An Argument for Bringing Kids to Academic Conferences

Some ideas about how academic conferences could be more family friendly.

March 25, 2018

We need more kids at our academic conferences. More babies. More toddlers. More school-agers. More teenagers.

Seeing our colleagues with their kids at a conference is awesome. Babies, toddlers, and older kids at conferences remind all of us that we are more than just our jobs. We are complicated people. We have multiple obligations. Many folks depend on us.

It seems particularly important to make parents feel that their kids are welcome at academic conferences. Higher education is all about the future.  We educate future community members, workers, and caregivers. The knowledge that we produce on our campuses is largely an investment in future generations. Seeing kids at our academic conferences helps remind us why we do what we do.

On a practical sense, doing whatever we can to make kids (and their parents) feel welcome at academic conferences is simply good business.  Traveling to an academic conference is difficult for many parents. Figuring out who will watch the baby or do the pre-school pickup / drop-off is a challenge.

If we want our academic conferences to be inclusive and diverse then we need make it easier to bring kids. Excluding parents of young children from our academic conferences will guarantee that those convenings are not as good as they should be. We need the contributions, ideas, and perspectives of higher ed people with children at our convenings.

So why don’t more of our colleagues bring their babies and older kids to conferences? My guess is that most academic conferences are not all that well designed for those wishing to bring a kid along.

At a minimum, it seems that every academic conference should offer the following resources:

Child Care Drop-Off:  Do any academic conferences arrange for drop-off childcare at the conference venue? How difficult is this?  Is not providing onsite conference child care a matter of costs? Liability?  Organizational challenges?  How much would the registration fee for all attendees need increase for child care to be provided?

Free Partner Admission:  Many academics who bring their babies and young children are also bringing a partner.  The partner takes primary kids watching duties while the academic conferences.  We should make these partners feel as welcome as possible.  Let’s give the trailing conference partners free access to the conference events.  Include them in the meals.  Give them a drink ticket.

A Lactation / Pumping Room:  Every conference should make sure that there is a nice room to breastfeed and pump.  This room should be nicer than any Chief Information Officer (CIO) lounge, and include better snacks.

A Kid Logistics Room:  Every conference should set aside a room for kid logistics.  A place with a fridge to store breast milk and formula and food.  A place to change diapers.  A microwave.

Breaks and Flexibility:  Conferences should build in time in the schedule for breaks.  This would be appreciated by all attendees, not just those with kids in tow.  Conferences always pack way too much in.  There is this idea that attendees want content, and will be disappointed if there are fewer sessions.  In reality, attendees of academic conferences want some content (sessions, talks, keynotes etc.).  But what they mostly want is time to talk to each other.  Holding the line on overloading the conference schedule will certainly help those who bring kids, but it will also be a blessing for everybody else.

What am I missing?

Mostly, the organizers of academic conferences should make it a priority to invite attendees to bring their kids.

How much is any of this happening now?  I ask, as the last conference I was at featured some babies. (And the partners of the attendees).  It was wonderful.  Is this an anomaly, or the start of a more kid friendly academic conference culture?

Have you brought your kids to your conferences?  What was your experience?

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Joshua Kim

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