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Women and the Scientific Conference.

Can we have it all?

I recently read an article about a scientific conference that encouraged attendees to bring their families to facilitate parents attending. The lifeblood of all academic scientists is discussing and presenting their work as well as networking with those in the field. But, as a mother of two young children, life can get in the way.  As a mom and scientist, this "breakthrough" conference idea of encouraging attendees to bring along their families made me smile.

I recently attended a conference in which I won an early investigator award and brought my kids along (under the supervision of my ever supportive husband), but this was seen as controversial. Really??? Don't get me wrong, I understand the concern of kids running around and disrupting important talks and the potential of them seeing disturbing anatomical/disease pictures that will scar them for life, but attending the award lecture for their mother... Seems like something that should be highly encouraged. If we want more women in science, then we need to have our kids see the successes of academic women (especially if its the same person that cooks their dinners and drives them to dance class).

More importantly, are we setting up roadblocks to the scientific success of women that are also mothers? For all the talk of women "opting out", perhaps "locked out" is more apropos. We, as parents, give up lots of things to pursue careers. As women enter and succeed in demanding fields, we (as a society) will have to address the elephant in the room. Women in the workplace (or lab, or clinic) will not and can not follow the work paradigms of the past. The way work is done will change. If we want a diverse workforce with the innovation that brings, we need to think of a new model of work/life balance. We need to see the balancing act of parents not as less of a commitment to work, but as a way to work more efficiently and as the passion we feel for our calling that we will do anything (including toting kids around with us) to participate. In the end this is NOT just a women's issue, but an issue for all academics with families. When either I or my partner travel, we start an intricate dance of babysitter availability, calendars, drop-offs and meeting rescheduling. Perhaps the result of a more family-consious workplace will be that mommies will not be the only ones thanking their lucky stars for conference supplied kid-zones.

These are my views and opinions. They may not (and in most cases are not) shared by my employer.

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