Make it easier for me to deliver childcare at conferences

Underprepared meetings that neglect to set up childcare facilities will ultimately damage science, says Eileen Parkes.
Eileen Parkes is a clinical oncologist at Queen's University Belfast, UK.

Search for this author in:

Eileen Parkes with her children

Eileen Parkes with her children.Courtesy Eileen Parkes

How did I end up here? I am wedged into a narrow cubicle, banging my elbows against the side as I turn on the breast pump, hoping the batteries, which are as tired as I am, last just a little longer.

I am on my way back from one of the biggest conferences in my field, where I presented my work and picked up an award that will open doors in the future. I am jet-lagged and missing home, my six-month-old baby and his brother.

I had not planned for this. When my abstract was accepted, I thought I would be better off taking my baby — I was breastfeeding, after all.

That is when my naivety became apparent. There was no on-site childcare. The nearest available hotel was two miles away, with prohibitively expensive childcare. Money to cover this was not forthcoming: “No-one’s ever asked that before,” was the response to my inquiry. My vision of carrying my baby in a sling and taking him with me was laughable according to the conference website — no children were allowed in any of the conference sessions.

So my breast pump and I became buddies — a freezer-full of milk was left at home, and more was pumped in preparation for my return in a strip-lit room at the conference centre, in toilets, on the plane. I had quick conversations with the other pumping mums — all wishing our children could be there.

We know that diverse science is better science (see Nature 558, 19–22; 2018). Not having affordable, accessible conference childcare shuts down career advancement and collaborative opportunities for those with young children, inevitably affecting women more than men. I wasn’t supported — not out of any kind of maliciousness — but simply because nobody had asked before and nobody had thought to make plans. But that is not a good enough reason. Conferences must improve by providing childcare facilities — this is a problem we all need to solve.

Nature 564, S89 (2018)

This article is part of Nature Events Guide 2019, an editorially independent supplement. Advertisers have no influence over the content.

Nature Briefing

An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday.