In the struggle to balance career and family, long scientific conferences can represent a particular challenge. Occasionally, researchers may be tempted to invite their spouses. Not only is this a chance to spend time together, but it also provides an opportunity for the spouse to meet the key people in the researcher's field and put names together with faces.

This plan can present difficulties, as I recently discovered when I travelled with my wife and baby daughter to a Keystone conference my wife was attending in Utah. Although she encouraged us to join her for the social hour and dinner, we were told this daily event was “for scientists only”. However, we expressed concern about this policy, and by the end of the week, the Keystone website announced that spouses would now be permitted to attend the evening social hours: a pleasing response.

Given the all-consuming nature of scientific research, adopting a more inclusive policy towards interested spouses would be a small gesture by every conference organizer that could go a surprisingly long way towards improving the happiness of researchers — and of those who support them.