Monday, June 18, 2012

Conferencing with kids

Epsilon has accompanied me to 4 conferences so far, and I must say, switching between Mother and Academic is even harder at conferences than at home. But, as I've had more experience, and Epsilon is getting older, things are getting better.

The first thing that makes a world of difference is being able to trust the person coming with me. This is more than just "don't drop the kid off with someone you wouldn't want to babysit." For instance, when I invited my mother to accompany me on an international conference, I neglected to take into account that she is not the best traveller. I ended up having to skip several sessions that time. Another time, because of visa troubles, a friend of mine local to the country of the conference stepped in at the last minute to watch Epsilon. However, she was not comfortable enough in a city as large as the conference venue to be able to entertain herself. So, instead of spending evenings with other academics or reading up on relevant literature, I showed her around town. Neither of these were disasters, and there were external reasons why bringing Epsilon along was the right thing to do, in spite of the added complications it would bring. My take home message from those two experiences is that 1) travelling is hard 2) travelling with a child is harder. Bring someone along who is a good enough traveller to be able to manage the extra difficulties of travelling with a kid.

This is not to say that the problems faced in previous conferences with Epsilon are all due to other people's weaknesses. I have a very hard time separating my roles as mother and academic. My usual solution to this is to separate them temporally. This trick doesn't work if the conference, meals and hotel rooms are located in the same venue. In other cases, it is "simply" a matter of my lack of discipline.*

At last week's conference, I was somewhat of an outsider. My interest and approach to the topic at hand, while not unknown to the other attendees, was not of primary interest to other attenders. As a result, my need or ability to network was diminished as compared to other meetings more germane to my area of research. As such, I felt like I was able to engage as fully as I wanted to, which was nice. This was of course helped by the fact that a trolley line runs in front of our hotel room, so Epsilon was actually excited to have me go off to work so he could ride the train with his father.

My next conference is more central to my work. We'll see how that goes.

*In much the same way that Special Relativity can be described as simply linear algebra.

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