It’s Conference Season–Helpful Advice for Academic Moms and Dads

Whew! It has been a challenging travel season for March and April. Like most academics, I try to do one (maybe two) conferences a year, but in the last few years, I’ve been really sporadic–some years none, some years too many. Partly because I have kids and partly because I was job searching, I’ve been on and off with the conferences. This year, I had planned to do PCA/ACA in Boston for a few reasons. One, it’s a fun conference; there’s always interesting panels and they usually have it in a great city. This year, Boston is much closer to me and I wanted to haul my family up there as well. (Note: other members of my department bring their families too, because if we don’t then there are child care costs and, frankly, it’s nice to see the little ones at the end of a conference day.) It was a great conference this year. I saw so many interesting¬†presentations, saw a few student presentations, and my own presentation was well attended and well received. I feel like I got smarter, and that’s always nice at a conference.

We took a little family down time too. Seamus loved the aquarium and the little ducklings. He also liked riding the T, meeting his Great Nan and Aunt Judy, and swimming in the hotel pool. Gilbert’s highlight had to be riding the carousel. He was getting cranky when we headed over to it, but once he picked out his horse and got on, oh he loved it! You could tell he was tired though because when the ride stopped, he sobbed and clung to his horse. We got back to the hotel and he crashed out. Seamus was so tired at dinner one night that he fell asleep in our lap at the table. I might have worked them pretty hard this trip, but their little brains were just churning learning so much stuff. Seamus learned how to work the key in the door. Both of them loved the elevators and escalators. Gilbert ran through the ice machine section (Seamus thought it was the “ice cream” section), and when he wouldn’t come out, I hid from him. He went charging down the hall to the room, but then he stopped, looked a little confused and said, “Mama? Mama?” so I popped out and said, peekaboo, and he grinned the biggest Gilbert grin. So funny. He’s very independent, but he is still a mama’s boy. I’d post some pictures, but P has them all on his phone.

My other conference was the CEA in Richmond, and I had some great colleagues come from New Mexico to join me. Our panel was great, and Richmond was chock full of interesting things about the Civil War and 19th century American literature. In the fall, I’m going to the BIG American Studies Association conference–this one is hard to get accepted to, kind of like MLA, so I’m nervous, but thrilled to be on a panel with smart people and to go to Puerto Rico.

Advice to academic moms: Always stay at the conference hotel. I’ve been bad about this in the past, for instance procrastinating because of money or time or uncertainty about the conference, but most hotels won’t charge you to reserve a room if you have to cancel within 24hrs notice. The conference hotel is always more convenient. For instance, when there was a break in the conference program, I could run upstairs, change, go swim with my boys for a few minutes and change and get back before the next session. Presto!

Limit to one, maybe two, conferences a year! Use it for conferences that will force you to write in your field. PCA/ACA was great–I was able to play around with and try out some new ideas, but the essay for CEA is more likely to turn into an article soon.



  1. How great that you get to go to ASA! A good friend of mine just finished her tenure on the students’ committee and always has the best things to say about the conference. It’s definitely on my must-do list.

    And you are absolutely right about your advice. I try to stick to 2-3 conferences a year. Any more feels overwhelming now that I have Molly. She’s not coming to either this year (one was in NY and the next is this weekend in CA), but I can’t wait to take her to one. Maybe next year’s CEA?

    1. Thanks! I like to get the most out conferences–as I see you do too. We could set up a kid share conference sometime where all of us with kids bring them and trade off babysitting, conference going, and networking!

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