UM Professor Publishes Report on Working Mothers, Conference Attendance

March 28, 2018

Breuner parents and conducts Harlequin duck research in Glacier National Park. MISSOULA – Creagh Breuner, a biology professor in the University of Montana Division of Biological Sciences, recently published a paper with a group of working academic mothers on balancing childcare and conference attendance.

“How to tackle the childcare-conference conundrum,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by Rebecca Calisi Rodriguez from the University of California, Davis, promotes greater support for young parents at scientific conferences. The paper is online at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/03/01/1803153115.

Attending conferences is a crucial step in building an academic career. Conferences open networking doors, foster creativity in research and allow academics to share their research. However, many academics obtain faculty jobs just as they are starting their families, making conference attendance difficult, if not impossible. Finding trustworthy childcare, places to breastfeed or pump, or just finding the funds to bring along help all become barriers to conference attendance for young faculty.

Breuner herself has faced the difficulties of combining early parenthood with academia.

“I had twins in early stages of my career and had to schedule time to pump into three-day job interviews,” she said. “Berkeley gave me 15 minutes every four hours to sit on the floor of the bathroom and pump – and then throw out, since I had to leave my 6-week-olds at home.”

At a recent neuroscience conference with 30,000 attendees, the conference provided three curtained-off areas, each containing just a plastic chair for nursing or pumping.

“The support just isn’t there, which limits the diversity of people that can contribute at a conference, as well as the ability of academic mothers to benefit from attending the conference,” Breuner said.

Over the past decade, some conference organizers have started sponsoring childcare at the meetings, but it is often in a small, windowless room with one adult sitting in a chair.

The paper promotes a four-part approach to reducing barriers for parents at conferences under the acronym CARE: supporting Childcare, either onsite or at home through financial support; Accommodating families with family-friendly dates, venues and schedules; providing Resources, such as lactation, nursing and baby-changing areas; and Establishing a conference-specific social network where parents and caregivers can schedule activities, organize babysitting and childcare swaps, share information and provide emotional support for one another.

Breuner also promotes these ideas at the national conference she attends every year. As part of the executive committee running the society, she formed an ad hoc committee on family support. This committee will use recommendations from the PNAS paper, combined with feedback from members, to establish a set of priorities to support families at the conference.

“As a young mother and assistant professor, it is difficult to request support,” Breuner said. “Now that I’m further along in my career, I can spend my energy promoting change that will benefit younger professors.”

Breuner hopes making scientific conferences more family-friendly will send a message that the organizers recognize the challenges parent-scientists face, that working parents – especially working mothers – are valued, and that they want to encourage a diverse and thriving workforce for conferences and all workplace settings.

For more information, call Breuner at 406-243-5585 or email creagh.breuner@umontana.edu.

###

Contact: Creagh Breuner, biology professor, UM Division of Biological Sciences, 406-243-5585, creagh.breuner@umontana.edu.