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Surviving a Conference While Pregnant

As we have repeatedly noted, motherhood erects major obstacles to career advancement for many women scientists. Attending and presenting at conferences is not, apparently, the least of it.

Conference participation is, of course, crucial to any academic's professional progress, pregnant or not. But pregnant women are likely to find these large, multiday confabs physically and emotionally "challenging and even unwelcoming," writes Tamara Yakaboski in an essay at Inside Higher Ed.

Attending academic and professional conferences with a baby bump was one of the biggest identity challenges and shifts I have experienced.

—Tamara Yakaboski

"Attending academic and professional conferences with a baby bump was one of the biggest identity challenges and shifts I have experienced," she writes. "I have always been a private person – keeping some separation between my personal and professional identities. But pregnant, my body no longer allowed that same comfort of separation. Being in my mid-30s, I spent over a decade of my career as a childless professional only knowing what the literature said about academic pregnancies and rarely thinking about pregnant conference-goers because there seemed to be so few around."

The long periods of sitting required at meetings threatened her bladder control, and the packed schedules and inconvenient venues made it hard to get the rest she needed. But worst of all was the unabashed attention that colleagues, both known and previously unknown, bestowed on her abdomen. This attention tried her equanimity, patience, and confidence in her standing as a scholar.

The essay, which is based on her experiences at several conferences, offers useful advice to fellow academics expecting not just babies but also academic careers, including tips on how to minimize discomfort and navigate potentially awkward situations. It's important, she writes, to plan ahead, taking into account the meeting's physical constraints and location and thinking ahead about how to deal with the inevitable exposure and unwanted attention. The essay also offers suggestions for conference planners who wish to make meetings more hospitable to pregnant scholars and other physically challenged participants. You can read it here.

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