Tuesday 23 July 2019

Taking baby steps towards making academic publishing conferences more welcoming to parents of young children

Nisha Doshi
Senior Digital Development Publisher

 Cambridge University Press
In the run-up to my maternity leave a couple of years ago, I was keen to identify as many ways as possible to keep in touch with colleagues and friends at work and in the wider academic publishing industry, and to keep up-to-date with news and developments in publishing and scholarly comms. I had attended several medical conferences in my former life as a commissioning editor of medical books and I had been delighted to be able to meet there with clinicians who were also new parents – mums and dads who had been able to participate in the conference thanks to the existence of a ‘parent and baby’ room, where they could listen to a live feed of conference proceedings while looking after their baby, and also network with their colleagues at coffee breaks, poster sessions etc. At the time I wasn’t thinking ahead particularly to having a child of my own but I was struck by comments from several of these mums and dads about how valuable it was to be able to combine the demands and constraints of parenting a young baby with the benefits of continuing to be a part of their clinical and academic community.

Fast forward to my own maternity leave – I tried to keep up-to-date as much as possible by following industry events on twitter, reading blogs and newsletters, and so forth. However, a twitter feed really isn’t the same as being at an event in person and I wasn’t able to identify any scholarly comms conferences or events that were explicitly welcoming to new mums with babies. Attached to my little one pretty much 24/7 (he wasn’t the easiest of babies!), I felt rather isolated from the academic publishing community and commented to a few colleagues/twitter contacts about how great it would be if we could replicate the facilities provided at conferences in other disciplines. The response I got, quite reasonably, was that academic publishing doesn’t have the resources of clinical medicine and this wouldn’t really be practical.

Fast forward further to a call for ideas at Cambridge University Press for next year’s University Press Redux event – I tentatively suggested the possibility of a facility to enable parents to attend, perhaps particularly parents of young babies. I was delighted that this idea chimed with the views of the conference organisers and even more pleased to learn that the provision of ‘mum and baby’ rooms was in fact a norm in other academic disciplines beyond medicine. In fact, in North America, it appears that 94% of scientific conferences provide a lactation/breastfeeding room while 68% provide childcare support. While it might be assumed that the need is greater in the US than in the UK, where parents tend to take longer periods of parental leave, it could also be argued that the feeling of isolation from the work community and the sense (perceived or actual) of career disadvantage associated with longer periods of parental leave creates an equal need for facilities for new parents at conferences held in the UK.

Next year’s University Press Redux Conference will be held at Churchill College, Cambridge, UK on 17-18 March.  Whilst the college are unable to allow full childcare facilities on site at this time due to students revising for exams, I am delighted to say that, in a bid to support new parents, they have offered to make a room available for the use of parents with babies (up to a maximum age of 12 months) who wish to attend the event.  The room will have a live feed to the main conference sessions, which means parents can participate in the proceedings, whilst still looking after their little person’s needs.  Of course, parents and babies would also be welcome to participate in coffee breaks, meals and so forth in order to spend time with their colleagues and new acquaintances.  We would also ensure questions were invited from and taken from the ‘parent and baby room’ as well as from the main session rooms.  Parents would need to supervise their babies at all times and also be mindful that students will be revising for exams in close proximity to the room.

The organisers of Redux 2020 (The Association of Learned& Professional Society Publishers and Cambridge University Press) would really love to be able to make this work and to enable new parents to be full participants of next year’s event.  So, if this facility is something that would be of use to you or you would like further details then please register your interest  by Friday 30 August with me, Nisha Doshi, Senior Digital Development Publisher, Cambridge University Press at ndoshi@cambridge.org or comment below.

Booking for the above event will open in the autumn.  View more details and the provisional programme here.  

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