The pregnant/new mum guide to science conferences
Pregnancy and new motherhood has brought a whole swathe of new experiences to my conference outings. This is my definitive guide to science conferences for the expecting/new Mum to help you decide where to expend your energy….
The big annual meeting
The combination of gigantic conference in an expensive city, means that the crappy hotel you can afford is miles away. Should you be foolish enough to attend such a meeting 7+ months pregnant, you can wave goodbye to your ankles, as you will be walking everywhere on tree trunks. It will also take forever to get anywhere because your walking pace has slowed to glacial, so halve the number of posters you plan on seeing, then halve it again. You will for the first time become acutely aware of the complete lack of adequate seating available in giant faceless conference centres and unable to focus on anything except finding somewhere comfortable to sit. To exacerbate the seating problem, your glacial walking pace means you will arrive late to every mini-sym session, so all seating is taken. You’ll be forced to gingerly lower yourself to the floor to give your poor swollen feat a rest, knowing full well that you may never get up off the floor again - at least not in a way that might preserve your dignity… Your best strategy here is to stay seated until everyone else has left the room.
Pro tip: compression stockings
GRC/Keystone focused meeting.
These conferences have a massive positive over the annual meeting and that is the close proximity of the accommodation and seminar room. However, two words make these conferences truly great for pregnant women: nap time. The timings a little tricky, but if you can possibly arrange to attend one of these during you first trimester you’ll be rewarded with a two hour block in the early afternoon when you can nap/pass out. This is essentially the holy grail to a woman experiencing the first wave of pregnancy symptoms, because all you want to do is sleep. Or throw up, one of those two. Yes this afternoon break is for ‘activities’, but with any luck those on the hike will assume you’re with those playing soccer and visa versa. With your new desire to sleep 18 hours a day, narcolepsy during the after dinner talks is a bit of an issue. And late nights in the bar are definitely out, but someone would only notice your sudden aversion to wine so that’s probably for the best. Also, the smell of coffee will make you want to vomit so you’ll be avoiding the coffee breaks too - you can use this time to sit quietly in the seminar room with your head on the desk. Most people will just assume you have a hangover. Then there’s the heavy emphasis on communal eating, which is a bit like Russian roulette when your getting used to morning sickness and have no idea what foods will make you gag… Basically what I’m saying is that socialising is almost impossible, but trust me, it’s worth it for nap time.
Pro tip: keep a ready supply of ginger ale to sip during the poster session, it’ll hold back the nausea. Just.
Super focused meeting in a fancy pants venue
Now this is the life! 50 metres between bed and seminar room! Plush rooms! Comfy chairs! Even better when you’re nursing a new baby because the conference organisers will give you a giant double sized room to house all the baby gear and partner/baby sitter. The down side to this life of luxury is that every conversation you have will last 60 seconds and end with the words “I’m really sorry, I have to go and feed my baby”, which is marginally more socially acceptable than “I have to go pump milk”. No one needs that mental image; whichever way you slice it pumping isn’t dignified, despite those crazy adverts trying to convey it as the height of working mum chic. And yes, the half hour coffee breaks should be plenty of time to sort this out, but we all know academics are pathologically incapable of sticking to a time limit so you’ll get ten minutes and have to miss the start of every session. But that’s okay as no one says anything useful in the first ten minutes of a talk anyway. There’s a chance your offspring will get used to the cleanliness of these new surroundings and realise what a mess you usually force them to live in. They may or may not resent you for this. And you still can’t enjoy the free beer while nursing, but you can sneak some back to your room to thank Dad for taking time off work to support your career. Thanks Dad! You’re the best :)
Pro tip: Your baby will vomit on you the day you present. Pack accordingly.
An adapted version of this article appeared in the 2018 BSCB newsletter