UNC Researcher Helps Find Solutions for Childcare Conundrum at Academic Conferences

Paola Giusti-Rodriguez, PhD, is one of 40 scientists that contributed to a paper outlining the difficulties parents encounter when attending conferences. They offer solutions that could quickly improve attendance and involvement of mothers at these events.

UNC Researcher Helps Find Solutions for Childcare Conundrum at Academic Conferences click to enlarge Paola Giusti-Rodriguez, PhD

Media Contact: Carleigh Gabryel, 919-864-0580, carleigh.gabryel@unchealth.unc.edu

March 6, 2018

CHAPEL HILL, NC - In the academic arena, conferences play a big role when it comes to networking, learning about new research, and presenting one’s own findings. Historically this arena and these events have been dominated by men. Studies have shown that the female perspective can add diversity to academia, however as more women choose careers in science and research they are realizing how difficult it can be to attend these conferences—and in effect advance their careers—if they have children. Conferences often lack adequate facilities and resources for parents, and many times on-site child care is either not provided or not affordable.

“In science you go to more than one conference a year to advance your career, especially if you have findings that you are preparing to release. Quite a few people end up bringing families and children to the conferences out of necessity, but it’s not easy and you don’t get everything out of the conference that you hope to,” said UNC’s Paola Giusti-Rodriguez, PhD.

Giusti-Rodriguez, a research assistant professor in the department of genetics, is part of a group of scientists—who are also mothers—from institutions across the country that contributed to the paper “How to Tackle the Childcare-Conundrum” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

“We all have horror stories about the challenges of being a mother and attending these conferences. We didn’t want the paper to be all about that. We wanted to offer real solutions to make this as impactful as possible, so that more and more conferences will adopt policies for women and mothers in science,” she said.

Giusti-Rodriguez is a mother of two children under the age of four. She is married to a fellow researcher, which she said is common for women in science, and this makes attending conferences even more difficult. The common issues she and other mothers in academia encounter when attending conferences include cost and access to childcare, availability of breastfeeding areas for new mothers, and a general lack of consideration for attendees with families.

The first author of the paper, Rebecca M. Calisi, PhD, an assistant professor at University of California, Davis, reached out to Giusti-Rodriguez and dozens of other women in science to gather their personal stories of attending conferences with children. Together they detailed a list of changes that conferences could make to be more inclusive of mothers and entire families. Giusti-Rodriguez said some of the proposed changes would take time, money and effort, while others would be relatively easy to accomplish.

“The ability to nurse a baby in a clean and private space at a conference is crucial, and doesn’t require many resources from a conference venue. Conference organizers can also help parents and families attending the event get in touch with each other ahead of time so they can make arrangements amongst themselves. Even just creating a community in that manner would help,” explained Giusti-Rodriguez.

Some of the more expansive changes suggested in the paper include providing childcare at conferences, creating grants that would fund travel and accommodations for child caretakers, and hosting the conference in a more “family friendly” environment overall.

Giusti-Rodriguez said adoption of these family-friendly recommendations would make academic conferences more welcoming to parents in all areas of science.

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