babies to conferences".

Our son was way past the non-disruptive stage at this point (if he ever had one), so it wasn't really an option, but I found it encouraging that so many people found it completely normal and acceptable to have (non-disruptive) babies in the sessions.

mathgirl said...

I understand people who have a problem seeing a baby in a talk. We are biologically made to care about babies and protect them, so babies are naturally distracting. While in the ideal world a mother should have the right to carry her baby everywhere, I certainly understand those who oppose this in a presentation.

What I don't understand is the people who are OK with babies but not OK with nursing babies. Babies are supposed to nurse, so this is a total contradiction for me.

I'm a mother of a 2 year old who nurses. I've never took him to a talk, but I did nurse him in front of my chair, students, etc.

Anonymous said...

"So you'd be ok with a baby breastfeeding but not a 2.5 year old or are you saying you just don't want breastfeeding in any situation where other people can see?"

This is a different anon.

I think if that if there is are reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding to be done privately (e.g. access to appropriate lactation spaces) than it probably should be done privately. Public breastfeeding certainly does make a lot of people feel uncomfortable in our current culture. In this particular situation, mom could pump before the meeting and feed with a bottle during the meeting.

This kind of thing (comfort with nudity/bodily functions) is always arbitrary and culturally-defined, of course, but I don't think it's unreasonable for a grad student to be uncomfortable with the idea of accidentally seeing his/her PI's breasts. I know I would be...

Also 2.5 years old seems too old to breastfeed to me but maybe parenting advice has changed! I didn't even notice the age of the child in the previous comment.

Anonymous said...

I'm anon 4:53 (incidentally a woman). What I had a problem with was breastfeeding in front of students. I thought it was inappropriate. The students were all male, from an other country, and obviously extremely uncomfortable. We were supposed to discuss a joined project, and it didn't go well. And, this colleague would never breastfeed in front of our senior colleagues (I witnessed that too).
The fact that the baby was actually a toddler is relevant for practical reasons. A baby, you can breastfeed very discreetely (done that), and of course is a need. A 2.5 yrs old is running around the room, approaching the mother, lifting her shirt, etc. Quite distracting. And also I'd argue that a toddler doesn't breastfeed for hunger any more, and so perhaps waiting 30 min is not so impossible.
One has to use some common sense. I left the room when my baby was fussy at a seminar-- even her cooing is distractive (too cute). So why not leaving the room briefly if your toddler needs some comfort? Why not offering crayons to keep him occupied for such a short time? both my kids come to work when I have no options (for example the daycare is closed, etc) and they both have come to seminars, meetings, and in one case even a thesis discussion. I bring things to keep them occupied and quiet.

CSgrad said...

The larger problem is the lack of childcare at conferences. I'd honestly rather people not need to bring babies into professional conference events (walking around the halls with them or going to conference social events with them is different), but if there's no childcare provided by the conference, what else is the parent supposed to do? Tie the kid to the water fountain in the hallway? Not go to any professional events at this professional conference that they're attending as a professional? Not everyone has someone at home that they can leave the baby with for a few days.

My sister-in-law and her husband are both physicians who came to my city for a medical conference. My husband and I took the day off from work to go watch their kids (a preschooler and a baby). The conference wouldn't even let the kids enter while they waited for our delayed subway train to arrive - my sister-in-law had to take them to a coffee shop to wait for us. I thought that was pretty sad.

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget ending my talk and watching my five-year old daughter in the back of the room give me a standing ovation. Afterwards, she told me, “Mama, I didn’t know you knew how to do that!”

Micro Dr. O said...

And then some day he may find himself at a conference, with an infant strapped to his chest, trying to figure out which conference sessions will correspond to naps and which will not.

This is why I <3 you. :)

Anonymous said...

Last year at Experimental Biology they had a lactation room set up. Hope that continues, because a lot scientist are married to someone is a related field who will also be at a large conference like that and there is no "leave the child at home with the other spouse" option.

Anonymous said...

Since we've somehow stretched down the road of justifying extended breastfeeding, the "normal" age from a scientific point of view (in alignment with our close mammalian relatives) is breastfeeding to age 4-7. The World Health Organization recommends at least to age 2.

Yet in America we have to justify breastfeeding (to the average layperson) beyond age 6 months, partially because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends to 6 months, with a suggestion to continue to 1 year.

Anonymous said...

"Not everyone has someone at home that they can leave the baby with for a few days."

That is why there is such a thing as paid babysitting or paid childcare. It's true that not everyone has a stay at home spouse or a free spouse to take care of your child while you are off to your conference. But at the same time, bringing your child to a professional event is, well, unprofessional. It's OK if one person does it. But what if everyone did it?

It's one of those trade offs of being a parent and being a professional. instead of expecting others to accommodate you because you have an infant and don't want to give up attending your professional conference so you want to bring your baby to work, why not pay for childcare for that day?

I'll probably get a lot of flak for this view but I just don't see why these days people are getting more and more entitled and expect everyone around them to accommodate their personal needs rather than the other way round. and the fact that so many commenters have thus far expressed this similar sense of entitlement, is astounding.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying and I totally understand. I also nursed an older toddler and had to stop doing it in public for exactly the reasons you mention. It is a lot harder to be discreet at that age.

El Charro said...

A question kind of related to this topic.

Are there University policies regarding parents bringing their infants to class? Is that allowed or not?

Not that long ago I had that discussion with a professor in my department. He insisted he would kick the parent and the kid out because it would be totally distracting to the rest of the class. I disagree with that position, I think as long as the kid isn't crying then it's perfectly fine for both to be in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 4/06/2011 05:21:00 PM wrote:

"That is why there is such a thing as paid babysitting or paid childcare. It's true that not everyone has a stay at home spouse or a free spouse to take care of your child while you are off to your conference."

Paid babysitting or childcare? Leaving aside cost issues (though I'd love to see you get the NSF or NIH to pay for this with grant money), unless the conference organizers put together a conference daycare program, trying to arrange trustworthy childcare from a distance in an unfamiliar city is just about impossible.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to 3 conferences this summer as an invited speaker and will have my baby (under 6 months) with me at the conference. All the people who invited me know I will be bringing a baby - she is too small to leave at home for several days, so if I can't take the baby to the conference, then I can't go. At 2 meetings, I know there will be friends my age who can hold the baby during my talk, but for the 3rd I will be giving a talk with a 3 month old tied in a sling. And the audience will just have to deal with that.

Anonymous said...

I've taken my <1 yr old to three conferences with me. I've managed to find childcare during the sessions, so he wasn't being bounced on my knee as I tried to listen to speakers. However, when making the choice between attending social events and spending time with my child, I have often chosen to do both, and bring him along.

I was dismayed (though not surprised) that after other (usually more senior, but of both genders) colleagues have found out about the existence of the child, the conversation has turned consistently to the issue of being a parent, in both social and professional settings. The same holds for conferences I attended during my pregnancy after people found out I was pregnant...

worldin1450 said...

I was just at a large general conference and at some point I was actually surprised that there were no infants or small kids there. Though I absolutely love to see small kids at retreats and other not-so-formal academic gatherings (they are more interesting than some of the faculty talks to be honest), I do think it's not very appropriate to actually bring a baby to a talk. Especially a baby who might break into chaos at any unpredictable moment. The person should've found a daycare during the talks and bring the baby in for poster sessions and such.

Anonymous said...

I don't see this as a gender issue at all. whether for a mother or father, bringing an infant to a conference talk is rather selfish, in my opinion. Even if asleep at the moment, an infant can suddenly start crying and screaming. Even if you hurry out the room, by then disruption has occurred. It's not fair to other conference attendees who chose to not bring their kids, or who are not expecting (rightfully so) to be suddenly subjected to momentary outbursts from someone else's baby. It's a pity if one does not see this as a problem or believes that one should be excused for it. As a few others have mentioned, you do have the option to arrange for childcare, and if that's not convenient, then to not attend the talks rather than to do so and bring your baby and risk causing a disruption. I do wish people (especially new parents) would be more considerate of others in general, and not place their own needs and desires ahead of every one else and I am dismayed that the tone of the majority here is to want to "normalize" such self-centered behavior.

Anonymous said...

I just sat through some talks at a conference. One man's cell phone went off and he hurried out the door to answer the phone in the corridor. Another man sitting behind me started snoring loudly. How self-centered of these people to intrude on the total concentration the rest of us were trying to show to the speaker. Fortunately these were old men, though, and we don't have to worry about the interruptions involving something really annoying like a baby.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"One man's cell phone went off and he hurried out the door to answer the phone in the corridor. "

I have found cell phones to be far more disruptive than babies at conferences and restaurants—as long as the parents have the courtesy to sit near an exit and take the babies outside as soon as they get disruptive, I see no problem with bringing babies to conferences.

For that matter, I'd like to see kids in general more present. How are we going to bring up the next generation of scientists and engineers if the kids never see it?

Anonymous said...

Cell phones going off and snoring are also disruptions in a conference talk and should also be frowned upon. It's absurd to argue in favor of the disruption caused by a crying baby in a conference talk, by pointing to these other forms of disruptions.

EmC said...

Thank goodness some professors and universities have been accommodating to parents! I was born to teenage parents. When I was 2 they worked full time and went to night school for 8 years to get degrees in engineering physics. When I was 12 they quit full time jobs to get advanced degrees in electrical engineering.

Thanks to profs and admin understanding that life has complications and doesn't always allow for the compartmentalization of work from life, my parents were able to significantly improve their life situation and show me that hard work and education pays off. I sat through a LOT of these classes! I actually learned a lot too.

Life isn't orderly.

Anonymous said...

I wish workplaces and work cultures including academia would be as accommodating to people with disabilities as they are to parents. maybe it's off topic but seeing as how everyone is making a fuss about how people with young children should be accommodated in work settings, why not other groups with other hardships as well (especially hardships they did not choose for themselves)

Geknitics said...

I just returned from a conference (with my youngest in tow), and there were lots of babies strapped to mom or dad while they wandered through poster sessions or checked out the exhibit hall. The best, though, was when one of the giants in our field brought his adorable 5 or 6 year-old daughter into a small breakout session. She had her own name tag, and sat quietly coloring between her parents during the session.

Anonymous said...

can I bring my dogs to a conference? they're quieter than babies.