Krista Soderlund, a research associate at the University of Texas in Austin, brought her daughter along when she attended an astronomy meeting in 2017.

Robin Soderland

Are scientific conferences providing enough child care support? Science investigates

This year, 68% of major scientific conferences held in North America provided child care support for parent attendees, Science found after examining resources available at 34 meetings, each attended by more than 1000 people. An even larger share—94%—made a lactation room available for nursing mothers.

"That's good," says Rebecca Calisi, an animal physiologist at the University of California, Davis, and author of an opinion piece published in March arguing that conferences need to do a better job supporting parent attendees. But, she adds, they still aren't good enough—those statistics should be 100%.

Of the conferences that offered support, 83% arranged for licensed providers to operate at conference facilities, where parents were charged between $40 and $110 a day. Two societies offered free child care at their annual meetings: the American Chemical Society and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Five conferences awarded child care grants that parents could use for a variety of child care-related expenses, for example, to pay for their child's travel, for travel expenses incurred by a caregiver, or to hire a nanny.

Parents had access to on-site childcare at the American Society of Human Genetics meeting in San Diego, California. ​

Elizabeth Tseng

The disciplines with the most room for improvement are the ones that tend to have a greater share of women. Only about half of the 18 conferences in the life sciences and social sciences offered child care accommodations for parents—a much lower percentage than in the physical sciences, math, and computer sciences (85% of 13). Of three multidisciplinary conferences, two provided child care accommodations.

"There's still so much to do, but it's great to see" so many conferences helping parents, Calisi says. "Whether it's one small baby step, or a huge leap, as long as we're going in the right direction that's what's important."

Read more about the results and the personal stories behind the data in a longer version of this story at Science Careers.