How do you find the $$ for Child Care at Scientific Meetings

Yesterday, between book chapters (and right now you all are probably asking yourselves what the hell I’m doing BLOGGING), I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful seminar given by a scientist whose work was highly influential in my graduate career- and that was really enjoyable. But going to seminar has other great benefits besides hearing someone you totally admire talk about their great science.  Primary among these benefits, of course, is running into colleagues who normally inhabit other parts of campus, that you really really REALLY need to talk to.

I saw one such colleague come into the seminar and was only too happy to have a lengthy conversation with him at the reception after the seminar. Said colleague is trying shamelessly to entice me into coming to a particular meeting later this year (he’s organizing)…and I get the feeling he’s trying to recruit a few other scientists who happen to be young women with children as well. Our conversation took an interesting turn when he mentioned that he would like to be able to set aside resources, and find funding sources, to be able to provide child care for this meeting. We all know that women still provide the majority of child care, and this can be a barrier keeping women with families from attending scientific meetings- right?

Although I have two children, I do not take them to meetings with me. For me this is a purely personal decision, I have difficulty focusing on meeting material when I’m multitasking kids on site, and now they are school age anyway so we can’t just pull them out of school whenever we feel the urge. I emphasize that this is just my personal preference though, for those of you that choose to take your children with you to meetings, I support your decision.  Now, with that said- leaving the kids at home with DrMrA does put a pretty strict lock on his hours while I am away…. and it would be great to get him a few hours of child care support when I am away. This restriction on the other working care giver’s schedule, in addition to just not wanting to be away from the kids too much, limits the amount of traveling that I do in a given year.

As for what I have seen available for child care at meetings, the large society meeting that I attend has a child care option built in, but I haven’t been able to figure out from the preliminary program whether there is an extra fee for this. I don’t recall that any of the smaller meetings that I have attended have offered any child care, or assistance finding child care, or financial assistance to defray the cost of child care.

So here is the question,  if you want to encourage women in science who happen to have kids to participate in scientific meetings, what can you do to address child care issues that might otherwise keep them away? Throwing money at the issue is a good way, I think- it allows women (and yes, whimple, all people with kids- but let’s agree that women are generally disproportionately affected) at least to lower the barrier on this issue. If you were organizing a meeting and providing funds to defray the cost of child care to attendees with children  is your chosen avenue to remedy- how do you come up with the $$ to fund such an effort? Secondly, if you are the organizer of a small meeting- how do you fairly distribute these funds, and how far do you go in setting up child care arrangements (i.e. do you have an organized child care on site, or do you simply provide funds to allow individuals maximum freedom to set up their own arrangements)?


13 thoughts on “How do you find the $$ for Child Care at Scientific Meetings

  1. Hi there, I am a single parent and a graduate student. I have attended a few scientific conferences with my daughter (7yrs old at the time) in tow. One meeting I attended (AACR) provided professional daycare on a first-come, first-serve with advance reservations mandatory. I am quite skeptical about leaving my daughter with strange people, so I checked out the premises and met with the providers… which eased my nerves. The pricing turned out to be reasonable at about $8-$10 per hour with a minimum of 2 hours per day required. One day I needed an entire 6 hrs, but I could check-in on my daughter at any time since the childcare was in the same facilities that the conference was held. I had received a travel award to attend the conference and utilized those funds to cover the costs of five days of daycare (since they cut me a check directly). With all that said, I would like to see more organization-sponsored childcare that is on the site of the conference facilities. The whole hire-a-nanny in a strange city is not cool. I think AACR had a good idea: contract a professional childcare company to provide services at one reasonable price to everyone and let the attendees of the conference pay for it. (Btw, the childcare provided snacks and activities and cared for children from maybe 6 months to maybe 15 years old.) If you would like to provide funding to attendees, maybe it can be offered as some sort of needs-based scholarship that can reduce (or eliminate) the cost of the daycare in a way that is proportional to the applicant’s income. Maybe the remaining financial burden can be picked up by the sponsoring organization and paid for with a grant to the sponsoring org that serves to increase women in STEM careers (since, yes, mostly women are taking on the burden of this “I have to present my poster and I need childcare at this conference” issue).

  2. Minority.Scientist- Thanks for your comment. I would have trouble trusting a stranger with my children as well. I suppose there are other options to this though. I have a babysitter who is awesome. She could be paid to travel with me to meetings and watch the kids, or she could be paid extra hours to watch kids when I am away. I don’t have a parent that lives near me so that’s not an option- but for other people who might want to bring their kids along but can’t bring a spouse (because either there is not one in the picture, or the spouse has a real job too)- bringing a parent or other relative along to watch the kids might be an option. This is all COSTLY though. I pay my babysitter reasonably well- and having to pay her to stay overnight with the kids while I was at a meeting would quickly become prohibitively expensive.

  3. I think it’s helpful for meetings to make accommodations where possible for on-site childcare if it increases participation of junior women faculty. Having said that, I’ve never taken my child to a meeting: first, because I have a supportive family at home thankfully and second, because on-site childcare is unlikely to go into the wee hours of the morning which is where the important (and fun) work of meetings gets done! Some flexible funding options through travel award mechanisms could be useful. Instead of the cost and effort of bringing a child and nanny to a different city, money might be better spent subsidizing the cost of a childcare provider at home for a few days.

  4. What has worked best for me is having my mother-in-law come with us to the conference (my husband and I are in the same field), so selfishly I would like to see the option of applying for funds to defray her travel costs, although I know that is not likely. Once, her name accidentally was put on the receipt for our room, and then what a hassle it was to get reimbursed off my grant!

    When I was an young grad student, a professor who was a single mother paid for my hotel room in exchange for babysitting her tot for about half the time we were at a conference. Rather abusive though I would not have been able to go to the conference otherwise. In that case, I’m sure my room was paid for with grant funds.

  5. DrDrA, could I suggest that your decision not to take your children is not purely personal.

    It’s social, in that you have a partner who is willing to, and can, take care of kids if they stay home, and I assume he has a workplace which doesn’t insist he continues to work long hours even when you are away. Perhaps you have access to before and after school care for your kids, too.

    Even more social is the fact that you might have to arrange childcare while you’re away, but your colleagues who are fathers probably won’t.

    A great post, and comments.

  6. Anon- That’s a great option- it doesn’t work for me as both my mom and my MIL live far,far away. For me funds to hire a babysitter for a few extra hours here and there would be perfect.

    Social Scientist- Sure. You are right, DrMrA is also an academic scientist- so his schedule can be pretty flexible. We are not in the same field, so we don’t attend the same meetings- so I have the ability to leave the kids home with him- and I am high enough in the food chain to be able to afford good after school care. It is true though, that I make ALL the child care arrangements when I’m there and for when I’m not there.

    Bugdoc- Yes, I agree, for some (and depending on the age of the kids as well), it works better to subsidize child care at home while the parent is away at a meeting…

  7. Spouse and I just got back from a meeting we both had to go to in another country that was not suitable to bring children to. So we spent about $700 bringing his parents in to keep the kids. This is the first time we have done this. Other years, we have had opposite-enough schedules that we could both get done what we needed to and keep the kids watched with just a few hours of hotel babysitter or hiring the teenaged child of a colleague we know on the site. Had Spouse’s parents not been able to come, Spouse would have had to stay home, and I would have presented his stuff.

    I have never heard of a conference in our field with child care. Occasionally, a subgroup mailing list will send around that someone is bringing a teenager who is for hire to watch a kid or two for a day or two during the conference. If your kids are old enough, this could be an option.

  8. This is my first visit in a while and I had forgotten how much I like your blog. As a mom in the sciences, your posts hit home with me. Thanks for your good work.

    I’ve gone to the Evolution meetings for the past few years, and this year they are offering both on-site care for wee ones and also day trips for kids 8 and up ($60 a day), which I thought was interesting.

    I’m still wary, though, of turning my kid over to strangers in a strange land (even if it is Portland). In the end, my son will probably stay with his dad, but if I had a good reason to bring him, I’d sure appreciate them having trips for the older kids.


  9. I don’t have kids yet, but I can definitely see wanting my children nearby while they’re infants, even at meetings. As they get older, though, not so much I’m guessing. The large meeting I attend each year has childcare available, and I’ve heard it’s pretty good. I looked it up just now, and it costs $12/hour…so can easily top $100 for an entire meeting. Not prohibitively expensive, but some type of funding to help subsidize the system would be very welcome, especially for those who make much less than my husband and I do.

    And I’m sure I’ll be the one making those arrangements and decisions someday, but not because I have to. I’m sure my husband would gladly take those duties if I needed him to. But, with my type A personality (the same personality that makes me a good scientist, and hopefully a good PI at some point), I can only imagine that I couldn’t deal with the proverbial tables completely turned when it comes to child-rearing. It really comes down to each scientist family, even those where the husband is the big-time PI, has to come up with a system that works for them, and I imagine that those needs can vary wildly.

  10. I thought I didn’t have much to say on this, since I attend at most one conference per year, and am not really in a line of work these days in which conference attendance is that important. Also, I work in industry, so can pretty much guarantee that I’d be expected to pay for my own child care arrangements.

    But it occurred to me… this problem isn’t really unique to conferences. It is a business travel problem. I traveled a lot in a prior job. That was pre-kids, so I didn’t think much about child care arrangements. But I did notice that a lot of the business hotels I was staying in were starting to advertise their child care services. I know from friends that I’ve kept in touch with that more and more women are bringing their kids on some business trips. Most have their spouse come, too, and turn it into a work-vacation deal.

    I briefly considered taking a job that required ~25% travel after my oldest daughter was born. It was a great fit in terms of the work, but in the end, I decided the travel requirements were too high for me at that stage in my life (my daughter was under a year old at the time). When Hubby and I were talking about how we might make it work, our plan was to have my mom (who is retired) come with me on every other trip, so that I could bring my daughter. But then I went on my first post-baby business trip, and decided that the benefits of that job did not outweigh the hassle of traveling without my baby while still breastfeeding. The pumping and milk transport logistics were challenging, to say the least. It certainly CAN be done, and I imagine it is something that gets easier with practice…. but it wasn’t worth it for me.

  11. This is timely – I’ve been thinking about this subject over the past few months.

    When thinking about the gender-specific effects of childbearing, it’s hard to argue (even if you’re one of those guys that always pops up with the “but what about single dads! strawman arguments) that late pregnancy and early infancy hinder travel for mothers in a different way than they do for fathers.

    It’s also hard to argue that having invited seminars on one’s CV is a positive indicator for P&T, not to mention being used as a metric when gauging salary increases each year.

    So yes, lack of infant child care on site at a conference does mean that you are going to be specifically impacting young female faculty at a greater rate than young male faculty. And since the usual suggestion is “bring along your own childcare” when going to any small conference, the only way to get over this is for the mother to essentially pay a surcharge (daycare costs, or bringing along your spouse/MIL/babysitter/whatever) to attend the same conference to attain the same benefit to their career.

    I know that I’ve turned down some speaking engagements over a 6-month period because of this issue. I accepted the one that was most important to me, even though it means I am going to have a negative impact on my ported-childcare-person’s typical work schedule, as well as having to pay for their travel, and their “non-conference attendee” registration – adding up to over $1000 lost income and associated costs for our family, which are not reimbursable off of grants.

    I could leave the kid at home with spouse – but only if I chose to formula-feed rather than breastfeed. Which has its own assorted issues. My doctor said that as a breastfeeding mom, I would not be allowed to separate for the length of the conference that early in the child’s life. And formula vs breastmilk really ought not be decided based on going to a conference!

    So yes, this is a career issue for new moms, and impacts that group more than moms of older kids or fathers.

  12. The American Society for Cell Biology offers grants for childcare for women attending the annual meeting. These can be used to bring a child to a meeting, bring a care-giver, or hire a caregiver back at home.

  13. Pingback: Conference Wrapup: SVP 2013, Los Angeles | fossilosophy

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