Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bringing baby to seminar

I attended three seminars last week. That might not be a remarkable fact for most post-docs, but it probably is remarkable for mothers of 2.5 month olds. Each seminar was explicitly related to past, present, or future research and I didn't want to miss out on hearing about the cutting-edge science just because I had a baby.

Methods and Results
Seminar 1, 4 pm: I knew Minnow was in need of a nap. I drove to campus and parked about 6 blocks from the seminar location. I loaded Minnow into the front pack and by the time I made it to seminar she'd fallen asleep. The room was crowded but a kindly male prof gave up his seat by the rear door so that I didn't have to sit front and center. The chair pivoted quietly and in this fashion I rocked Minnow for the first 40 minutes of the seminar until she began to stir and cry. I moved to the door and she quieted down so I paused there hoping to hear a few more minutes. But Minnow cried a few more times so I left the room. I fed her in a restroom stall (ugh) and put her back in the pack because she was still tired. I returned to the seminar room and she promptly fell asleep. I was able to catch the conclusions slides and even got to ask a question. I'd guess that there were some in the audience who never knew there was a baby present until they looked back to see who asked the question.

Seminar 2, 10 am: Fish didn't work until noon, so I left Minnow in his care and rushed to campus. I managed to park a few hundred feet from the room and slid into a seat just before the talk commenced. I stayed for the 30 minute talk and a few questions but had to leave in the midst of a discussion. I rushed home and Fish left for work.

Seminar 3, noon: I had a meeting at 11 am on campus (rescheduled to a time when I had no sitter), so Minnow and I were on campus already. She fell asleep at 11:30 and stayed asleep in her stroller until half way through the talk. I left to feed her (same darn bathroom stall) and returned with an alert happy baby. For the rest of the talk I bounced her on my knee and made faces at her and she was happy with an occasional shriek of delight. I managed to pay attention to the talk (mostly) and even managed to ask some intelligent questions. I'd gotten the speaker's permission to have the baby there and it was a small, pretty informal group, but later someone commented that Minnow had stolen the show.

As far as me getting to learn something, all of the seminars were a success. I was actually least enthralled by the way Seminar #2 ended up, because I had to leave early. The sleepy baby (#1) was the easiest for me (although dicey). As far as Minnow was concerned, staying home and playing with daddy (#2) was undoubtedly best, followed by the happy bouncy seminar (#3). And as far as the rest of the audience was concerned, seminar #3 probably was the least appreciated behavior. It seemed important to me to start making appearances at campus events again, and I felt like my attendance was noted by the faculty. Hopefully they were impressed that I was there. I don't want anyone to think that I suddenly a less serious scientist just because I have a child. Finally, I want to model "good behavior" to any women scientists who might be thinking of having children and any male scientists who doubt that women can be moms and still think about science. Hopefully I succeeded.

Conclusions and Future Plans
I'd do any of those three options again if I had to, but I think it will work better once Minnow is in regularly scheduled daycare. Then I will just try to be more strict about my (on-campus) working hours and only attend seminars when I have adequate childcare. It's not particularly fair for Minnow to be cooped up in a front pack or stroller when all she wants to do is play.


Propter Doc said...

Hmmm, interesting! I think you were very brave to attempt this - I'd be terrified of having to run from the room with a screaming minnow! I love the fact that you were considerate and asked the speaker at the third seminar if it was OK. I think that sets a really positive example.
Anyway, as for minnow stealing the show, people will soon get used to her presence and the novelty will wear off.

Anonymous said...

First, I think it is great that you are (a) taking Minnow to seminars and the field and setting such a great example and (b) letting everyone know what works and doesn't work, at least in your situation. I'd like to hear more about the feeding situation on campus. Have you talked to the department about the situation? Where are you going to pump if/when Minnow ever decides she might be willing to take a bottle?

DRD (I'm having trouble signing in!)

Anonymous said...

HI Sciencewoman,
I took my baby to seminars (the ones I really wanted to see) when I was a postdoc. He hung out in my sling, and I waited to nurse him at the seminar. It's usually quite private there in my sling, but some of the faculty still would come up and pull the edge out to peek in at the baby. I remember because it was lots of old white guys at this institute, and they would get an eyeful of breast and baby in exchange for stepping over my personal space.

One of the seminars that I saw with baby in sling helped define a fruitful new research direction for me for the next 8 years (so far). The kid is doing ok too. (though yes, daycare was easier.)

trillwing said...

My mentor once gave a professional development talk to my graduate program while bouncing up and down with her baby strapped to her chest.

When the other presenter got up, Fantastic Mentor simply turned to her back to us as she breastfed the baby right there in the pack.

I heart Fantastic Mentor.

physics*chick said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! As a younger woman scientist I wonder about how I will ever manage these things, and have to simply assume that it will all work out somehow when it has to be done. There are so few examples, at least around my department, it's great to have the opportunity to "see"/follow along as someone else figures out the balance.

I went to a big conference last year and had the opportunity to observe the baby at conference situation. Both parents were attending and presenting, so the baby had to come along. I was amazed to turn around and see one or the other sitting with the baby at the back of the talks as I usually didn't even notice. A few times they had to dash out with a crying baby, but that is bound to happen. I later visted their labs and was (quietly) amused to see a stack of diapers and a changing pad in "mom's" office. I found it very positive to see how comfortable they both were with blending baby and science... clearly for them both are part of their lives.

As for Minnow stealing the show? A cute (especially awake, playful and happy) baby is always going to win some attention over even the best science talk! How can she not?? Good idea asking the speaker in this case. ;)

estraven said...

I find nursing in the toilet strange; I wouldn't eat there, so neither should my baby. But I guess you know your department/university/country best.

I usually nursed in my office the very few times when I had to bring my baby along, but once we had a really important meeting where every minute counted. And so I just breastfed my three-months old daughter there, in front of the other faculty members, forty minutes long. I made my point in the meeting, and got what I wanted (not for me, but for our research group).

I do agree with you that Minnow will be happier away from seminars/meetings, especially as the weeks, and the months, go by. And remember: it's just a few months until she can start eating something else.

Amelie said...

You're brave, ScienceWoman -- thanks for being a role model! And of course a cute baby steals the show more often than not :)
But the bathroom feeding... yuck. I hope you find better options for that one!

PhD Mom said...

You are amazing. It is difficult to balance everything, but it sounds like you are doing a great job.

Have you considered asking your department to put chairs or benches in the bathroom so you don't have to go in a stall? We had chairs and it was nice.

Also, I once brought my daughter to a talk where I was the speaker. This worked great until she started saying Mama talk! (She was about 18 mo) and my husband had to whisk her away.

Jenn said...

Thanks for the inspiration and advice on what's working for you and minnow. Hope you can find an alternative to the bathroom stall though!

Anonymous said...

I also took my son to seminars as asst prof when I was on leave. I would try to time it so he was sleepy and then walk him around in the sling right before the talk. If timed right I would have about 1 hr. Then we would dash out to eat in my office. It actually is much easier when they are not yet mobile. Now that he is 2 he doesn't hold still for a moment. I also took him to a faculty meeting during my leave when my chair said I needed to be there. Dear H is faculty member in same department, so with no local family, what is one to do with a 5 week old. =) Hang in there it all will get easier with daycare.

Dr. S

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