Conferences and scientific parents

It is an outdated attitude to expect parents in any industry to entirely leave their family mindset and responsibilities out of the office. Many workplaces now accept the key to employee retention and optimum productivity is ensuring their workers manage a good work-life balance. These employers accept life at home will occasionally crop up at work – which is reasonable considering work always successfully manages to infiltrate their workers’ home lives.

It has come to light recently in the scientific conference world that scientific parents might not be very well supported. For many scientists, bringing their children to an academic conference may not even cross their minds. For others, a conference in a far-flung location is not just an opportunity to discuss new ideas and network, but a chance for their family to enjoy the sights and explore a new location. It means said scientist is available to read their children a bedtime story every evening and eat breakfast with them in the morning – key bonding opportunities that would have otherwise been missed.

Academics with children will often face obstacles and limitations attending conferences without missing out on their family life. These challenges increase significantly if both parents work within the same field and therefore attend the same conferences. According to a report in Dual-Career Academic Couples by Stanford University’s Clayman Institute, more than a third of academic couples work in the very same department. More importantly to scientific conferences, almost two-thirds of partnered academics in science have a partner in the same general field, and a whopping 83% of women scientists in academic couples are partnered with another scientist.

So, what can conference organisers do to simplify matters for parents?

“It is important for conference organisers to understand that the number of young scientific parents is growing, particularly those working within the same field,” states Laura Trundle, Director of scientific conference organiser, Fusion Conferences. “It seems like some conferences dissuade people attending with children by charging significant fees in order to make a profit, or even choose venues where children are not allowed or where there is no option of childcare locally.”

Laura continues, “As conference organisers, we see a lot of scientists who have partners researching in the same or similar fields, so I can see it can be difficult to decide who attends a conference. If both partners are able to attend a meeting, they have to alternate their participation so one can be in session and one can look after the children.

“What’s worse is that in such a demanding job, starting a family can even seem inconceivable for young scientists, but it shouldn’t be. It is the responsibility of the universities, academic institutions and industry organisations to fully support parents who study or work for them. Many institutions, including Harvard University and Yale University, actually offer grant programmes to help with the costs of childcare for struggling scientists – this aids with attending conferences with their children, enabling them to afford accommodation and childcare. And whilst it is not the responsibility of the conference organiser to necessarily provide childcare, there are many ways in which the organiser can go the extra mile to ensure enough flexibility so that children can attend with their parents. And part of this is not trying to make a profit on the guest prices.

“With more and more people trying to balance work and home life, we realise the importance of organising our conferences to complement that, rather than making it difficult for parents.”

The ability to bring children to conferences has proven to be appreciated by the scientific attendees. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School brought his family to Fusion’s Interventions in Aging conference. He said “Given how little my kids see their dad, this really meant a lot to my family.”

Jack Peters, one of Fusion’s conference managers, says “It is wonderful to see scientists bringing their families along to conferences. Our delegates often attend several conferences per year. Factoring in that time away, plus the days spent on long haul flights travelling back and forth, not to mention their actual day job, scientists end up sacrificing huge amounts of time that could be spent with their spouses and children. Supporting family attendance at conferences means less time scientists spend away from their kids, and also means parents in the same field can both attend the meeting.” Jack remembers, “One of the chairs of my 2nd Dynamic DNA and RNA Structures in Damage Responses & Cancer conference has a wife in the same field. They both attended the conference with their two children and were able to enjoy a few days’ holiday in Cancun post-conference.

“One of Fusion’s most used conference venues, the Fiesta Americana Condesa in Cancun, has Kids Club for a variety of ages, and also has babysitting available to book. In fact, most of our properties are really child friendly, including our American bookings, and our upcoming Bahamas venue. We ensure we book properties whereby there will not be a big surcharge for delegates bringing family members and children.”

Laura finishes, “As a family-owned business, we can really relate to our parental participants and understand the need for more child-friendly conferences. Our aim is to be as flexible as possible and offer that certain attention to detail and a personal touch. It is incredibly important to us that we support young families in the science world.”

Fusion Conferences has organised 34 conferences in a variety of scientific topics since its very first conference in 2013, with 21 further conferences planned for 2017. Fusion was founded by Laura Trundle and her father, Brian, after they recognised a need for a more niche, higher-quality service conference organiser.

You can find out more information about Fusion Conferences at www.fusion-conferences.com.

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