• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Traveling to Conferences

Difficult choices.

October 23, 2014

In Economics, we often talk about inputs in production being either complements or substitutes. If they are complements, like hammers and nails, then they work together to increase output. Alternatively, if two inputs are substitutes, like bricks or siding, then one input may be used in place of the other. I found myself thinking of this recently when I gave students in one of my classes, all working towards a degree in mathematical education, the assignment of attending a conference on teaching mathematics that is being held in Cleveland. I struggled with this a little because I realize that I hardly attend conferences any more, something that I justify by saying that instead of attending conferences, I publish in academic journals. I see those two types of scholarship as being substitutes for each other, even though I realize that many scholars would criticize me for not attending conferences as much as I used to. They are, after all, a good way to encourage young people who are beginning research in areas that I know something about; someone did that for me, and I realize that I should do that for others, too.

However, I must admit that the real reason I don’t attend as many conferences as I used to is much more related to the fact that I now have a daughter to take care of and drive around. I used to think that things would get easier as she got older, but it seems that her commitments and the miles on my car increase with her age. Indeed, the last time I went to an academic conference, it was nearby, and I drove to it with my co-author, where we made excellent use of the limited time we had by presenting two papers and participating in discussions with other scholars from our sub-discipline. Eventually, both papers were published, so the time was very well spent.

I wonder sometimes if I should find ways to make it to more conferences, but then I also wonder how I would make that happen. I found myself thinking of this recently when I made contact with a reader from my column here. She, a fellow mother of a child near my daughter’s age, happened to find me after she read my column from a few weeks ago about my mother’s passing. Although she lives very far from me and is in a very different field that either economics or mathematics, I found an instant connection with her as we discussed parenting daughters and writing novels (or, at least, my attempt to write one; she has been much more successful in actually finishing a multiple of novels.) I am always amazed at how mothers seem to connect with each other, despite what might seem like vast differences in location and backgrounds.

I always feel like an impersonator in the blog world, since I don’t take care of any of the technological details that get my blog postings out there. She, however, has her own blog, published under her name of Jen Gilroy, and I found some of her columns to be really interesting, especially the one about “speaking up.” This is a topic close to home, since I work in two very male-dominated fields, where speaking up and “getting in someone’s face” is a presumed way of communicating, something that I admit I never became good at.

I soon learned of Jennifer’s travels, which are extensive, and I once again realized that I do not travel as much as I would like to. And so, I would like to ask my readers, especially my fellow mama Ph.D.s- how much do you travel, and when you do, how do you handle not only covering classes that will be missed, but also shuffling childcare duties? And, an even deeper question might be, in the age of the internet, “Go to Meeting” and Skype, is the old fashioned conference, where you check into a hotel and meet in the Grand Ballroom for a keynote speaker, even still relevant? Or might there be other models that we could consider that might take less time and money and leave less of a carbon footprint?


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