Today I travel to my lone academic conference of the year (not counting conferences within driving distance). Like many professors who teach at regional state institutions, one conference a year is all my university pays for. When I was starting out, I attended more, and paid for much of the costs out of my own pocket. While some conferences feel like a waste of time and energy, at their best conferences can be exciting ways to meet other interested scholars, learn about ground-breaking new research, get feedback on developing ideas, and network. Two of the three books I’ve co-edited have come directly out of conversations I’ve had at conferences.
This year I’m attending the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, in Edmonton, Canada. I’ve been to this conference before and it’s one of my favorites. Perhaps because the scholarship of teaching is a relatively new and interdisciplinary field (and not recognized by many departments as truly “scholarship) there is little posturing or clique-ishness. After all, it’s very hard to judge who’s a big shot in a different discipline. In addition, I have co-edited a book on signature pedagogies -- or the ways that different disciplines teach undergraduates the central habits of mind of those disciplines -- that will be debuting at this conference, and I’m genuinely excited to share our work. (Shameless self-promotion here.)
Yet, like many other Mama, PhDs, as the time for the conference draws near, I find myself overwhelmed with the logistics of obtaining travel money, re-arranging my childcare schedule, driving two hours to the airport, and finding additional daycare. In addition to the complicated and frustrating process of getting reimbursed for travel expenses (which maddens me, since it’s a necessary part of our jobs!) , I wonder why there is no official provision for child-care. For example, while I am away this week, I will incur an additional $148 in daycare expenses, yet there is no room on our university’s travel reimbursement form for this expense. Why not? Luckily, I have a supportive husband who will take care of my daughter, dropping her off and picking her up at daycare. But what are single mothers supposed to do? Parents could bring their children with them, but my institution does not cover the costs of taking a child to a conference, and this particular conference doesn’t provide daycare.
I realize that this might seem like a trivial issue, but it speaks to a larger problem of how institutions (do not) support parents. Attending academic conferences (as well as NEH seminars and other longer conferences which are even more difficult for parents of young children) should not be a privilege; it is, after all, an integral part of our profession.