my interviewer called the other applicants “pricks,” I brought my baby to a grad school talk, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My interviewer called all the other applicants “pricks”

I’m currently finishing my PhD and looking to move outside of academia. Recently, I saw an ad for a paid internship for a small nonprofit, and I applied on the last day they were accepting applications. I thought it would be good to have some recent, relevant experience on my resume before I started searching for a full-time job in a few months. The head of the charity got back to me and said that they had already finished interviewing all their applicants, but that he liked my resume and asked if I could come in the next day for an interview. I agreed.

During the interview, he told me all of their other applicants for the position were “pricks” (we are in the UK), he called everyone involved with our town’s university “pricks,” and at one point drew a diagram of the employee structure in the charity, wrote in the name of their previous intern, and labeled her as “prick,” which he circled twice. I was speechless, and just tried to answer questions calmly and politely until I could get out of there.

At the end of the interview, I asked one question to be polite. He asked me why I could only come up with one question, and I stated that I was sure I could always find more questions if I had a minute. He then told me I had 60 seconds, looked at his watch, and refused to speak or make eye contact with me until the minute was up. I asked another question and then ended the interview.

When I got home, he emailed me with a written assessment that he wanted me to do. I already knew I didn’t want to work with him, so I replied that I was sorry, but I had reconsidered and thought it was best I focus on my doctorate and not start an internship right now.

Professional circles are small in our town. I’m worried that this may affect my chances for future full-time positions, if he tells people that I wasted his time and let him delay their hiring process, only to then change my mind. Obviously, that’s not what happened, but how do I explain that without badmouthing him and seeming unprofessional myself? I’m also worried if he spreads this that I will miss out on chances for interviews. Is there anything I could have done to handle this situation differently?

You gave a perfectly reasonable explanation for withdrawing. Normally I’d say it’s unlikely that he would go out of his way to badmouth you over it, but then again, this is someone who inexplicably called a bunch of near-strangers “pricks” to another near-stranger and refused to make eye contact with you while he timed your response to a question … so we can’t really apply reasonable standards of behavior to him.

But I promise you that in a small professional circle, someone who behaves this oddly has already been outed as ridiculous. He’s calling everyone he comes into contact with a prick! People know about him.

2. I brought my baby to a grad school talk

I have a 16-month-old child. I’m also a grad student who’s expected to attend my department functions as often as possible. Due to tight finances, we haven’t got daycare until next semester and so I’ve brought my baby twice to talks on campus. The first time went great because she slept. The second time less well, which is why I’m writing. Obviously I don’t want to disturb other audience members, and so I took the baby to the back of the room and did everything within my power to keep her quiet. She made cooing noises and giggles and eventually I got her settled with her bottle, after taking her out once. She must have disturbed my advisor, however, because she asked me to take the baby out again, which I immediately did, leaving her stroller and my purse behind. I hoped to stay and meet the professor giving the talk, but when the baby got fussier and I felt frustrated that I was missing the talk (relevant to my research), I asked one of my friends to grab the stroller and I left.

I honestly don’t know if there’s anything I could have done differently and I don’t know if it’s worth bringing up with my advisor. She’s normally supportive, has kids of her own, and I understand that babies are disruptive. Despite feeling hurt, I do get that academic talks aren’t ideal for babies. My question is just what I should have done. Not taking her wasn’t an option today, and normally she is really quiet.

If she’s normally really quiet and it went well the other time you did it and you had no other options, I can see why you tried it again. But it’s possible that your threshold for baby noise is higher than other people’s. Some people won’t be bothered by a baby cooing and giggling, and others will find it really distracting in a context where babies aren’t normally expected. So to the question of what you should have done, the answer might be: be faster to take her outside (like as soon as she starts making noise; don’t wait to see if you can quiet her inside). Or it might be that you really can’t bring your baby to some/all of these functions — but that’s something I don’t know from here.

It might be worth talking with your advisor, explaining your situation, and asking if she thinks you’d be better off skipping functions when you don’t have child care. If you do that, though, you’ve got to be okay with hearing “yes,” so you’d want to go into the conversation prepared for that possibility. If you’d rather not risk that, you could also try talking to a couple of people in your program whose judgment you trust and seeing what their take is.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Our intern wants to leave her internship early

Our intern’s internship is ending in the next few weeks, and she just asked my boss if she could leave a few weeks early. What’s worse is that she told different excuses to different people (it’s clear it’s not an emergency). My boss is furious to say the least and has told senior management privately that we will not be giving this intern a recommendation letter regardless of whether or not she stays for the full internship.

Is this too harsh? Do I warn the intern that she cannot expect a recommendation letter? I had privately told her before that taking a vacation during a short internship would probably be seen as unprofessional. For background, there were a lot of issues beforehand, and senior management had already decided we would not be extending a full-time offer.

Assuming that the issue is that the intern committed for a specific, relatively short period of time, it’s not too harsh. If the internship was, say, four months long, and she wants to leave a few weeks early, that’s a quarter of the internship. Then add in that there were already other issues, and it makes sense that your boss doesn’t plan to recommend her to others. “Furious” may be a bit much, but certainly it makes sense not to recommend her. That’s a pretty normal consequence to something like this (as long it wasn’t due to sickness or family emergency). It’s not punitive; it’s that you really can’t vouch for her to other employers.

As for whether you should warn the intern, it depends on what your role is. Are you her manager or in a mentor-type role? If so, you could definitely talk to her about why not meeting her full commitment is coming across poorly. But if you’re not, I wouldn’t do that without your boss’s okay, since your boss may have said things to you that she doesn’t expect to be shared. Your boss should definitely be having that conversation with her, though.

4. Job candidates who use inbox safeguards

I’m relatively new to the world of hiring, and I’ve recently come across a quirky email etiquette situation that I don’t know how to handle. When candidates apply for a job with us, they receive an automated message informing them their application has been received. Several times now I’ve then received an automated reply from a service they are using to keep the junk out of their inbox. The email informs me that my email was waitlisted and requests that I click a link in order to have my email delivered to the person’s inbox.

I understand why a person would want to do this for most situations, since we all receive tons of email and some companies make unsubscribing difficult, but in this case it is a potential employer attempting to reach them. Every time this has happened, I have clicked the link, but do I need to keep doing that? It’s not like I’m trying to reach them for an interview, it’s just an auto-response acknowledging we’ve received their application. I feel similarly about candidates whose voicemail boxes are full — how far does my responsibility go when getting in touch with candidates?

You do not need to keep clicking links — or in some cases, filling out forms — to get whitelisted, particularly when it’s just something like an auto-acknowledgement that an application was received. If you were trying to reach a strong candidate to schedule an interview or otherwise speak to them, then I’d take the few seconds to do it — because it doesn’t make sense to pass up a strong candidate over a few seconds of work — but not for an automated form message. (Similarly, I don’t think you’re obligated to do it for rejections either, although it’s kind to.)

And yeah, job searchers should be aware that it’s annoying to ask employers to jump through these hoops. Or anyone who you want something from, really — I’ve had strangers email me to request a favor and then when I try to respond, I’m told to fill out an entire form (contact info, reason for message, etc.) in order for the email to get past their spam gateway, and it doesn’t make the greatest impression.

5. Are employment contracts a thing?

I know this might seem like a ridiculous question but it’s something I’d never pondered until recently. In terms of your traditional, professional jobs, I’ve never heard of anyone having a contract unless they were a contractor who wasn’t planning to be there long-term and wouldn’t get benefits and paid leave. In my personal job experience, you get hired and you negotiate the terms but there’s nothing contractual but it turns out people at my husband’s job — who do the same job as he does — have contracts spelling out their raises, bonuses, and other perks for three or four years at a time. We were shocked and had no idea this was a “thing.” Our other professional friends seemed really baffled as well. I know these things might vary wildly from field to field, but my husband’s job is essentially sales. Additionally, he’s considering pursuing a different position in the company which is not sales. Is sales the only time these mystical contracts are the norm? We are really confused!

You’re right that most workers in the U.S. don’t have contracts, even salespeople (although salespeople might have written agreements spelling out a commission schedule). The vast majority of employees in the U.S. are at-will, meaning they can quit or be let go at any time without financial penalty, and neither side is locked into a period of employment. (That said, we certainly have conventions around how long you’re expected to commit to a job if you’re acting in good faith, and there can be a reputation price to pay for breaking that; see the intern in letter #3 above.)

Two times that you typically see contracts in the U.S. are for very senior-level positions or for unionized positions (where people are covered by the union contract). So people like your husband are the exception to the rule.

{ 1,157 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I suspect everyone in your local professional circles knows who the prick is, and it’s not you, the other applicants, or the prior intern.

    1. Lacroix*

      There’s a fantastic quote from the great show Justified :

      “‘If you run into an a**hole in the morning, you ran into an a**hole. If you run into a**holes all day, YOU’RE the a**hole.’

      1. Bulbasaur*

        That makes me think of ‘Fishing Hole’ by Stephen Lynch, especially the last verse. In fact it could be the soundtrack for this whole story.

    2. Anonicat*

      We had a guy like this in our open office area while he waited for the professor he was going to meet with. He was ranting to the professor’s research assistant about just about everyone he’d ever met, while the other 40 or so of us in earshot boggled at each other. He called our faculty of medicine head a moron and suggested that the director of an extremely well-respected institute should be put up against a wall and shot. Finally the professor came out and greeted him thusly:

      “Ah, Brian! Come in, come in. How’s your blood pressure these days?”

    3. Kate*

      This is not personal at all, but I absolutely HATE HATE HATE this advice.

      Obviously not *everybody* knows this guy is a jerk, because the OP didn’t, and had a nasty encounter as a result.

      I feel like this advice gets thrown around all the time “everybody knew Harvey Weinstein was a sexual harasser”, “everybody knew you shouldn’t be alone with X in a room”, etc. But it’s demonstrably not true, and just leaves the victim wondering why “everybody” knew something they didn’t.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, the OP is changing fields so it makes sense that she didn’t know. But she’s talking about decision makers in what she describes as a small professional circle.

        1. Labradoodle Daddy*

          In this situation my anxiety over this guy potentially tarring my reputation would be a lot. Would it be too much to say something to someone higher up in his org? It seems equally likely that they know or don’t, but if I were in their position I would want to know….

          1. Armchair Analyst*

            You could try saying something to someone in YOUR org. “Hey, you know the company of House Lannister? Yeah? Do you know Tywin Lannister? I felt pretty lucky to get a meeting with him the other day, but he acted kind of… unprofessional? Is that how he usually is?”

            1. Nicelutherangirl*

              I like this. I’d also be inclined to reach out to the charity’s board of directors, though, and tell them about my interview experience with their director, But then, I have a tendency toward blaming, shaming, and seeking revenge. I’ve kept it in check so that I can be a decent human being to the people around me, and thus have a pleasant life, but there it is.

        2. FE*

          Plus, he made his personality known so quickly. I’d assume the OP wouldn’t believe that all the other people the guy mentioned are *actually* pricks.

      2. JamieS*

        This has nothing to do with sexual abuse/harassment and saying everybody knows in this context is clearly different from saying everybody knew about a sexual abuser. Also, when someone says “everybody” knows they’re typically using it colloquially to convey it’s probably not uncommon or surprising knowledge in that particular group of people. Very few people literally mean absolutely everybody knew.

        1. Kate*

          The examples I use relate to sexual harassment but it could just as easily be non-sexual harassment or someone being just plain difficult to work with.

          Ultimately I think the OP in this case will be fine, since she gave a solid reason for backing out, but let’s not overestimate just how much “everybody” knows.

      3. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah but within 10 minutes of meeting him, LW didn’t believe him when he said that all the other applicants and the previous intern were pricks, did they? So why would the next person believe this guy when he goes “the guy who got my coffee? Prick. That cat? Prick. The person that interviewed for an internship and then declined? Prick.”

            1. Archaeopteryx*

              I’m picturing this guy as a side character from Flight of the Conchords- maybe just because overusing ‘prick’ is so much funnier in a New Zealand accent!

              1. Mananana*

                Oh, thank you. I’ve never heard the term “semantic satiation” before, but it makes SO much sense.

      4. Bagpuss*

        But the specific question was whether this person was likely to damage OPs chances of finding work, in a small industry in a small town.
        The likelihood is that people in that small circle will have had enough interaction with this person to know how they behave.
        Also, I think it is different from the sexual harassment scenario as harassers do tend to thrive on secrecy, and to hide their beahviour except from their victims. I think this situation is different , this interviewer seems to be pretty loud and proud about their attitude.

        1. Anna*

          It’s different from sexual harassment in all ways and the poster who likened it to harassment took an interaction that would register a 1 on the “What Just Happened” Scale and likened it to something that would be a 1o on the “This Is Dangerous” scale.

      5. Myrin*

        I really don’t think the two situations are that comparable – when talking about people the “everyone already knows they’re an arse” applies to, we usually mean people who just generally have a prick-like personality; sexual predators typically know that what they’re doing is if not immoral (I know two and they both seem spectacularly unburdened by their disgusting evil behaviour) at least illegal and thus operate on silence and secrecy, both things whose entire point it is that nobody else find out.

        But all that aside, I think you’re starting from a false base assumption here – of course OP, who had never heard of the interviewer before, didn’t know what an unpleasant fellow he is! That’s the nature of not knowing someone!
        And the princess even specified “everyone in your local professional circle“, which is entirely reasonable – unless this guy had a spectacular case of the personality-changes on the very day he met with OP, it stands to reason that he conducts himself like this all the time. And as such, it’s completely reasonable that basically everyone else who’s ever interacted with him in a professional (and maybe personal) manner would indeed know what a piece of work he is.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          I’m sorry that you personally know two sexual predators.

          Then again, statistically I probably do too, and just don’t know about it.

      6. Observer*

        Well, actually people DID know that Weinstein was a serial harasser (and worse, perhaps.) Weinstein was dangerous despite this, not because people didn’t know about it.

        In the OP’s case the context is different. Unless the OP left out a significant fact here (like this guy is very powerful in the field) no one is going to have any incentive to ignore what they know about him to blacklist yet another person the guy doesn’t like.

      7. FD*

        Yeah, the behaviors really aren’t analogous.

        People that abuse others secretly—whether by sexual harassment or that sort of boss who can turn on the charm in some cases but is secretly a nightmare to their staff—tend to be really good at first impressions. They tend to be good at getting others to like them. They tend to come off as charming.

        They tend to only show their true selves to the people they feel are powerless to do anything about it.

        That’s part of what makes it so difficult to deal with—it’s difficult for others to believe that someone you like, who’s always so pleasant and who remembers your birthday and the like could do something awful in secret.

        This sort of behavior is the opposite, and in many ways, is less dangerous. This is the behavior of a jerk who thrives on publicly showing off how superior they are to others. It can be a problem if they’re actually talented, because then people will often tolerate it to get the benefits of their talent. But everyone who has to interact with them will know pretty well what they are.

        It’s the difference between “I can’t believe he would do something like that, he was such a nice guy” and “We were worried about him for years, it seemed like only a matter of time.”

      8. Artemesia*

        I was once assaulted by a very prominent professor at one of the top two universities in the country who had brought me in to work on a research project in my field. I was planning to have him as an outside advisor on my dissertation. It never crossed my mind when we went out for a drink after the seminar to discuss the research that it wasn’t about research. On the way back to drop me where I was staying with one of his grad students and her partner, he pulled over and started pulling my clothes off. I was stunned and immediately bolted out of the car. when I got to the apartment the door to the street sprang open and the partner of the GA I was staying with let me in — with the professor on foot behind me. Goodbyes were said.

        The guy in the apartment said ‘OMG when I saw (big name) driving after you and you walking I knew what had happened.’ EVERYONE knew about this guy. They assumed I ‘either could handle him or was willing.’ I had no idea, but everyone local knew. I was married and 3 mos pregnant at the time. Not really sending out come on signals.

        So yeah. Alas, sometimes everyone doesn’t know. The OP needs to be prepared to calmly say what happened if it comes up. I doubt he will be out there poisoning the well for her, but I can see why she is worried

        1. Observer*

          Let’s put it this way – enough people knew what kind of person this professor was that no one would have doubted you if you had told the story.

      9. TootsNYC*

        well, everybody knew Harvey W. was as asshole, just from actually dealing with him.

        Of course, he also had a lot of power, and there were people he was successful in affecting beyond his own organization. That’s the real danger–that someone’s power will be such that other people will decide they don’t want to deal with angering him, so they’ll just go along with the bullshit.

        But also the point is: When this guy speaks about our Letter Writer to anybody else, they’re going to hear his sourness right in that very moment, and they’ll make the same assumption she did–that he’s an asshole and his judgment can’t be trusted. So unless he’s so powerful that other people will try to avoid getting on his bad side, it won’t really hurt her.

    4. Bulbasaur*

      Regarding what he might say to other people, I think we can safely conclude that he will call OP#1 a prick. Somehow I doubt it will have much of a negative influence on OP#1’s career though.

      1. samiratou*

        I was thinking this, too. Congrats, OP #1, you are now a prick! Wear that with pride, I’d say, given who is giving out the label.

        1. London Calling*

          Reminds me of a story someone told about Dorothy Parker. ‘When a guest arrived at a party she was throwing she’d say, ‘Do you want to come in and meet all these shits?’ well of course, once you’d joined the others you became one of the shits as well.’

    5. OP #1*

      OP#1 here – As Alison says, I am changing fields, so had no idea who he was before the application/interview. I’m sure other people in his professional circle in our town know him though (just like I know most people in my current one). I’m glad you all seem to agree that no one will take him seriously if he does say something about me! This was a totally surreal experience.

      1. LGC*

        I mean…reading it myself, I’M in disbelief because he totally shot himself in the foot! Did he think you’d be impressed if you heard him call everyone and their mom a prick?

        Apparently people are that dumb. I shouldn’t be shocked at this point but I still am.

        1. Anononon*

          A prior boss said that others might think he’s an ass in a local newspaper puff piece in a way that it was clear he thought it was complimentary to him. It’s these super insecure types that think they need to make a show of confidence and that confidence is acting like, well, a prick.

        2. Karen from Finance*

          I think it’s a superiority complex. They think that they are better than everyone, so everyone else is pricks, so if you call everyone pricks you’re showing how you’re better than everybody else. I think this is why *some politicians* do this, too.

          It’s fallacious, but yeah.

      2. irene adler*

        Do you think the people he labeled “prick” are actually pricks? If you were to meet one of them today, would you dismiss them immediately -as pricks-or would you treat them respectfully, like any other new acquaintance?

        I’m betting you’d be respectful.

        Folks meeting you are going to act the same way. No worries!

        1. Sally*

          And really – using the word “prick” in a work situation!? He’s supposed to be representing the company and wanting to make a good impression on you.

          1. irene adler*

            I’m probably dead wrong here, but I wonder if the guy is aware that “prick” is not a nice thing to call anybody. Like a kid learning a new cuss word. They use it for everything not understanding
            proper context. Could it be he thinks it means something else?

            Like I said, I’m probably wrong about this. It just seems so odd that he called EVERY person “prick” and didn’t use other derogatory words as well.

            1. ElspethGC*

              Since OP is in the UK and didn’t give any indications that the interviewer was foreign, I think it’s safe to assume that he did know. It’s pretty much the go-to word for “Ugh, *that* guy.” Not a heinous insult, but an insult. It’s calling someone a dick.

              “So-and-so’s ex is a bit of a prick”, “I had this one lecturer who was a complete prick”, “A customer today was being a total prick”. There’s no way, unless he was foreign, that the interviewer didn’t know it was an insult.

              1. Artemesia*

                I think it would be more derogatory in the US as it is not a common phrase. Yes, we all know what it means, but it isn’t an insult you hear often. I gather it is more commonly used in the UK. The guy himself is probably pictured next to the word in the dictionary; he seems a textbook example.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  IME it’s a slightly stronger way to call somene a “dick.”

                  “Guy A is a real dick, but Guy B…he’s a total prick.”

                  Like that… YMMV of course.

            2. Someone Else*

              I wondered the same thing a little. I think given he’s an adult, he probably knows what he’s saying, rather than having picked it up as a generic insult he doesn’t really understand but, true story time:
              I heard that term and thought I’d inferred the meaning to be roughly “idiot/jerk” and used it once around around my mother, who stopped me and was like “do you understand what you just said?” and went all dictionary on me. On the one hand, I don’t think it’s any more vulgar than calling someone a “dick” when you also mean “jerk”, but it is no longer a phrase a generally use when meaning that. So that personal experience does tend to make me wonder if he might be experiencing the same thing. However, I think even if we replaced “prick” with “jerk”, the interviewer still looks Not Good.

                1. Nicelutherangirl*

                  Heh heh… That reminded me of a story about my older son, from when he was 14 or so. We were watching Saturday Night Live one night when Seth Meyers, who was the anchor for Weekend Update, called the person who sold a photo of bong-using Michael Phelps to a tabloid a “dick”. It was probably one of the first times the word had been used on network television; at least it felt like a delicious, subversive slip past the censors in 2008/2009. My kid was thrilled. He shouted “That is EPIC!” at the t.v. and fist bumped the air. It was fun to witness that.

              1. Observer*

                The thing is that your last sentence is true, but massively understated. If everyone is a jerk to this guy, hes still going to be a nightmare to deal with. Add the issue of not knowing the common meaning of a widely used word, and it may actually be worse than actually using the word as it usually is.

                It’s highly unlikely that this is the issue, anyway.

            3. RUKiddingMe*

              Please can we not give yet another guy an excuse for being a prick? Of course he knows. I mean unless he landed on the planet and just learned the language last week. I knew by the time I was like 4 or 5 years old that it was an insult (my dad used it to refer to people on occasion) so there’s no way he doesn’t know.

          2. Nicelutherangirl*

            Even if the charity’s head hadn’t used the p-word, as shocking as it was, he was STILL out of line when he spoke negatively about the previous intern and the other applicants during the OP’s interview. And it was, at the very least, unprofessional to denigrate the faculty/staff of the university.

            He must be effective at raising funds, otherwise I can’t understand how someone like him could continue to hold the position he has. I’m sure the current employees have stories about his management, and that OP dodged the proverbial bullet.

      3. Psyche*

        Someone who badmouths everyone is very unlikely to be able to tank anyone’s reputation. It becomes white noise.

      4. CDDCS73*

        You are way cooler than I am. How did you manage to not call him on that? I would have lost it and walked out.

      5. JB*

        FWIW… I agree that the people who behave like this usually have a reputation that extends beyond their immediate circle. I’ve been working in my field for a while and I’ve developed quite a list of people I’ve never met and never hope to.

        Just an example: I once entered a new office and got introduced to two fairly new junior employees. Within a week, they had done something to piss off their supervisor and I could tell they were upset. I pointed out to them – as tactfully as possible – that their supervisor was Mr. X, and Mr. X had a loooooong history of being a hateful moron, and nobody took him seriously. They were already scheduled to move to a new department, so there was no point worrying about what this one jackass thought of them. The moral of the story: Even though I didn’t know these employees, the fact that Mr. X was mad at them told me they must be doing something *right.*

        1. TootsNYC*

          I just recently had a positive experience of how your reputation can travel to places you don’t even realize. A totally new person in our department, whom I’d never met, heard something nice I said to someone, and said, “That’s why everybody loves you!”

          We all talk–and in a smallish industry, the word spreads.

    6. CAcats*

      Yes, his behavior is not exactly subtle. He clearly does not think highly of anyone, is willing to badmouth them with unprofessional language and doesn’t seem like he’s a charmer. No worries here!

    7. Can you repeat that?*

      OP #2, I’m hard of hearing – actually not so much hearing as that I have a processing defect that makes it hard to distinguish foreground from background. Even small amounts of noise make it really hard for me to understand the speaker’s words (I can hear them, I just can’t catch the words fast enough to keep up – bars are my living hell). Your baby is probably cute, and in most contexts baby giggles would make me smile, but in an educational setting, it’s disruptive. I think you need to respect other peoples’ right to enjoy the talk more than you worry about whether you get to go. Can you trade babysitting with another friend/grad student? If there is a SO in the picture, can they cover the 2 hours you need? I’d say it is inappropriate to bring a baby at all, and if you do, you should sit in the back and be ready to leave as soon as there are noises, since you don’t know what might prevent other people from getting the talk they came for.

  2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    Argh. LW#2, as an audience member, I’d be po’d. You’re disrespecting people by bringing an infant/child to a lecture–they’re there to listen to the speaker, not your child. You need to find a sitter or not go. Perhaps you can exchange sitting duties or have your partner (if there’s a partner) care for the child. Either way, as your advisor, I’d be highly annoyed, Respect the people around you, respect the speaker. A child is a disruption, no matter how cute you think she or he is.

    1. lost academic*

      Agreed. You do need to skip the talk of you don’t have childcare. I know it’s unfortunate but sometimes that’s how life goes. On top of the distraction that you should not be creating, it’s also immediately creating a strong and negative impression of you to the audience and speaker. My last department was extremely supportive of families but there’s a bright line between that and the expected professional behavior for a guest lecture.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        It also speaks to the “I have a child so everyone else must compromise/be inconvenienced” thing thst happens so often in public/quasi-public settings.

        When we have [a] child[ren] we must accrpt that we don’t get to keep acting with the same ability to go wherever/do whatever that we do as childless/free adults.

        Children do not belong/are not welcome everywhere. Therefore the parent(s) need to make suitable arrangements, even if the arrangements are that the parent(s) miss out on something they want.

        1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

          Wow. I’ve long been shocked at how child intolerant the US and UK are (I’ve lived in both places most of my life), but these responces are extreme. I say this as a childless person in their 30s.
          Op2, if your baby was being as quiet as you say (cooing and giggling, but no crying or screaming), your adviser is over-reacting and anyone in the room who had a problem with it is over-sensative. Unfortunately, this does not mean you don’t have to listen to her. The fact of the matter is, a lot of places ARE unreasonably anti-child, and parents/guardians/carers have to deal with that. Alison’s idea of going outside as soon as the fussing begins is a good one (although of course you miss out on more this way). Another possibility if you can’t get child-care is to ask someone else attending to Skype you for the lecture. If you mute yourself, you can hear the talk without anyone being ‘disturbed’ by the baby. Of course, this doesn’t help if you want to meet the lecturer, but it’s better than missing out completely.
          Last point; good for you continuing your graduate studies with a baby. I know from friends and family (and common sense) that it’s not easy. You’re doing great!

          1. Anna*

            No, it doesn’t mean they’re overly sensitive. A talk or lecture is a professional setting and we can all agree babies don’t really belong in professional settings.

            1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

              It is a current cultural norm that’s unlikely to change any time soon. It’s not a given, a law of nature.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            My issue with this is that a 16-month old is not an infant who sleeps all day. I could easily ignore a very small infant but a 16-month old is no such thing.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            This was a lecture. Children do not belong in academic/professional lectures. They do not belong everywhere,/i>. That’s not sensitive or intolerant, it’s factual. Moreover OP’s child is 16 months old. Hardly an infant. More than likely mobile and vocal because it is closer to a toddler than not.

          4. Been There, Done That*

            “of course you miss out on more this way…”

            And if she doesn’t take a fussy baby out, the rest of the audience misses out on more. This isn’t “child intolerant.” Those people are there to further their educations too.

          5. Can you repeat that?*

            I commented on the wrong thread, but I have a processing defect that makes it hard for me to distinguish foreground and background. So what other people can easily ignore is exceedingly disruptive to me (and to who knows who else). It isn’t anti-baby, it’s that the audience wants to come and listen to a talk and it is selfish of the OP to prioritize their attendence over everyone else’s.

            1. Vicky Austin*

              I have a similar problem. I have ADHD, which makes it next to impossible for to ignore unwanted background noises. I agree, it’s not anti-baby at all. I’d feel the same kind of frustration and annoyance at someone’s cell phone ringing in class, a group of students loudly talking and laughing as they walked down the hallway past the classroom, a siren from an emergency vehicle outside, or any other noise that could take my attention away from the speaker.
              When I saw this letter, I knew there were going to be tons of angry comments saying things like, “Babies are beautiful and precious, and the only people who have a problem with them in work/class/church/the movies are heartless, stuck-up, evil bitch who expect the world to revolve around them. Don’t go out of your way to accomodate those monsters! They need to suck it up and realize they aren’t special, or else stay home if they don’t want to be reminded that babies exist, too!”
              But no, it’s not the mere presence of babies that some of us have a problem with. Babies are cute, but they haven’t yet reached the level of development where they understand that they’re supposed to be quiet in certain spaces. An older kid (say, 5 and up) wouldn’t be a problem, because you could just put them in an empty seat with coloring books or video games or hand-held devices that play movies, and give them headphones. But you can’t do that with a 16-month old. When you become a parent, you need to make major changes to your lifestyle, and that may include having to miss out on certain activities or even putting your education on hold for a semester until you get child care, or calling the neighbor’s teenage daughter and paying her to mind the baby for an hour or two.
              I also like the suggestion of skyping the class.

        2. Delphine*

          A more compassionate stance might be helpful. She had no other options. I have no children and I’d like to think that I would be open-minded and accepting if a fellow student needed to bring her child to class very occasionally because she had no other care available.

          1. Helena*

            As an academic and mother to an 18month old, if you have no childcare you or your partner stay home.

            It’s not fair on your child to force them to sit still and be quiet for an hour, and it isn’t fair on the speaker or the rest of the audience when your child wants to run about, drive his toy cars on the floor, climb onto empty seats, point at the lights, take Mummy on a tour of the room, tell everybody his name, and then has a screaming tantrum on the floor when you try to shush him.

            They don’t even look at books quietly at this age (they look, but there’s a lot of pointing and exclaiming about what they can see). Even screens and headphones don’t work yet. I wouldn’t care about a newborn or a well-behaved five year old, but 1-3 is the absolute worst age for sitting quietly (it’s also the funnest age for silly noisy games at home, but it’s a terrible age for taking them to adult stuff). Plus it would be really stressful for me as a parent – no way would I be giving the speaker my full attention, or indeed much attention at all when my toddler is trying to crawl under somebody else’s chair.

            1. Preschool Teacher*

              Absolutely! I’m a preschool teacher who works with 12-18 month olds, I can’t imagine any of the kids I’ve worked with as being super quiet and attentive during a lecture like this, it just isn’t something they’re capable of at that age.

            2. Brisvegan*

              I was just coming to say something a bit similar.

              I am an academic and mother of 3 kids. I’m the lecturer who is fine with a student occasionally having their baby in the room because childcare fell through. I would probably have been fine with your quiet toddler at the back of a guest lecture I gave.

              Unfortunately, however, it sounds like your baby is getting to an age where attending academic events with her won’t work. As an analogy, I used to take my small babies to the movies with me because they would reliably nurse and then sleep for a couple of hours. When my kids got to about 1 year old, movie going became impossible with the kid along, because they didn’t reliably sleep and often got bored. It’s similar for toddlers in classes or lectures. They don’t sleep the same way as babies and if awake, they make noise (even little noises) and need forms of active parental management that can distract those around you, including some who haven’t parented and have less tolerance for child and parent activity.

              As someone who has been able to manage your child well (she might have been quiet like my kids when younger and even now she was only cooing etc), you might not realise that the efforts you make to keep her quiet can be disruptive for some people and even the quiet noises may annoy and distract some. You sound like a great mum who would manage well in public spaces, eg restaurants etc. However, lecture attendees might want to concentrate more and have a different focus to most people in public. They will, unfortunately, judge you adversely.

              Is it fair that our society is set up in a way that excludes parents of young children, particularly mothers, from many form of public endeavour? No! This is a serious issue, that I think is based on past/current gender norms and capitalist approaches to parenting and childcare labour. Unfortunately, I can think and theorise that the world needs to change, but that won’t help when people are judging LW for having a child at a lecture.

              I get the frustration for you, LW. I now have a teenager who has been through some serious illness stuff that sometimes meant she couldn’t be left alone and I had to miss/skip things because it wouldn’t be okay to take even a teen.

              My tips are the same as others have said: can you ask to have the lecture video captured or audio recorded? Meeting the guest can be important for networking, but distracting them with a toddler may damage your networking effort. Try reaching out by email after seeing the recordings instead. Alternatively, is there any way at all to have someone care for your child during the lecture? (I know not everyone has that option, so sorry if this is impossible.) If you do have to take your child, maybe ask the guest if it’s okay and leave if your little one wakes and makes any noise.

              You sound like a great parent and a dedicated grad student. Best of luck.

            3. Amelia Pond*

              It is actually possible for a child that age to look at books quietly. It may be a small number, true, but not impossible. I happened to be one of those toddlers. I was perfectly content to quietly sit by myself with a large stack of books for half an hour to an hour pretty frequently, and I started doing it before I could even walk. I only became vocal and pointed at things if my mom was reading me a book, because I then had an audience. I was also content to quietly entertain myself playing with other things as well, like bandaids and dental floss (I have no idea why I picked those things, but it worked so my mom bought me some, especially on transatlantic flights. I was never the loud, crying baby and I traveled a ton, starting at 6 weeks old. As in had to get a new passport when I was three because I ran out of pages, so my quietness wasn a fluke. I get that I’m an outlier but it happens.) I was not forced into being quiet, either.

              While I agree this was no place for a child, there is absolutely no indication the LW’s  wantes “to run about, drive his toy cars on the floor, climb onto empty seats, point at the lights, take Mummy on a tour of the room, tell everybody his name, and then has a screaming tantrum on the floor when you try to shush him.” and it’s really bizarre you added in those details with absolutely no indication of any of those things happening. You can make the point no baby or child belongs in a classroom without full on making stuff up.

              1. Susana*

                Thanks for this – I was just going to say, let’s all please adhere to Alison’s “be kind” credo.
                This isn’t about being pro- or anti-child (as if that’s even a thing). I don’t have children. I love children. I think there are places inappropriate for children. I don’t like being asked, as a single person, to make sacrifices to accommodate parents (tolerating kids running around at work, or working weekends so parents can go to a soccer game). I don’t think someone else responsibilities become mine to to share just because lots of people have children.

                But I am also not a jerk. I am very sympathetic to someone trying to got to grad school and raise a kid. Let’s not get into a debate here over whether a 16-month is actually screaming when her mother says she’s cooing. Let’s take her word when she says the child was not disruptive. Let’s be nice, and supportive, here.

                If the child is quiet and not bothering anyone (and the parent is not asking people to treat an adult environment as a playground, such as by not using language she doesn’t want kids to hear) then really, is it such a big deal that she has the kid there? It’s not every lecture – it’s these extra sessions she has to go to. And it sounds like OP took the child out when the noise became an issue.

                Yes, no one is entitled to bring a kid to an adult, serious environment just because child care is not available – other students have rights, too. But let’s not be so inflexible and knee-jerk to say, you’re lying – your kid is really loud and disruptive and you should quit school/get your tubes tied/whatever if you want to make this work.

                OP, I hope your studies are going well!

            4. Leela*

              I’m commenting pretty late on this so I doubt anyone will see it (I’m only here because AAM posted the update) but
              “It’s not fair on your child to force them to sit still and be quiet for an hour, and it isn’t fair on the speaker or the rest of the audience when your child wants to run about, drive his toy cars on the floor, climb onto empty seats, point at the lights, take Mummy on a tour of the room, tell everybody his name, and then has a screaming tantrum on the floor when you try to shush him.”

              It’s also not fair to parents to expect them to no longer be a part of society because others find children disruptive. We have created a society, for some reason, that acts like the mere existence of children and childhood is problematic because it doesn’t fit with our concept of professional. This is something we created, it’s not a law of nature, and it needs to change. We need to stop acting like every adult has a wife at home taking care of all the household and child needs. Our workers/students no longer function like that, our workplaces and study places need to catch up to that.

              1. Jenny Craig*

                I do agree that the animosity that much of our society places on parents of small children is alarming. There’s no winning for working mothers: you’re given the Motherhood Penalty at work, you make less than you would if you didn’t have children, you’re less likely to get hired, you’re generally seen as less capable, and all the while you have to listen to people complain about how entitled you are. It makes me sick. I have a lot of sympathy for the OP, because juggling being a parent with being anything else (an employee, a student, a spouse, etc) is hard as hell.

                That being said: I work full time, am in grad school, and have 3 year old triplets. I would never bring them to a lecture. Granted, it’s different because there are 3 of them, but still. No one has fun: a 16 month old would be going out of his or her mind, the parent can’t concentrate, and the speaker and other audience members are distracted. I understand the OP says that the toddler was only cooing, but 1) most toddlers don’t coo, and 2) if that’s all that was happening, I would be very surprised that an advisor who previously allowed the child in a lecture would suddenly and inexplicably kick the kid out. It really isn’t cost-prohibitive to find a sitter for an hour. Especially at a college, where there are tons of students with odd schedules who might like to make $10 to sit in the cafeteria with your child for an hour. I can’t bring my child to work because it would be distracting to the other employees. The other students deserve the same respect: school is their job, except they’re actually paying for it.

              2. Bea*

                Did anyone else see that study where male college professors brought their children to work with them and were considered “great fathers” but when females did the same they were considered “unprofessional.” I feel that in this post.

                There are babies all over our department. As it should be. I don’t have children but I want to support women in academia, so people bringing their children to talks doesn’t bother me at all.

          2. Alanna*

            Thank you! My mom went to college after she had me and graduated when I was 6 – so i was 2 when she started. There was child care on campus but I assume it wasn’t available all the time because i have distinct memories of both sitting in offices, coloring quietly, and sitting in the back of classrooms, coloring quietly. it only happened a few times. (I think the offices must have been professors she was friendly with – as a much older student, I know she was close friends with a couple of them).

            Now, i was a very quiet and well-behaved older child who could be absolutely silent if i had a coloring book and something to drink for an hour and a half, which isn’t every kid, but it sounds like some people are just upset at the mere presence of a child in higher education, which is really discriminatory against mothers. Going to school with a kid is HARD. Child care is expensive and if you’re going to school, you’re probably not making much, if any money. If you’re a single mom, you’re struggling, and even if you’re not, you’re probably pinching pennies unless your spouse works a fantastically well-paying job.

          3. cheluzal*

            Done Bachelor’s to PhD (1995 – 2017) and saw kids brought to classes more often than I remember. It’s a Thing. Combine with viral pic/video of a professor holding a noisy baby, and everyone thinks it’s acceptable.

      2. valentine*

        OP2, from the update, it doesn’t sound like this is an impossibly stodgy place. Does your advisor even have standing to turf you? If the child were mostly no louder than anyone else and didn’t drown out the speaker, I would’ve been happy for you to stay. You don’t have to leave for cooing/giggling. I’m sure the people in the room coughed, snorted, slurped mucus, and opened food packaging, among other noises. The quiet some of these comments demand, I can never rely on, not at home (construction, fridge), and certainly not in public, not even in a church or a library. I’m loath to suggest workarounds because we shouldn’t shun parents, especially women.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Ehhhhh. For non-parents and people who aren’t around kids a lot, baby noises can be super distracting because they are not normal background noises for you and stand out. Also children/babies tend to be very high pitched – which will stand out a lot more then a low pitched cough or snort. I agree with Alison that parents tend be able to filter out baby noises much better than non-parents, so their noise level for ‘this baby is making too much noise, I should take it away’ is usually much higher than the non-parents around them.
          Our brains are programmed to pick out and focus on the thing that changes – for example if you are watching a play you will automatically focus on the actors who are moving the most, but it movement is repetitive then you will focus on the one moving in a different way. If you are listening to one person speak for a long time – like a priest at a wedding or a professor lecturing, and they have settled into the semi-monotone of one person who is talking for a long time, a much higher pitched voice making much more varying noises that you are not is going to capture your brains attention, if you want it to or not.

          1. Alton*

            I agree. It’s not that I find relatively calm babies obnoxious, but even very mild baby noises stand out to me because I’m not used to hearing them. They don’t blend in.

          2. Riley*

            @MusicWithRocksInIt, yes this. I love babies, but I also do not spend a lot of time with them so baby noises are very distracting. I also have a hard time blocking out background noise in general and any additional/unexpected noise can be frustrating.

            It depends on the seminar too. I’ve been to talks where it was more laid-back and a baby wouldn’t have been too out of place. I’ve also been to seminars where it would be seen as disrespectful to the speaker and distracting for the audience. I would trust the advisor on this to know the culture of the department talks. But if there’s someone else in the department you have a good relationship with, you could also ask them for their advice on what to do when you don’t have childcare.

          3. Genny*

            And it’s not just noise, it’s movement too. Watching a baby flail out of the corner of your eye or a parent bouncing a child to get them to quiet down can also be distracting.

          4. Else*

            Yes, this is true. Baby squeals and coos are really distracting, both because they are really hard to tune out if you aren’t used to it, and because most people can’t help but want to look at babies. And – it really varies by department, field and school about whether this will be tolerable or really off-putting.

          5. mark132*

            FWIW, parents don’t get this magic power to be able to tune out baby sounds. I have three kids and I can’t do it.

        2. Pommette!*

          Whether or not the adviser has standing to turf the OP doesn’t ultimately matter much. Her adviser is going to have a huge impact on the next few years of her life, and on her career moving forward. It’s a relationship that she needs to preserve.

          1. Liet-Kinda*

            But to clarify, the adviser absolutely has that standing. They’re your boss, research mentor, and primary evaluator. They may be providing you grant funding and (at least in STEM fields) a lab with equipment and workspace. You were accepted to grad school on their endorsement and request to admit you. It’s absolutely no different than if you went to a professional seminar sponsored by your workplace, and your boss asked you to leave when your child is noisy.

          2. Secretary*

            Either way, the relationship is important here. I’m sure OP #2 wants to be known for something other than “the lady who brought her baby to lectures where it made noise in the back of the hall.”

            1. Leela*

              Doesn’t it fall on other people to not reduce someone to “the lady who brought her baby to lectures where it made noise in the back of the hall”? And honestly even if she is known for that, it’s better than missing out on every opportunity related to her education and field of work because everyone throws a fit if she brings her child, meaning she’s known as “wait, who?”

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          I like children. I find infant development fascinating, including the tiny lima bean stage a lot of people find boring. I have some of my own, now taller than myself, and hope to one day be a grandparent and get to re-do the fun baby development time.

          It’s distracting. And “If the child didn’t drown out the speaker” is not the standard for bringing your baby to work functions. Or a play or other venue where people paid money to listen to someone not your child.

          I think the telling question here is why OP didn’t leave the baby with their partner–probably because the partner had to work, or study, and couldn’t do that with the baby. The same applies to OP.

        4. Grapey*

          The only legit workaround is on universities to provide distance learning so as not to interrupt other student’s learning. I agree parents should be a little bit more accommodated nowadays but not in a way that disrupts the core function of whatever is going on, e.g. needing to concentrate in a classroom. Churches usually have children’s areas for very disruptive kids, and even then I’m more OK with noise in a church since the function there is to practice faith for the whole family. Not so much in a grad level course where you pay to get an education.

          Babies are unpredictable and I would not be happy at cooing/giggling coming from nearby. And no, rustling food containers has never been a common occurrence in the grad classes I go to. Sniffling noses don’t have the same high frequency noises and irregularity that babies make. If I heard a baby, I’d wonder how focused the parent really was (is the parent going to shush their child, or let it scream?) vs a student clearing their throat which doesn’t take away their concentration or mine for more than a second. I’d spend the whole class wondering when that time bomb was going to go off again.

          1. Autumnheart*

            If a friend is attending, maybe see if the friend can record the audio of the lecture. Or see if arrangements can be made to record the lecture on video. There may be more than one person who can’t make a lecture because of external factors, and having the lectures available on video to students wouldn’t be the worst idea.

          2. Genny*

            Personally, I find continuous sniffling irritating too. Get a tissue. I’d expect someone experiencing a coughing fit to remove themselves from the room to take care of it. There doesn’t have to be complete silence save for the speaker’s voice, but repetitive noises are generally irritating.

          3. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

            In a class people may sniffle and eat at times, but at a guest lecture, in my experience, once the speaker is speaking, the most you do is quietly sip wine–no more crunching crackers and fancy cheese

        5. The other Louis*

          No, no, no. She should not bring a baby to an academic talk. Just no. That is completely inappropriate. If she can’t afford one-off babysitting, then she should work with other students who also have kids and swap babysitting–all she needs is someone who can watch the baby for an hour or so, on campus. (I’ve often let grad students use my office for that purpose.)

          Her need to see the talk doesn’t trump anyone else’s need to do the same.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Thanks. I did understand “standing” but not “turf” which IME means something more akin to a lawn/ground/the Earth in general.

        6. Kerrij*

          Children giggling can be incredibly disruptive, and 16 months old don’t ‘coo’ to begin with. They aren’t an infant.

          She should have done the respectful and responsible thing by staying home.

      3. Justme, The OG*

        I’m a single parent and there are a lot of work and school related things that I have not been able to go to because of lack of child care. But the thing is, I decide to not go rather than bring my kid (although now she’s older and could behave – but I still don’t).

          1. Jake*

            It may stink, but its not like we don’t know how to avoid having children at this point in our existence.

            1. Observer*

              So only the people who don’t care about education and people who have enough money to be supported all their lives should have children? That’s not going to do much good for the future of our society.

            2. RUKiddingMe*

              I get what you’re saying, but it sounds really privileged. Only “certain” people should procreate? What about the very real issue of reproductive coercion?Women do not have all of the choices we seems to keep saying they (we have) particularly around reproductive decisions/rights.

            3. Starbuck*

              “We?” Who is we? As a woman with a uterus, I am super not interested in hearing about a man’s opinion on how “easy” we women have it. Yikes dude.

            4. Can't Think of a Name*

              @Jake But thanks to current laws and depending where you live, access to the methods to avoid having kids is restricted. Or, you know, others may object on religious/cultural grounds. Also, some people want to have kids and a career/education!

      4. MattKnifeNinja*

        You could always have someone record/vid the lecture and you could listen to it later.

        Heck, I called my friend to listen to a talk via my mobile phone. You could put your phone on speaker and tend your kid at home.

        Possible work around to bringing the kids to an adult talk.

        1. HQetc*

          Or see if you can get your department to live-cast to a nearby room or on the web, so you can still listen in real time and ask questions after. Not feasible for every department of course, but a good accessibility practice in general.

          1. Brett*

            I’m really surprised the university doesn’t live cast talks like this.
            Many universities make that service available and routinely use it, and this is extremely common for talks like this in the workplace now.

            1. Goya de la Mancha*

              This. With streaming and technology so commonplace and accessible, there’s really no reason they shouldn’t have something available.

            2. Treecat*

              It varies. For popular talks in newer spaces that have been outfitted with the appropriate tech, an effort is sometimes made. But a lot of universities have buildings that are old and even well funded institutions can’t afford to put streaming tech in every lecture hall. FWIW I went to the weekly seminar this past week of the biggest department on my campus (1000 undegrad majors, dozens of PhD students and postdocs, and 100+ faculty in this single department) and the talk was not streamed, nor was it expected to be.

              1. Gingerblue*

                Yeah, I’ve never seen or even heard of a department-level event being streamed at any of the schools where I’ve taught.

              2. Observer*

                The truth is, there is no reason that even the oldest building can’t have these things live streamed. If they can get wifi, it can be done. Maybe not at the most professional quality, but for people whose choice is miss it or adequate streaming, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.

                1. OhNo*

                  But then someone has to get a hold of the right equipment, know how to use it, set it up, test it to make sure it works, be in charge of it throughout the lecture (which they won’t be able to pay attention to), take it down after, get the guest’s okay to have their lecture streamed, and possibly notify everyone in the room that their comments/questions/coughs and sniffles are being streamed… And that’s not even getting into the issues of hosting the stream, which there may or may not be IT support for.

                  As someone who occasionally works with streaming instruction for a university, the logistics of doing it officially in an institutional setting with associated bureaucracy and requirements isn’t as easy as you seem to think.

                2. Observer*

                  Uh, no, it doesn’t have to be anywhere near that complicated. A cell phone and tripod is all you need.

            3. Erin W*

              My university streams major, campus-wide event lectures. But when it’s a person whose research is only really of interest to a specific program or discipline, the organizer(s) will usually not bother. So like, major political figure appears give a yearly address–streamed. Visiting scholar there to deliver a paper on high-level concepts in biochemistry–probably not streamed. I got the feeling from the letter that OP was attending a smaller, more specialized talk, though I may be wrong about that.

          2. Using tools*

            Agree! The department does not need to have fancy equipment in the seminar room; all they need is semi-decent internet so OP can be skyped in. My department does this all the time – I’ve had my advisor bring their computer to allow me to skype into important talks when I wasn’t able to show up, but OP could also ask their friend to set up a computer.
            It’s important to mute your own microphone, though. And if your office is near the room where the talks are held, you can even shop up in time to ask your questions and network.

          3. Secretary*

            And OP#2, if you’re concerned about networking or meeting the speaker, you maybe able to email them.

        2. n*

          I think this is misunderstanding the point of guest lectures within academia.

          Yes, you’re going to the lecture to learn, but you’re also going for the networking opportunity and to make your department look good by showing how bright and engaged the students are. And, depending on the field or department, there can be a TON of emphasis put on the social aspects of these lectures. Like, for the faculty, it looks weird to have Dr. HotShot come to your university and not have your best grad students there to show off. So, if you’re one of the best graduate students, you’re either letting your faculty down by not attending or you’re giving off the impression that you’re not as engaged as other students. And that can affect the quality of your letters of recommendation, which you need to be able to get a job.

          It can definitely be a weird and unfair norm, which unfortunately penalizes parents.

          1. Susie Q*

            A lot of jobs require social events as part of the job description. It isn’t weird. Nor is it out of the norm to arrange childcare.

            1. Nonya*

              So, we increase everyone’s cost because of the choices of a few to have children without considering child care?

              I have child triggered anxiety & an adult university is someplace I expect to NOT see children.

            2. n*

              I think that what can be weird and unfair, is the intensity with which this norm is enforced (again, depending on the discipline/department, this can vary). One of my professors responded to my request for a letter of recommendation with, “Well, I’m not sure how reliable you are, since you missed event X and event Y. Can you address that?” I missed two events over the course of three years and attended literally *everything* else and had a 3.9 GPA, but those two events are all that said prof remembered. I don’t have children, but I just imagine how hard it is to consistently meet this standard if you do, and I empathize with that.

          2. Genny*

            This is a really good point. The school has a vested interested in ensuring that students show up to the event, are engaged, asking thoughtful questions, and generally using the opportunity to expand their network. Someone shushing child or trying to distract them from making noise doesn’t appear to be engaged in the lecture, which is also annoying for the speaker who took time out of their schedule to prepare for and give the lecture.

        3. wittyrepartee*

          That solves the learning, but not the “needing to make connections and chat with the presenter part”. The situation stinks. Academia doesn’t cut parents breaks, and this is one of the reasons I didn’t finish my PhD and try to become a professor.

    2. SJL*

      Yes! If I were the speaker and I heard the baby, I’d ask the person to leave. Children don’t belong many places, and pointing this out is not “anti-child.”

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Removed because the discussion of “anti-child” is going to derail and is off-topic. (Also removed the replies for the same reason.)

        1. Properlike*

          Removed because it’s going to cause a derailment about being “anti-child,” which is off-topic here. (Also removed the responses to it for the same reason.)

      2. fposte*

        Speaking more specifically to the situation–part of what makes it awkward is a speaker in such a talk may not feel s/he has standing to ask for the kid to be removed. Then it becomes the speaker host who worries, but the speaker host may not want to step on the toes of the parent’s advisor. You can have a whole bunch of people who feel disrupted but also limited in their ability to intervene.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I 90% agree on the etiquette, but I disagree 10% on the idea that bringing a child/infant is inherently disrespectful. Academia has so many barriers to equity for women that there are specific interventions that are child-inclusive and that can be appropriate. But those interventions are the purview of the host for the event and/or the faculty, not grad student audience members.

      1. Curly sue*

        Agreed. I gave a guest lecture last night, actually, where an attendee had an infant in attendance and I had zero problem with it. The differences were that the baby was still very small, and the carer stayed at the back of the room, nearest to the door. I couldn’t tell you if the baby ever got fussy, because she must have taken them outside immediately if they did – I never heard a thing. I was absolutely fine with it.

        Coming up on a year+ old is when I’d get concerned, though. My kids, at least, were much less portable and more disruptive at that age, and a lot less likely to sleep through anything interesting.

        1. Juli G.*

          This was where I was too. A 16 month old is much closer to a toddler than a baby. It’s great that day care will be available next semester because most toddlers will not sit still and quiet for more than 10 minutes. Hang in there, OP2!

          1. Dust Bunny*

            My nephew is 14 months and he is a handful. A sweet, adorable, easygoing, very-manageable-for-his-age handful, but a handful nonetheless. He’s not a BABY baby; he’s very active and vocal. All of which is fine and totally normal, but, no, not in a lecture/presentation setting. My brother and SIL would never, ever, attempt to bring him to an event that didn’t factor in children. “Fussy” in a kid this age is a very different thing from “fussy” in a very young baby.

          2. irritable vowel*

            Yes, my concern was with the age of the child – 16 months is really not a “baby” in that sense of being often asleep or easily quieted with breast or bottle. I almost wondered if there was a typo and it was really a 6-month-old or 10-month old – most 16-month-olds are mobile and make a heck of a lot more noise than “cooing and giggling.” I would be fine with a tiny baby in a lecture hall but not a toddler who was frustrated at having to sit still and be quiet.

          3. an actual pediatrician*

            I’m a pediatrician – a 16 month old is, in fact, a toddler and no longer technically a baby. Also, they are SO AWESOME in general at that age, but developmentally tend to be extremely disruptive. I’d say that 12 months through 3 years are literally the WORST time to take a child out to this sort of the thing and not fair to the child, to the parent, to the lecturer, or to the audience.

        2. Melly*

          +1 to this and PCBH. I see small babies at academic conferences (and applaud this, as a mother of three in academia, I wish I had done this when my kids where young) but if they are mobile, it makes it much harder on both the caregiver and the fellow audience members to focus.

        3. Liet-Kinda*

          Absolutely. A quiet, sleeping infant is generally a different situation than a 16 month old. My son was an absolute handful at 16 months, inclined to crawl around, gabble, and cry loudly if restricted. An academic lecture is not an appropriate place for a child that age.

          1. Else*

            Good point. You can shove a boob or a pacifier in a tiny baby’s mouth if she’s that small to calm most problems; you can’t really easily contain a lively, squirming, active probably-walking baby that is nearly a toddler. It’s not fair to that baby OR everyone around you in this sort of setting.

      2. Ophelia*

        I think this is a really good way of framing it. I’m also a grad student with two little kids, and while I’m lucky enough to be able to afford a babysitter, I 100% have limitations on what I can participate in on nights when I’m not planning to be on campus, etc. Honestly, I could probably take my (well-behaved) 5-yo, who would be happy to sit and draw/read in a corner, but not the 2-yo, who is a force of nature. I think it’s the age, really – infants, yes; babies from 12m-3y, probably no; older kids, case-by-case. All that to say, I understand this dilemma, OP, and it’s tough.

        OP, does your university have a student group for student parents? Mine does, though it doesn’t seem to be particularly active. They might have options or ideas for on-the-spot care. Otherwise, I think the idea of arranging something with another student is a good one – particularly one that also has kids – they might be willing to trade off childcare every once in a while to make it easier to attend functions like this.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Age is huge, and very child dependent. For my oldest age one was easy but two much more chaotic, while my easy-infant youngest followed the “I can crawl now–time to stop sleeping and climb things” philosophy at 7 months. Kids who are easy to tote around at 14 months can decide that 15 months–and this particular lecture–are the time to really cut loose in a new life phase.

      3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        This is where I stand, but I have also always worked in places where people are allowed to bring their babies (if they are not disruptive) to work for the first 6 months of their lives. The protocol has always been that if they baby can’t be calmed with a bottle, breast, or pacifier, they need to be removed from a meeting and if, they tend to be fussy or loud (we have had some kids who giggled and cooed at an amazing volume for someone so small), they can’t finish their 6 months.

      4. Elizabeth Frantes*

        First of all, just want you to know that I love your comments!
        As for the ‘unfair to women’ let’s remember that women now have choices they didn’t have a generation or two ago. If the women = mothers meme is encouraged it means less opportunity for all women. Life is about choices, and when you make choices, you have to give up some things. When you have a child, you lose a lot of your ‘freedom’ and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Dragging your child to adult activities is very disrespectful to people who may not like your child’s ‘happy noises’ and it’s getting crazy, babies at bars, at late night R rated gorenographic movies.

        I have MISOPHONIA, and praise the gods of healing, it is now a recognized disorder. I was born like this, and suffered quite a bit, to the point of agoraphobia. I am triggered by certain noises, including gum chewing, drink slurping and gulping, and the noises small children make is like a pith being jammed in my spine. I mean it’s PAINFUL. If they start screaming or running around, I have to be sedated! I don’t fly anymore, people are just too disrespectful to others.

        I didn’t choose to have this. But because some folks feel ENTITLED to bring their children everywhere, and refuse to reasonably control them in far too many situations (please don’t huff that your child would never, and you would always remove your child, because you don’t), I have to suffer.

        I suppose that because I’m not a mother, just a woman, my life doesn’t matter. That’s sure how it feels sometimes. I don’t go to day care centers and complain about their noise, and I just wish that parents would realize that the world is not a day care, jungle gym place where adults have no right to quiet enjoyment of their homes, or from distractions at work or school.

        1. Ciscononymous*

          Please refrain from “control” phrasing. There is no true control of other people, not even between parents and children.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            “Control” is a totally normal word to use for dealing with beings who are not fully responsible for their own actions in some sense–because of age, or because someone else has authority over them like a boss or coach, or because they are dogs.

            In this particular instance ‘control’ is probably inappropriate because one-year-olds aren’t expected to be self-regulating. Control is all on the parent to either not bring the child, or hover near the back and duck out the instant the child stops quietly occupying herself. But if your four-year-old is biting people, or throwing catsup about he restaurant, “control” is a fine term.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Ooookay, I feel like this is about to go off into a huge derail, but I can’t just not say something to this one.

          Because while I sympathize, as a childfree person who reacts to small-child noise similarly to you (although not as intensely), I also acknowledge that parents and children are members of society and have a right to be in most public spaces, which it sounds like you’re not willing to acknowledge. There’s no “adult right” to quiet enjoyment or distraction in public spaces, barring a few specific types of places. And that kind of attitude, which an unfortunate number of folks do share, is a huge contributing factor to isolating and pushing new parents – especially women – out of the public sphere and urging them to stay housebound lest they should inconvenience someone.

          The thing is, we all inconvenience each other all day everyday. I didn’t sign up to listen to other people’s music and games when they play them on their phone at full volume, or to hear someone’s disruptive screaming fight with a partner on the sidewalk, but because this is a society, they’re allowed to be there and I don’t get the right to unilaterally ban them from public life because I feel they’re being rude and disrespecting my space or right to silence or what have you.

          I mean, you talk about folks feeling “entitled” to bring their children everywhere, but what I hear is you feeling entitled to have an environment that caters to you at all times. And you are entitled to be accommodated in your disability (which it sounds like your misophonia definitely rises to the level of being a disability) – but we have to balance just how far we can go to accommodate one group versus another, and demanding that children be kept out of all public spaces isn’t a reasonable accommodation.

            1. Jadelyn*

              No, it’s not, but Elizabeth didn’t restrict herself to commenting on the university lecture situation, and I was responding to her very broad take on the issue, rather than the specifics of this situation.

            2. Bird*

              Not to nitpick, but some of them absolutely are. I am a graduate student at a large, public university, and according to our charter, all university business is required to be open to the public. This means that all conferences, guest lectures, master’s and Ph.D. defenses, and similar events can be attended by people who are not otherwise affiliated with the university. The lecture in question here sounds like an event that took place outside the classroom, not as part of regular course meetings, which makes it more likely that the audience contained people who were not students, staff, or faculty.

          1. kbeers0su*

            Thank you for this comment. I am really surprised that so many folks jumped on the “no kids allowed except in certain spaces” line of defense. It’s very strange that we want to isolate a whole sector of the population from public arenas. And, actually, it’s two sectors of the population. Because if we say that certain places are not for children, then we’re also saying that those same places are not for parents. Because parents and children (literally) go hand-in-hand often. Not always, of course. Yay for babysitters and trading off with partners, but not everyone has that privilege.

            I’m also POSITIVE that everyone of is annoyed by a particular thing that other people do. But if it’s a public sphere, we don’t own that space nor do we get to dictate what occurs there. Such is life. (Because if we could dictate, let me tell you how quickly I’d ban phone conversations in public bathrooms!)

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              We do say that certain places are not for children. Bars, casinos…I notice lots of people who go there are parents though. Kids don’t belong in academic/professional lectures.

              There is a dearth of help/money/programs to help with childcare. That’s the issue that needs to be addressed the most. OP needs to consider everyone else and not impose her child on others’ learning/working space, particularly when it’s not mandatory that she be there.

              1. Neptune*

                We say that bars and casinos are off-limits to children because the entire point of bars and casinos are drinking alcohol and gambling, which are literally illegal for children to do. (And even then, that varies – in the UK I’ve certainly seen many family-friendly pubs that welcome kids, usually before a certain time and with an adult.) There aren’t very many places that children are barred from because they just “don’t belong there” – many places that ask for quiet (libraries, theatres, concert halls) allow children so long as they’re removed if they become excessively loud.

        3. Delphine*

          It sounds like you think a woman’s choice is “have children and lose your freedom” or “don’t have children.” That’s not much of a choice when men don’t tend to face the same hurdle. We aren’t anywhere close to tearing down the social expectations we have of mothers so I think what we should be trying to do, as a society, is be a little more accommodating of women.

          1. Can't Think of a Name*

            Yes!! So many of these comments are disturbingly anti-working mom. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have kids and a career/education, and babies aren’t always planned! They come at inconvenient times! I do believe it is an organization’s responsibility to assist their employees (or students in this case) with work/life balance, including accessible and affordable childcare. Especially since women already face so many barriers in professional/academic development because they get saddled with the bulk of childcare, and I think OP2’s letter really encapsulates that issue. She can’t leave her child alone, but it’s also quite unfair that she should have to miss out on something that could aid in her research and advance in her field. Doubly so since she probably has male classmates who have kids who don’t have to face this dilemma.

        4. RUKiddingMe*

          First, I agree totally that adults should be entitled to child free environments. I am a mother and even still I didn’t (and don’t) want to be forcibly exposed to others’ offspring…especially in a place that most people consider an adult space.

          Second, not being a mother doesn’t make your life, rights, experiences, etc. as a woman any less important/valid. I realize that was probably sarcasm, but just in case…

          Third, yes women do have more choices than in previous generations, however I don’t see young women having so many more choices than I did (young women=women the same age(s) more or less as my own child) a generation ago. The burden of childcare, as well as almost all other “domestic” type things are still massively skewed towards women taking the lion’s share of the burden (ironic,”lion’s share” would imply a male…yet…) of the majority of the work. “Second shift” anyone?

          I whole heartedly agree that when one has children they should be prepared to give up some ‘freedoms’ for the next several years. I advocate that position vocally and often because I do get so righteously sick and tired of being unwillingly exposed to kids, particularly kids who are not being supervised by their parent(s).

          But to think that this is all about “choice” on a woman’s part I think ignores the fact that we have a society where males are considered heroes for taking care of the children they helped to create and we still have a thought process that presupposes that the woman do alllll the work of a 1950s type SAHM even if she works 70+ hours per week. If Dad is doing anything child/domestic related before/after getting home from work he is “helping out” instead of doing his fair share. The burden of finding/engaging daycare is also seen as the mom’s job.

          Then of course we have a social ‘bootstraps’ expectation that any thing we do we need to do alone with no help from anyone else. And god forbid the government create any programs that “unfairly” cost companies like Amazon for example anything to help support their employees’ work/life balance, paid sick leave…vacation…more PTO…emergency leave…noooooooo the multi-billionaire CEO might not be able to buy his luxury-item-that-he-already-has-50-of-dujour.

          Don’t even think about them paying more taxes to fund social programs to help…well anyone because social programs=socialism= communism and OMG pretty soon the commies will take over!<–I know that sounds like very 1950s "red scare' thinking, but there are people…even people born in the 1990s…even in this very dark blue state I live in, who think this way. The propaganda on that was strong and super long lasting.

        5. Anonama doo doo doo doo do*

          Wow, until I read your response, I didn’t know there was a name for what I experience! I can’t handle whispering, the sound of nylon fabric, or any loud sharp noise among others. I physically cringe when even anticipating some of these sounds. I’m going to follow up with my doctor.

          Anyway, I very much admire parents who continue their studies with small children. I am continually amazed by my PhD classmate who finished her degree with a small child. I still haven’t finished with no children! That being said, she never brought her son to any lecture or class.

          There have been concerts, lectures, classes, and other events where I can remember nothing except the child making normal child noises, as they should. However, these situations aren’t conducive to normal child behavior, and negatively affect the adults in the space.

      5. Nonya*

        If I am paying a satirical amount of money for an education, I expect to not have children in an adult learning environment.

        This isn’t a “kids eat free” restaurant, it’s an education institution for adults.

      6. Kerrij*

        No one made her have children. She made that choice, and she doesn’t get to force her choice upon the rest of the students who are being respectful to the speaker, unlike herself.

    4. CC*

      I think that’s a little unfair, OP doesn’t have access to child care.

      That being said—talks are extremely optional when it comes to attendance, especially for grad students. It *is* encouraged, but really I would skip any talks where you don’t have child care.

      If OP really wants to see a speaker, see if you can arrange something with another grad student who is maybe in your cohort but not subfield who won’t be at the talk. That really depends on how close you are with other grad students though.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I think it’s unfair (outright wrong) that she doesn’t have access to childcare. I don’t think it’s unfair that she shouldn’t bring her child to something like that. Other peoples’ experiences and education …including other women matter just as much as OP’s.

      2. TL -*

        Talks in my field are at least 1 figure per slide, often more, and for a seminar there can be 30+ slides. So it’s a lot of very technical information that I’m trying to absorb, while also evaluating how good the work is and probably considering a few “have you thought about X?” or “Are there potential interactions with Y?” in the back of my head.

        Someone bringing in a person they know is going to be disruptive while I am trying to absorb a very large amount of information in a very short amount of time is not a person I’m going to be happy with.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          To be fair to OP, she thought the child would be quiet and sleep through. But as soon as that didnt happen, she should have left promptly, and now she knows it might happen again she is right to reconsider and ask for advice; unfortunately it isn’t the answer she wants.

          As an aside, I’m surprised the uni doesn’t have a crèche – or maybe it does but it’s too expensive? If so could occasional arrangements be made for specific lectures?

          But yeah, OP thought it would be OK, with child silent and hence “invisible” – and it didn’t go that way. I guess that’s a learning experience of its own.

          1. WellRed*

            I am sure there is a university somewhere with daycare, but it’s pretty uncommon, especially for a drop in. Also, the LW says she can’t afford it, not that she doesn’t have it.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              My university has a great daycare, but it’s the sort of thing you have to sign up for for the whole year, not just a one-off for a lecture. I also assume it’s pretty expensive, though I hope employees get a discount.

            2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

              Again, this is LW’s responsibility. Find a sitter, exchange duties, don’t go, etc. This is not the responsibility of the university.

              1. Susie Q*

                I agree. I don’t understand what’s difficult about this to understand. We all make life choices. And these choices impact our lives.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  Because some people want it all. They want to eat their cake and have it too. Never have to make a choice. Always be able to have everything they want…

              2. Leela*

                It’s society’s responsibility to come up with workable solutions for the people in that society. “Have a kid and lose all of your choices” is not a workable solution. And it’s not one that just affects LW, either. I lived in Japan for several years, where birthrate is below what it needs to be. you see things like an extreme lack of people in roles that are needed because there just aren’t enough people to be filling them. Small towns are devastated by this, everyone wants to live in the city for opportunities and because there’s no competition there’s no reason for everyone younger to pour into cities, which they do, leaving very underserved groups of elderly people that they have to somehow take care of. Resources get sucked out of a smaller and smaller population to try and keep those who can’t work afloat (social services paid for by two workers won’t go as far as social services paid for by twenty workers) and it’s not sustainable.

                Now I live in North America in a very populated, relatively rich city, as someone who is not relatively rich. I’m childfree but my friends and coworkers aren’t. Finding childcare is an absolute nightmare for them. Anyone who could work for a reasonable fee can’t afford to live here because of our insane housing prices. Anyone who works here can’t afford to go outwards for a better cost of living because this is where all the jobs are. Even if someone can manage to afford daycare, the waiting lists are crazy, I had a friend have to wait four years before she could get her child in anywhere and had to make do with whatever patchwork care she could cobble together until then. Even then because of the excessive demand, daycares can (and do) do things like insist that they’re closing at four and you’d better be there to get your child out. How? Anyone I know who works won’t be able to leave work by then, and even if a place is accommodating enough to let someone leave early enough to do that, they can’t come back with their child, and not every business can operate having someone be there early if their work isn’t isolated.

            3. Artemesia*

              I know several Universities with day care but it is not cheap and it is not drop in and usually there is a waiting list. It primarily serves faculty and staff.

              Drop in day care is a pretty rare thing in the US and sitters are super expensive. You still can’t bring toddlers to lectures. I cannot imagine expecting a 16 mos old to be still or sleep. I have a 13 mos old grandchild who is on the easy to manage quiet side but he has been walking for several months and is certainly not a candidate for the seminar. He would at least be making motor boat noises and his version of talking which is cute but noisy.

              1. Elsie*

                A couple of thoughts: as a grad student, one thing I love is the chance to hang out with my classmates who have families and I often say I’d be willing to watch their dog or child occasionally because it’s a fun change for me. Perhaps you could ask if a classmate is willing to sit with your child on campus in the student lounge or somewhere convenient where they could still do work while you go to the talk. Also our undergraduate sorority has a Facebook group that connects local moms to students who will babysit. Since it’s on campus, it might not be too hard to get a responsible undergrad willing to study and sit with your child for the hour or two for very little money or a career mentoring session, or something like that.

                1. ggg*

                  Absolutely. I’ve been a grad student. Nobody had money so we all traded favors. It wouldn’t be hard to find a fellow student or their family member to sit with a child for an hour during a seminar, for free, or in exchange for dinner.

                2. TootsNYC*

                  Or set up a mom’s exchange, on the idea that you would watch over someone else’s kid for their evening lecture, and they watch yours. Even if it’s just actively recruiting a couple of people in a different major, who wouldn’t want to attend the same lecture.

                  Beyond that, yes, especially since it’s on campus, there might be students who would meet you at the lecture to watch over your kid and then hand him back. Even if you’re paying them, it’s still less than full-time child care.

                  It would be a smart idea to invest some energy in figuring out how to find that sort of thing, now, before you need it again.

                  Another more permanent option might be to work within your major to see if there’s a way to set up a childcare setup for lectures only.

          2. Competent Commenter*

            Our major public university has three onsite child care providers. Cost per month for full time infant/toddler care is $900. Thank God while my husband was getting his PhD we were one of the lucky few who got a subsidy. I think we paid $200 a month. But while we were there, another family didn’t get the subsidy and actually dropped out of their degree program because of it.

            1. ket*

              Dang, that is soooooooooo cheap!!!! For an infant I’d be paying triple that per month in my low cost of living flyover state. And yet, as you point out, that’s so much money.

          3. Liet-Kinda*

            “To be fair to OP, she thought the child would be quiet and sleep through.”

            At 16 months, that is not a gamble I’d have been willing to take.

            1. Artemesia*

              I have never met a 16 mos old toddler who would sleep through a lecture. A 6 week old baby, probably; a 6 month old, possibly; a 16 mos old — not gonna happen.

          4. ket*

            My university does have a daycare. 18 infant spots and 40,000 students! and then faculty on top of that! Hahahahaahah!

          5. RUKiddingMe*

            I get that but it just boggles my mind that she would think her almost-toddler child would be quiet/still in that environment. We’re not talking a small infant here.

        2. Treecat*

          I just want to point out that talks are often not optional for graduate students. Many graduate programs require their students to attend department seminars as a for-credit class and you prove you went by writing up summaries of the content of the talks. From the OP’s post this doesn’t sound like the case in this specific instance, but assuming grads can just skip out on talks is not a great place to start from.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Well, in that case a person needs to weigh whether they can continue their grad program in the face of their childcare needs.

            These are choices everyone needs to make. The answer isn’t “So bring your talkative kid to the lecture and disrupt the speaker”.

            1. ket*

              It’s pretty harsh to leap from “need to figure out childcare for a talk” to “should quit grad school”, which it seems you’re suggesting. Let’s keep some perspective here!

              1. brushandfloss*

                But women have to make that choice all the time unfortunately. If the only option is taking a toddler to class regularly then yes a parent may have to drop out until daycare is secured. Classmates in my cohort who become pregnant were advised to drop the semester because the course work required mandatory clinical hours and missing those meant automatic failure.

                1. ket*

                  The letter was about a guest lecture, not class. Also, most grad programs don’t have clinical hours. Let the OP figure out what works with her grad program. In my field, you don’t even have to show up to class for the last 3 years of grad school — you just need to prove a good enough theorem!

                2. Else*

                  It really depends on the discipline and program. My partner’s encouraged students to have their babies during their grad program so that they would have an easier time in early tenure pursuit.

                3. kbeers0su*

                  Uhhh…that’s actually illegal. Someone at that school needs to brush up on their Title IX mandates.

            2. Delphine*

              All of these “choices” I keep hearing about in this thread seem to amount to “remove yourself from this part of society.” Incredible that we still find ways to ensure that women are excluded and overlooked.

              1. Social*

                Seriously. I am appalled at some of these comments.

                Some of you appear to be saying WOMEN: HAVE BABIES AND THEN PLEASE DISAPPEAR FROM PUBLIC VIEW, THANK YOU.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  I don’t see that at all. What I see is people saying that their right to the education they pay for, enjoyment of adult spaces, etc. is not superseded by someone else’s parenting situation.

                  To be fair there is not enough (IMO) commentary about the fact that the partner (if one exists) should be doing their share, but maybe they do and OP didn’t mention it, maybe this was OP’s “turn.”

                  The fact that childcare is soooooo unfairly thrust on women to “figure out” with so little expectation of the (assumed) male part of the parenting equation makes it appear that the OP/women are being told to stay away.

                  The same advice…from me anyway, would be given to a male OP who had brought their kid to a lecture. It’s just that’s less likely to be the situation because … women unfairly burdened with the majority of childcare.

                  Ergo since OP is a woman, and the advice being given boils down to “don’t do that,” it only appears that this is women being told to not go out in public. If childcare was anything even close to being equal/equitable it wouldn’t appear that way because statistically OP would be almost as likely to be a male as to be a woman. However when it comes to children/domestic issues “woman” is a pretty sure bet.

                2. Else*

                  Nobody is saying that. What people are saying is that the baby can’t be allowed to negatively impact the learning and well-being of other people, and that she needs to find ways to manage this that do not include bringing a near-toddler to a lecture.

          2. Anna*

            I think any university or graduate program would not draw such a black and white line. If the OP had approached her advisor and said she couldn’t arrange childcare that night; she would have to skip that lecture, it’s unlikely she would have been kicked out. Assuming that there’s no way a student can miss a single thing is not a good place to start from, either, because life doesn’t work that way.

      3. Blue*

        This was going to be my suggestion – see if another grad student in your program would be willing to watch the baby for an hour on campus. That would’ve been an extremely reasonable thing to do in my PhD program, but ours was more close-knit and collegial than many.

        Actually, I had a prof in grad school who would bring his toddler to campus when childcare fell through and have me watch the kid for an hour while he gave a lecture. (To be clear, he paid me, but because it was only an hour and happened pretty rarely, it wasn’t a huge expenditure for him.) If something like that is feasible, I wonder if OP’s advisor would be willing to let them use her office for that purpose while she’s at the talk.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          But please offer to pay them or return the favor in kind. It isn’t fair to dump work people generally pay for on a colleague just because they are nice enough to help out without doing something in return.

          Actually, come to think of it, LW, can you check to see if there is a parenting group among grad students at your university? In my grad program folks who had kids from different departments traded off child care and, since it was in multiple departments, your odds of not having conflicts was greater.

        2. Midge*

          I’m also in the don’t take a baby to an academic talk camp, and I was coming here to suggest this. Someone in my master’s program had a baby and people were always so excited to play with the baby when she brought him to social events. If she had needed someone to watch him for an hour, I bet she would have had several volunteers. OP, maybe there’s someone in your program who would be thrilled to play with your baby for an hour while you attend a lecture every so often. I’m sure payment in baked goods or small amounts of cash would be appreciated, as well.

        3. ket*

          I have done this (though I was a postdoc). I emailed some grad students and asked if anyone would have an hour free to watch my kiddo in the lounge used by grad students, which may also be problematic, but was seen as exotic and charming since it was only twice. I did pay them. I may again soon pay a grad student to take my child on a walk. Walks are good — most babies love them and it eliminates some of the caretaking component that can be hard if you don’t know the kid very well.

          1. Else*

            This is a good way to handle this! Or trade off with another student for emergency fall-throughs for special events like an invited speaker.

      4. KAW*

        Not having access to child care means OP should not have gone, not that her problem should become everyone else’s problem. Lecture disrupted for speaker/other attendees? Suck it up, she didn’t have access to child care. Expect to listen and not be distracted by a baby in a place that is clearly not meant for babies? Suck it up, she didn’t have access to child care. Trying to maintain a professional atmosphere at this event? Too bad, she didn’t have access to child care! Where does one draw the line? Not having access to child care is NOT an excuse to disrupt others.

        1. Green*

          I’m a non-baby-haver and, while I like kids I know or am related to, I realllllly don’t like babies in places where they’re not appropriate. That said, I’m 100% OK with people bringing a baby for a talk (even as a speaker) as long as parent has a hair trigger on when to step outside and when to just grab the bag and leave. It sucks to go all the way to campus and then have to leave in the first 5 minutes of a talk, I’m sure, but it’s just a hazard of being able to bring the baby.

          As Allison pointed out, it seems like parent here tried to quiet the baby in the room or viewed “pleasant” sounds as more acceptable than screaming, when really you should be next to the door, have your bag ready to go and be able to get out quickly if the child becomes disruptive *at all.* But I don’t think it’s inherently inappropriate to bring a baby to an extracurricular talk, as long as the parent is respectful and prepared.

          1. Green*

            Just to clarify above — as someone who has given talks and presentations, I wouldn’t mind a single quick disruption by a baby before the parent slipped out. I don’t think speakers should bring babies, or that babies should be the speakers. :)

          2. sheepla*

            I agree with this comment, but it goes back to the fact that parents are used to mild cooing, etc. and think it is acceptable but non-parents just think it is LOUD (generalizing here). This is a HUGE church pet peeve of mine. Yes, the whole room is listening to your baby instead of the lecture/sermon/speech/whatever, even if you think the noise is not disruptive.

            So okay to bring, but please step out as soon as your child starts making noise.

            1. Ciscononymous*

              Sure, and then when they are six or seven and have no clue how to act in public, because we were shamed into staying in our houses for six years straight, we’ll be judged for that too.

              1. Jadelyn*

                That’s…really not what this conversation is even remotely about. Nobody is trying to insist that children be kept housebound for six years straight – this is about a specific type of environment/event that is not appropriate for children. If you consider that to be shaming you into staying in your house for six years straight, I might suggest you find other activities outside the house that are not academic talks.

              2. Green*

                There’s really no need to be so defensive that you manufacture a strawman. There are PLENTY of public places that welcome children, and a huge difference between taking kids to a Golden Corral Sunday buffet and Le Bete Noir French 5 Michelin Star Cuisine for a 9 pm Valentine’s Day reservation. At the theater, there’s a difference between Paw Patrol Live and Hamilton, and there are also churches that are very child friendly (i.e., family services) and those that are quiet and stodgy. Know the environment, know your kid, and remove kids who become disruptive quickly.

                1. Else*

                  Yes, seriously. There are lots of good family-friendly places that can serve as training wheels to teach kids how to behave appropriately and enjoy when out before tossing them straight onto the equivalent of a circus unicycle. They even market themselves that way!

                2. Rana*

                  Truthfully though? My child behaves worse in “child-friendly” spaces because she sees the chaos and thinks that’s what’s appropriate.

                  We have better luck going to regular places at hours when there are fewer people to disturb (e.g. dinner at 5 midweek rather than 8 on Friday night).

                3. Green*

                  I’d still say it depends on the “regular place” though (environment and cost). If it’s Chili’s or TGI Friday’s, whatever. If I go somewhere chic for adults, I don’t want to be disturbed by a baby for after-work dinner and drinks at 5pm any more than I want to be disturbed at 8pm.

                  I’d say a good rule of thumb is “Do they have a children’s menu?”

              3. Anonana*

                This may be a shock, so have your smelling salts ready. For decades children were taught to behave at home. They went to relatives’ and friends’ houses and investigated new places and people. They made friends and went to school and learned to interact with other people. They went to matinees for children’s movies and restaurants geared toward children and learned about social norms. And their parents *gasp* had social lives.

                Generations of children became civilized and contributing members of society this way, and no one expected them or their parents to stay in their houses for six years straight…exactly what society are you referencing?

                1. KX*

                  This may be another shock, but for generations before those generations, the presence of children at work and in society was expected (and sometimes welcome), and everyone participated in childcare when some adults needed to be not distracted some of the time. Children became civilized by learning about all aspects of civilization, and learning about the interesting things and the boring things. They went to lectures, and the market, and the workshops, and the factories, and to places of worship, and to festivals, and to hangings, and to all kinds of places.

                  This idea that there are children things and adult things, and that children do not belong at adult things–and that some adults should be kept out of adult things to mind the children who are not welcome there–this is NEW. It is not NATURAL to separate generations. It is a set up that people CHOSE. They could choose other ways if they wanted.

                  If universities and lectures want to choose to be adults only and bar children from them, fine. If that keeps caregivers to children out, then that is a consequence. But if it is most women who give care at the expense of their own opportunities, don’t sit there and wring hands about how there is a gender imbalance of opportunity, and then say there is simply nothing to do.

                  When I was a child there were cry rooms in church for families. Little kids could go there and the people minding them could see and hear the service, and were ministered to, also. There was a glass wall and a closed door, but children were participating. They weren’t off in some other room during church daycare in a side classroom playing churchy games and coloring churchy pictures. Maybe church attendance wouldn’t be dropping if kids were raised as part of the main congregation. If it’s not for them when they are young, why should it be for them when they are old?

                  (Substitute your choice of institution or public space here.)

                  Cultures and institutions that want to include children certainly can find ways to do it. They just have to prioritize it. In this one, children and the people who tend them are not welcome. It’s not inevitable. Values have changed. They can change back whenever we want. It’s not some instinct or biological imperative to isolate them.

                2. Anonana*

                  You’re correct that this separation is relatively recent historically, but not in a way that proves your point. Until roughly the Victorian era, only the wealthy (US, Britain, much of Europe) separated children from society–nannies and governesses raised children, boarding schools and country houses ensured that children weren’t introduced to polite society until they were older.
                  Some middle class children (a small group) were similarly separated by school.
                  The rest of the children weren’t separated, that’s true, but it’s because there was no real recognition of ‘childhood’, a time to play and be free. Instead they were treated and dressed like small adults. Children in the workplace wasn’t a problem because they were there to work too. Children in bars? Not a problem, they were drinking too, an probably offering services to patrons.
                  Once society began to recognize the notion of childhood, separating children was often done as a way to keep them safe and sheltered in a way previous generations of children were not. It was also a way to allow the rest of society to function as an adult society without impacting children.

                3. RUKiddingMe*

                  @KX It wouldn’t let me reply directly…

                  “If universities and lectures want to choose to be adults only and bar children from them, fine. If that keeps caregivers to children out, then that is a consequence. But if it is most women who give care at the expense of their own opportunities, don’t sit there and wring hands about how there is a gender imbalance of opportunity, and then say there is simply nothing to do.”

                  Universities by their nature do tend on the whole to be adult oriented. Some of the money spent at them should be used to help with stuff like this (and other stuff) and public universities IMO should have a mandate. That doesn’t however imply at all that they need to be child friendly on the whole or inclusive of small children in an environment such as an academic lecture where people who are spending ridiculous amounts of money are trying to learn stuff.

                  Absolutely there are things we can do. We can start insisting/requiring equal parenting participation from fathers. We can decide that it is just as important for women to have the education/career/opportunities as it is for males and not assume that the one to give up what they want to do will always be the woman.

                  We can fight for (I would say “advocate” but being nice about it is getting us nowhere) for higher taxes for corporations that make obscene amounts of money (Amazon anyone) that they give back to some of the people who keep them in business and use it for social programs that support parents, students, etc.

                  The gender imbalance is a real thing. It is the patriarchy’s north star. Our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, etc. actually took to the streets to fight and some literally died for the rights we have today, such as they are.

                  We have a government, federal as well as many states that have people in power that are just itching to take away every single right we have, particularly any rights/protections for women and anything that could be considered a social program. We can vote, volunteer to help candidates that are socially minded, run for office ourselves…take to the streets.

                  We can not however expect that we will always be able to have everything. If one has children then one makes sacrifices. Sometimes one’s education gets put on hold. Ask me how I know.

            2. ket*

              Do note that different churches have different norms on this. At the one we currently attend, families with young kids take over the last 3 pews in the back and kid noises are seen as fine, unless there’s crying or screaming. We go there because of this. I’m sure there are people who left the church because of kid noises. That’s fine. It’s part of the great Lutheran sorting.

            3. Sarah N*

              Very grateful that I have always gone to churches where babies are WELCOMED because they are part of God’s community. If parents want to step out, that’s fine, but NO ONE should be excluded because of a little cooing or fussing. Everywhere I have been a member, the ministers have been explicit about saying babies and kids are 100% part of our community and we welcome them in worship even if they don’t “behave” like an adult all of the time.

              1. JaneB*

                And there are usually multiple services – a family service, an early or evening service which is more adult oriented – I don’t like most family services not because of the kids but because of the choruses and other presentational choices, but I’m 100% behind the idea that there SHOUJD be these services – and seek a community which has space for me and my preference that my weekly bread and butter worship have a more muted and verbally complex character – high days and holidays everyone comes together and that’s fine. Societies need some differentiated spaces to cater for their members, surely

        2. Delphine*

          It’d be nice, in general, for people to realize that in some cases we do have collective responsibilities to ensure equal access. If you care about equal access, if you care about ensuring that women and other underrepresented minorities have access to the opportunities that have always been accessible to other groups, then you should be willing to tolerate a little inconvenience here and there. Never bring your child anywhere because you might disrupt others is just not a reasonable stance. That doesn’t mean a screaming child needs to be in a lecture hall, but it does mean that we can and should make allowances where possible.

          1. Sarah N*

            STRONG AGREE. I am eternally grateful that I work at a university where my baby has always been welcome. Because I know attitudes like those in this comments section are out there, I was initially very hesitant about bringing her to campus when childcare fell through. But, my colleagues are awesome and their willingness to welcome my daughter has meant I’ve been able to be a much more productive, active, and contributing member of my department and the broader university. Also it was pretty awesome to bring her to faculty Senate the day after Senator Duckworth brought her baby to the U.S. Senate and feel lots of mom solidarity (and, let’s be honest, she made what would have been an incredibly dull meeting WAY happier). Certainly I don’t allow my daughter to scream through someone’s lecture if there’s truly a disruption. But I have learned to embrace being a mother in an environment that is often very hostile to moms, and people who can’t get on board with that don’t really deserve my time or attention.

          2. Anna*

            Literally nobody is saying parents should never take children anywhere because it might be inconvenient. Everyone has pretty much said the same thing: Having a very young baby in a lecture might work, but a 16 month old is probably not a good bet and the OP should have bounced as soon as her baby started to fuss.

          3. Erin W*

            I do agree with Delphine on this, but it’s difficult, because I also went to an author reading about a year ago which was disrupted by a baby. The baby–which was definitely in the post-infant pre-ability to entertain itself stage–was brought by two women, one of whom I assumed was the mother, but neither of which seemed particularly interested in stepping out when it started to make noise. The talk organizer–chair of the department sponsoring the talk–ended up coming over and taking the baby herself (not by force of course) and standing in the vestibule for the full length of the reading. I could still hear the baby, which spent the entire time what my mother would have called “squalling.”

            I spent the whole reading trying to tune out this noise, but it was really hard and it detracted from the experience. The author didn’t say anything but she made faces a few times that indicated she could hear the baby and was disturbed by it too. In my mind, I kept trying to be “fair” but fair also isn’t how I would describe the behavior of the women who brought this baby. Again, neither of them ever made any move to take the baby out. So why should I wrestle my feelings when they are not keeping up their end of the bargain?

            As this relates to the OP, I think she is probably far more aware and polite than the ones at my talk and will hopefully make proper choices (proper for her particular kid’s known behavior, proper for the social conventions of her school, etc.) in the future.

          4. Can't Think of a Name*

            Love this! This whole thing is a systemic, structural, and societal problem that no one individual can solve on their own. However, if you believe in equality and you DO have the ability to make a difference, you also have a responsibility to try to accommodate (within reason). Yes, it will be inconvenient because it’s not how the system is set up, but the rewards (equal access and opportunity) outweigh the cost (I’m annoyed by this baby). Big change can start small.

            1. Green*

              But most people here aren’t annoyed by the mere presence of the baby. They’re annoyed by the disruption to the event and the environment *caused* by the baby.

              There are much better ways we can support structural changes (for example, advocating for equitable parental leave, offering to care for children of friends while they attend important career events, etc.) that do not cause disruption to a speaker and a learning environment (the actual purpose for which they are there). There are also things OP can do on an individual basis to maximize her opportunity here and equalize parental care responsibilities.

      5. HQetc*

        I am also in the camp that cooing babies, though adorable, don’t really belong in talks (I think the LW was fine to try, but I think she should have left earlier than she did).

        That said, when I was getting my PhD, certain talks (speakers invited by my advisor, job talks, etc.) weren’t really optional, *especially* for grad students. When I was late to one, I’d get a “where the heck are you?” email. I think my advisor (a man, I’m a woman) would have understood if I couldn’t attend a specific talk because of child care needs (a hypothetical, I don’t have children). But it would be expected that that was the exception, rather than the rule.

        That said, it’s pretty garbage that the LW doesn’t have access to childcare, so as much as I don’t think her having the baby in the talk was necessarily fair to the audience (I certainly would have had trouble focusing), I totally get it, and would have tried not to be annoyed. The grad students at my institution recently unionized, and, IIRC, the dearth of affordable childcare for grad students was a big part of that.

      6. Liet-Kinda*

        “talks are extremely optional when it comes to attendance, especially for grad students.”

        Not necessarily so! If it’s a high-profile researcher in your field and their talk is relevant to your research, your adviser may require you to attend – and you’d be ill-advised to shine it anyway, because this is how you get postdocs and critical research advice and assistance later down the line. They’re useful for networking and developing collaborative relationships. You can miss one for a real good reason, but I planned to attend most symposiums and seminars my department gave, and didn’t regret them.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          It’s possible it’s even less optional than that- my department has one seminar per week we’re required to attend, under penalty of being masters-tracked if we miss too many.

          That being said, I’m in the it’s completely unacceptable to bring a toddler to a talk camp. I think if it’s relevant to your research and you want to meet the speaker, it’s probably a bad idea to bring even a baby you could reliably expect to sleep through the whole thing or older kid who could entertain themselves. The only children I’ve ever seen at a talk at my university were my advisor’s while she was giving a talk, so that they could hear what her work is about- AND they’re aged 8-14, AND her husband came super-prepared with books, paper/pens for drawing, and an ipad.

          The OP needs to figure out a childcare solution for these, as difficult as that may be. Other commenters have excellent suggestions for nontraditional short childcare solutions- I hope one of them works for her!

      7. Jenny*

        Yes–find another student to watch the kid.

        We have good childcare, but evening events on campus have been an issue before. I took my very small baby in a carrier at first, but once he got squirmy, I didn’t do that any more so as not to inconvenience the speaker and colleagues. My department did have a bunch of student workers though, so I’d try and find one who wasn’t officially on the clock but could come in, slip them $10, and have them watch the toddler while I attended an event. The student got some cash, it was cheaper than a babysitter at home, and the student would get some stress relief rolling a ball around my office with an adorable kid.

      8. Brett*

        “talks are extremely optional when it comes to attendance, especially for grad students”

        Depends on the department. Talks were mandatory for me when I was in grad school. We were required to register every quarter for a one credit course where the only requirement was attending scheduled talks like this.

      9. Smarty Boots*

        In many grad programs, while attending talks is said to be optional — it’s really not optional. Profs will expect to see you there, and the talks are often an important part of your education and your academic/professional reputation. That can be a real problem for students who have to work, who have responsibility for children or other family members, who have some kinds of disabilities, and so on. (One reason we put off having kids until we were employed was to be sure we would have the kind of time and ability to focus needed to do well in grad school, which included attending talks, workshops, conferences, socials, etc.) It is really a problem that grad programs and depts don’t take these things into account and don’t usually set things up to assist the many students (often women, often first gen students, often POC) who need it. Frankly, I think it’s especially shameful in humanities and social sciences, because those programs very often have a lefty-progressive stance: yet they don’t put those values into practice. (OK, that’s my rant for this morning!)

        OP, you *will* need to take baby out more quickly; I wonder if you can team up with some other grad students to share childcare for these situations, OR pool resources and hire another student (maybe a reliable undergrad) to watch several kids. I don’t know if you have a spouse/partner, but if so, can they take on childcare for the couple of hours you need for these events? It would be good for you to be able to attend at least some events with your full focus on the event, if you can.

        If you have a good relationship with your advisor and/or another well-placed prof in your program, you can also discuss the need for childcare that you and other grad students have. They may have some solutions or be willing to bring this up with whomever plans the speaker events. And, if you can manage the time commitment, you could perhaps get yourself on that planning committee, and then be sure to bring up childcare, scheduling, etc — the things that make it hard for many students to attend.

        1. n*

          This is a really great suggestion! I’ve seen a couple of very lefty/progressive organizations organize childcare collectives and set aside a room away from the lectures to watch kids. I wish I’d see more of this.

        1. n*

          It might be more of an issue of access to funds rather than access to actual babysitters. Grad students are often broke and many programs are too rigorous to be able to take on paid work more than a few hours a week.

    5. Engineer Girl*

      I 100% agree with this. The more technical the talk, the more problematic it becomes. That’s because it requires greater concentration.
      Context switching between baby and speaker could cause the listeners to lose data.
      In addition, random noises can cause the speaker to lose their train of thought. That makes it harder to relay all the information they wanted to give out during the talk.
      It’s not right that you make your problems with child care everyone else’s problem. When that happens people consider you unprofessional.
      I’d find some friends and create your own babysitters club. It makes it easier on the parents and the kids enjoy being with each other. I’m still friends with several of my playpen buddies.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Because it took me so long to finish school (life intruded), I was able to take my son with me (undergrad) a few times.

        He was in 8th grade though and taking him was deliberate (and pre-approved**) in order to illustrate that non-mandatory state required education could actually be fun.

        I remember one class, we were sitting in the back. He was busying himself with drawing (he was a great artist!) while we discussed a coming of age ritual involving foreskin for males of a certain South Ametican Indian tribe.

        I won’t go into detail…but he’d been listening because his head immediately popped up. The prof. said “ah ha…that got his attention!”

        **Pre-aporoved by the prof *and* classmates because I’m all considerate like that! :-D

        1. KAW*

          This totally makes sense. An 8th grader is perfectly capable of busying himself with something else.

          My mom finished undergrad when I was in middle school, and took me with her to class a few times, but I usually sat in the hall and read a book. 100% different than a baby.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          My mom took some classes at the local community college when I was in, if I recall correctly, 5th and 6th grades. She took me to class with her at times when I was off school, with the professor’s permission. One of them even said I was welcome to read the chapter in the textbook and take the quiz if I wanted to (it was a psychology class).

          I got 6 out of 10 on the quiz, which I think was pretty good for a 5th-6th grader. Better than some of the students in the class, anyway!

          Anyway, I sat next to Mom and either listened to the class or read a book, or worked on schoolwork of my own. Mom always made sure to show me where the bathroom was before class, so I could slip out if I needed to without disturbing anyone.

          An infant who sleeps and can be quickly whisked out if they get fussy is probably fine. An older child who can quietly occupy him/herself is probably also fine. A toddler, and 16 months is closer to a toddler than an infant, is probably not a good idea to bring to something like a professional talk, especially one with people trying to absorb and think about information.

        3. Gaia*

          When I was young (maybe 5 or 6) I went to lectures with my mother as worked towards her degree. This instilled in me a fascination with education that has lasted my entire life. But it was always clear that I had to remain absolutely silent during the class unless I was directly addressed. I usually just colored.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Yeah the love of learning thing I thought was very important, especially as he was having “public school curriculum is so stupid” issues right then.

            Also finding out that no one was going to make him take his jacket off and put it in a locker, refuse the bathroom, tell him he couldn’t have a bottle of water on his desk (it was a long time ago), etc. were revelations to him. He could see that it did get better.

            Bonus: years later after he was in his own master’s program I overheard him telling one if his friends about that tribe we were discussing years earlier.

            I guess male coming of age rituals involvinng foreskin kinda stay with a boy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      2. TL -*

        At least in every academic department I’ve worked at, people treat going to these talks as a semi-privilege/treat. Nobody could go to every one; experiments and meetings and sample collection and sick kids and deadlines all meant that you went when you could. Most of us could make most of them, but everyone I know ended up eventually having to skip a talk they really wanted to see because something came up or didn’t work out or whatever. Ask someone else to take notes and email the presenter if you’re really interested in their work.

    6. TL -*

      Yeah, for an academic talk, if someone brought their baby in once, I would assume that they really, really wanted to attend the talk and their childcare fell through. I’d be annoyed but would probably put it under ‘stuff happens.’

      If it happened twice, I’d move from “annoying but forgivable” to “would probably talk to person and/or advisor and/or organizer about it.” Even a little bit of disruption can ruin a data-heavy, intellectually demanding seminar, and giggling and cooing would be enough to distract me.

      Also, I would avoid meeting somebody professionally with your baby, unless it’s at a specifically family-friendly event. Academia is a small world and your reputation can matter a lot; you want to be remembered as the student with the insight observations, not the student who brought their baby to a seminar.

      1. RUKiddingMe*


        I really hate that this kind if thing falls so unfairly to women though.

        Males rarely need to bring their infant to school/work. When they do they get celebrated for being involved, bring a good dad, and (gag!) “helping” out.

        I agree with you 100%, but this is the kind if bullshit (unavailable/unreliable/nonexistent childcare) that harms women professionally.

        She didn’t make that kid** all by herself.


        **The generic/general “that kid.”

        1. TL -*

          I would be equally irritated with a man who brought his child to a talk as a woman but yeah there’s a whole lot to unpack in how childcare gets distributed and how it impacts women.
          Without knowing anything about the LW’s relationship, though, I can’t really say whether this is an unfair expression of sexism or just how things work out when you have a lot of large, sometimes competing obligations.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Oh agreed. No matter who brought the baby I’d be annoyed. It’s just far more likely that a woman will be the one shouldering that particular burden/making that choice.

          2. MCL*

            In my department, it’s a professor who not only brings his toddler to one-on-one meetings with his students, but also to talks presented by guest speakers from out of town. At first I thought his childcare fell through, but then I realized that he just does this. The toddler is a cute kid, but incredibly disruptive at talks. I’m not sure why he can’t hire one of our grad students to watch the kid for a couple hours, but he doesn’t do it. I think it’s really disrespectful to the speaker and the rest of the audience. If the OP has any way to hire a babysitter during a talk, that would be awesome. But if not, sitting in the back and leaving immediately when kiddo gets noisy is probably okay if this is occasional.

            1. Anonymous 5*

              Don’t want to derail too far on this, but in the comments from yesterday’s letter about the student worker who was being asked for *way* unreasonable favors by the de facto supervisor, there were at least a couple of academics who pointed out that their school/department has explicit policy against such a thing (and as far as I could tell, that was very well-received, especially in context of the original letter…). I do think childcare options need to be made significantly better in the US, but I don’t think employing a grad student is the answer.

              1. Nancy*

                What if it wasn’t a case of a professor directly asking one of their students (with pay of course) but the professor posted the job on a school bulletin board (real or virtual) looking to hire someone and then hiring a student not under their authority (for lack of a better word)? Would that be different?

                (Because I know ‘tone’ is often difficult to discern, I really am looking for an opinion, not to pick a fight. :))

              2. MCL*

                Okay, not necessarily a grad student in our department or even a student. I still think that he’s not doing great by bringing his toddler to talks that his own academic center that is is in charge of is sponsoring (I did not mention this, but he is the faculty member in charge of coordinating these talks in the first place). It puts the speaker in a super awkward position.

                1. MCL*

                  Sorry, should have added this too – when he’s meeting with his students for advising appointments and his distracting-by-nature-of-being-a-toddler kid is there, I guess his philosophy is that his students are supposed to be okay with it? These meetings are super important in our department and there’s a total power imbalance when you’re a student who is not really okay with having a distracting kid in your one-on-one advising meeting. Most of our students would not be comfortable asking about rescheduling when kiddo isn’t there.

                  If there’s a policy about this in our department he shouldn’t hire a student. I’m guessing there’s not, because faculty and staff do post positions (house/pet-sitting, babysitting) to our student job board which students can choose to apply for.

              3. Observer*

                The irony here is that if this is the reason he’s not hiring a grad student, he is still TOTALLY missing the point. He is totally using his position to impose on his students.

            2. Quickbeam*

              I stopped attending a biennial professional/academic convention because over the last few years it became more day care than serious academic presentations. Men and women with infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers. After spending a lot of money and getting nothing out of it, I tapped out. I do find many parents grossly underestimate the noise their child is capable of making.

              1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

                I think acoustics come into play here too. Lecture halls and churches were built to carry sound so everyone could listen to one voice. Parents may think that there is no way that people sitting more than five feet away from them can hear their kid (and wouldn’t be able to in a normal room), but don’t take into account how far sound can travel in a place like that and don’t realize people twenty five feet away are wondering why the heck that kid is still in here when it’s so fussy.

        2. Debra Wolf*

          It doesn’t fall unfairly to women. It falls unfairly to mothers. There is a difference. Childcare is not a women’s issue – it is a parents’ issue.

          It is disrespectful to bring a baby to an academic talk, both to the speaker and to other audience members (many of whom, I assume, are also women.) As others have also pointed out, it also makes the mother look unprofessional. She missed an opportunity by not discussing this with her advisor proactively and working with the advisor to solve the problem.

          The writer said she didn’t have childcare “until next semester.” She also said graduate students are expected to attend “as often as possible.” Without childcare, it is not possible for her to attend. She needs to speak with her advisor about not being able to attend the functions until next semester.

          1. Anononon*

            I mean, no, there isn’t a difference. Most mothers are women so women are disproportionately affected.

            1. TL -*

              I think Debra is saying that we shouldn’t be assuming “parent issues” automatically equal “woman issues”. Men should be responsible for childcare as well.

              But yes, childcare issues do disproportionately affect women.

              1. Anononon*

                No, that’s the issue on the nose. In our society, we need to address the fact that parent issues does equal mother issues, which disproportionately effects women, most of the time. We need to address this so it becomes a parent issue instead of a mother issue. That’s the whole systemic problem.

              2. Elizabeth Frantes*

                If women CHOOSE to have children and CHOOSE to assume the burden of childcare, that’s their CHOICE.

                I do NOT understand why any sane woman would CHOOSE to have a child with a father unwilling to assume at least 50% of the gruntwork. Sometimes women prefer NOT to let the father take care of the child because they feel threatened by this and feel less needed.

                And In. My. Opinion. having a child without a supportive partner is a very, very bad life choice for everyone concerned, especially the child. Yes, I know, people die, but often women feel that having a child is more important than having a partner.

                1. Sarah N*

                  Wow. You know zero things about this person’s life or how their kiddo came about or what the situation is with their partner. Also, maybe women don’t CARE about your OPINIONS on their own reproductive CHOICES.

                2. ValkyrAmy*

                  But what ABOUT those of us who aren’t sane? This whole COMMENT is judgmental and ableist.

                  There are so many REASONS that a woman assumes most of the child care duties. My ex-husband turned out to be not nearly as INVOLVED as I’d thought he’d be, and sadly, it’s not because he’s DEAD. There was no point that I thought having a child was more important than a partner – in face, I wasn’t sold on the whole idea at all. However, that doesn’t make my daughter a BAD life choice. Your opinion, quite frankly, is not a GOOD one.

                3. biobotb*

                  A lot of women didn’t CHOOSE to have a kid without a supportive partner. They found out after the child’s birth that the partner who promised to be supportive didn’t feel like following through. I think you’re greatly exaggerating the number of women who feel having a child is more important than having a partner.

                4. Dankar*

                  Whoa! Super inappropriate! There is no one, single “best life choice” for raising children beyond a loving, supportive home. And you don’t need two parents to make that happen.

                5. Save your forks*

                  ???????? Wow. People’s partners travel on business. People’s partners might be ill. People split up with their partners!

                  Life is not so predictable that everyone can make perfect “choices” with 100% certainty of the potential outcomes.

                6. SaraHC*

                  Elizabeth, you overstate the extent to which childbearing is a choice. Choosing a method of contraception takes research. Getting your chosen method is additional effort (and usually money). Using it consistently and correctly, especially if it’s a method that the partner needs to cooperate in, is another barrier (no pun intended).

                  And then if you do get pregnant, is there an abortion provider nearby? How long is the waiting period? Do you have to stay overnight? How are you going to pay for all this? Do you have $500 available right now? Did it take you three weeks to save up $500, so now you’re in the second trimester and the cost is $750?

                  Et cetera. My point is, plenty of women have children not so much through active choice, but more because they didn’t/couldn’t choose not to.

                  (Source: worked in abortion care for years.)

            2. Manya*

              All women are not mothers. As a child free woman, it’s extremely annoying when “woman”and “mother” are conflated. The issue of childcare is much more important to many men than it is to me, for obvious reasons. Thus, it is a parents’s issue, as Debra Wolf points out above.

              1. Anononon*

                Did I say that? No. It’s a issue that disproportionately affects women instead of men. That’s a fact. Just because not all women fall into the vein diagram of being affected, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a women’s issue. It’s like a quasi-intersectionality issue. (However, that may or may not be the best description as I’m not clear enough on the exact definition of intersectionality and I do not want to overstep by using it incorrectly.)

              2. McWhadden*

                Something that disproportionately prevents women from education or work is still a problem for all women.
                As a childless women it’s extremely annoying when women gladly throw other women under the bus because their problems aren’t relatable enough.

                1. Karen from Finance*


                  As a woman not interested in children, this is absolutely a woman’s issue.

                  And if we don’t want the idea of “woman” and “mother” to continue to be used interchangeably, a very good starting point is to support mothers who are disproportionately burdened with parenting duties.

                2. Lizzy May*

                  This! I don’t have kids and I don’t plan on having kids but the best way to make life easier for women everywhere is to support women’s issues that don’t directly impact me. Childcare should be a “parent” issue but it isn’t. It’s a woman’s issue because, as someone mentioned upthread, a man who brings a toddler to a seminar or talk will be viewed differently by some in attendance. Often, men get credit for caring for their own children while women are judged no matter what option they take. This is absolutely an issue tied to sexism and that makes it a woman’s issue.

                3. DreamingInPurple*

                  Yes! I can’t nest my comment further to reply directly to Lizzy May, but I totally agree there too. When a male grad student (to give one example) brings an infant to a lecture, the type of response they get is often “oh, poor guy, he must not be able to find childcare and is so nobly Doing His Job as a Good Father by bringing his unfortunately loud baby!” When a female grad student does the same, the type of response they get is “ugh, she is so irresponsible to not have arranged for childcare” or even “why did she go and have a baby if she is in grad school?” It’s deep and disgusting.

                4. Lilo*

                  Not always. We had a conducting grad who brought his daughter to rehearsals a couple times. The conductor allowed it once and then ripped into him for poor planning the second time. A baby in a loud orchestra rehearsal is a terrible idea.

                5. Green*

                  It’s not throwing other women under the bus, and there really shouldn’t be any moral valence when someone acknowledges that it is a problem that impacts women disproportionately but isn’t inherently a problem for all (or even most) women.

                  A lot of folks on this comment section are really judgmental when someone adds nuance to the progressive one-line or takes a different perspective, and that’s really narrow-minded. There’s room for debate about whether it’s a “women’s issue” or a “women-who-are-actively-parenting” issue or an “all parents” issue without someone being a horrible person with no loyalty to womankind.

                6. Anna*

                  Welcome to why intersectional feminism is such a difficult concept for so many (mostly white) women. Holy balls.

              3. Yorick*

                As a child-free woman, this does affect you though, because potential employers believe that you will/might have babies and then prioritize them over work (by doing things like bringing them to lectures).

                1. Yorick*

                  And I didn’t finish my thought – those potential employers will either hire a man instead of you or give the male employees more money and opportunities.

                2. HQetc*

                  Hard agree. Also, there are knock-on effects that impact you as a woman. When women disproportionately drop out of or are delayed on their professional tracks, either because they are mothers or because hiring managers think they might become mothers, we end up with fewer women in positions of power. Fewer women in positions of power allow for worse access to women’s healthcare (birth control, very important to many non-mother women), for considering tampons/pads/etc “luxury goods” for tax purposes, crap like that. Policies that are bad for *all* women, mothers or no.

                3. Anonny*

                  Exactly. That is largely what class discrimination against women is about. It’s not done on an individual basis, it’s done against women as a whole, and it’s almost always based on the idea that they will and/or should leave the workforce to be mothers. Regardless of actual personal circumstances.

              4. Mary*

                I think that means nothing is “a woman’s issue”, because there’s almost nothing that affects every single woman.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  Connie Willis’s short story Even the Queen was explicitly inspired by being told she needed to write about women’s issues. She decided “menstruation is annoying” was as close as one could get to a pretty universal women’s issue and ran with it.

              5. Dragoning*

                Maybe, but as a childless person people assume is a woman, I can tell you I get asked to babysit or take care of children a heck of a lot more than my brothers do.

              6. Starbuck*

                I’d argue it still is a women’s issue. I don’t have kids and never plan to, but in a society where the majority assumes all women will (and want to) have kids, people who make judgements based on that assumption will judge me too, whether I make my life plans clear or not. We all share this burden as a society.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  Even when you do say you are never having children all and sundry will tell you that you will eventually change your mind right? Right?

          2. PVR*

            The vast majority of humans become parents so it follows that if parenting responsibilities fall mostly on mothers, this becomes a women’s issue. The fact that your post maligns the OP for being unprofessional, not working out arrangements ahead of time and suggesting these types of educational opportunities (for her) take a back seat until the next semester only underscores this point others are making.

            1. Elizabeth Frantes*

              then the problem is with MEN as well. Why shouldn’t MEN be expected to care for their own children?

              1. Kj*

                When men care for their own children, they are treated differently than when women care for their own children. People praise men for ‘babysitting’ their own kids. When women take care of their own kids, it is just expected. This is the issue. My husband and I split childcare about as 50/50 as you can (I’m breastfeeding, so some stuff can’t be split….) but still people are SHOCKED at how much he does for our kid. My mom thinks he is the best man in the world for doing 50%. This matters. If I had to take my child to a work thing, everyone would judge me. If my husband did, everyone would praise him. Heck, he gets praised in the grocery store for holding our kid.

                1. Green*

                  So then OP should let father take the baby to his work while she goes to her graduate seminars.

                  Other posters have emphasized repeatedly the brunt of childcare falling to mothers… so we should do… what, exactly? That childcare be unequally distributed is not a requirement of having children and it isn’t something I can or even should be involved in addressing as OP’s classmate or adviser. That IS something that cis-hetero partners (assuming OP is female and has a male partner) should address in their own relationship. In the most common scenario, there is a dad in the picture, and it’s between mom and dad to ensure dad does his part rather than inconveniencing and disrupting people who do not have kids or have chosen to allocate childcare, financial priorities, etc. differently.

                2. Can't Think of a Name*


                  But we don’t know if OP’s partner is in the picture or available to care for the baby. And even if the father took the baby to work, we’d end up with the same problem (baby in a professional setting). So it’s not really a solution

                3. Green*

                  I stated in my comment that I was explicitly assuming that OP was in a cishetero relationship with the father.

                  Maybe OP’s partner has to miss some professional obligations due to the child. Maybe OP’s partner has to call around asking friends to babysit instead of OP. Maybe OP has to bring the baby to a professional setting on an emergency basis. But if, as you say, fathers get praise for taking their babies to work and women get judged, then let the father do it…

        3. Else*

          The one time I remember someone bringing a baby to class was a dad – he was assigned to teach a segment that day and their sitter cancelled a few minutes before class. The baby was tiny; we passed her around while he taught, and she never made a peep until the very end of class. But – she was TINY. And he asked before class if he could bring her in or if he should take a zero, and the professor asked the class what we preferred.

      2. Psyche*

        I agree with this. If it happened very occasionally, she sat in the back and promptly went outside if the baby became fussy, it wouldn’t bother me. If it happened often and the baby was noisy in the auditorium, it would be an issue. Many of the auditoriums/lecture halls on campus are very old and can amplify noise oddly. They also have terrible sound systems so a noisy baby could easily drown out the speaker, even at “happy baby” levels of noise.

        I know daycare is cost prohibitive, but would it be possible to hire a sitter (maybe an undergrad) to watch the baby for one or two hours on campus during the talk? Maybe even have them play with the baby outside the lecture hall so that mom is still nearby.

      3. Bunny Girl*

        This is how I feel. If someone brought their child in once to a talk or to class, I’d think it was an emergency and move on. If it happened again, I’d start thinking the person was a little inconsiderate. School is so expensive. I want to get my money’s worth and have as few distractions as possible when I am going to class or to a talk. A lot of people have pointed out – parents have a higher tolerance for baby/toddler noises than non-parents. The parent might think that they are being proactive in taking their child out when they get fussy, but other people around them might be distracted and it’s really not fair.

        If I were the OP, I would talk to the advisor. Say that you don’t have childcare until next semester, and won’t be able to attend talks for a little while. See if you can get notes from fellow students, or if you can come up with an alternative until your childcare comes available. But don’t be that person. If you repeatedly bring your child to non-family friendly school activities, you don’t come across well to your fellow students.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          If it’s a last minute daycare fail, then, unless you absolutely *must* be at this event, you stay home. Or you pass the child off to the other parent. If one parent’s event can be disrupted by a baby, the other parent’s work/event/etc. can probably, if they thought about it, also be disrupted by a baby, even if that’s not the usual routine.

          1. Bunny Girl*

            I do agree. That’s why I said talk or class. Sometimes your presence in a class is absolutely mandatory, and things can happen – once. But as I said, I’d be less forgiving after the one time. But if it’s an optional thing then yes, people should stay home.

      4. Smarty Boots*

        I’m kinda sad that many of these comments (not just you, TL, you’re just where I was reading!) are focusing on the disruption to others — which of course is a problem, but equally as important is that OP is losing out on a piece of her education if she cannot attend due to baby, or that she can’t fully focus on because of baby. Even where such talks are truly optional and an extra treat, so to speak, people who can’t attend (people — and that’s usually female people, right? with childcare or other family responsibilities, people who have to work, people with disabilities, etc — we can all think of lots of situations where this happens, and not just a one-off I had the flu this week situation) are losing out to others who have the privilege of not having child/elder care, can afford to attend grad school without an outside job, are able-bodied etc.

        It’s not just, not everyone can have sandwiches. It’s that the way these opportunities are structured puts the sandwiches in a locked fridge and makes some people have to hunt for the key and maybe they will find it and maybe they won’t, while others get to carry the key to the sandwich fridge in their pockets. Right? So, part of the solution for OP is to address the noisy baby appropriately in the moment, but an equally important part is for OP to bring this structural problem to the attention of her grad program, if she can. And really, for grad programs to set things up so that the sandwich fridge isn’t locked.

        1. Goya de la Mancha*

          At the same time though, to have children, is to have to make choices. Not always the ones you want to make, but that’s life. Some of those choices will come down to money, some down to access, and some down to time. I don’t think I’ve ever met a decent parent who hasn’t made several BIG sacrifices at some point in their career/education/personal life – and not necessarily because they don’t have access.

        2. TL -*

          Honestly, most of the seminars at the last two universities I worked at were scheduled during the workday. The most common reason people missed were experiments that couldn’t be scheduled otherwise or being on call (we had a lot of MDs in our lab); both men and women stayed home with sick kids but it wasn’t that common.
          There were a couple from 5-6 and some night shindigs occasionally (usually aimed at the general public) but the important ones for learning and networking were usually between 9-4.
          Things were actually pretty family friendly, from my observation (I don’t have kids.) But children by and large weren’t present and nobody brought their kids to things that weren’t family friendly. There are many ways to be inclusive.

          (And missing 2 seminars a semester would be pretty reasonable everywhere I’ve worked; this is a sporadic rather than ongoing issue for the OP; sometimes you can’t get what you want is a reasonable answer. You always can’t get what you need is not.)

        3. Hamstergirl*

          Having the child, deciding to go to grad school with a small child, and deciding to bring said child to a talk are all choices OP made.
          The other students don’t get a choice, that’s the difference and that’s why everyone is talking about why it’s unfair to the other students.
          Being childless is not a privilege – it’s a choice. OP made the choice to have a child and now she has to deal with the reality of that choice, even if it means that sometimes she misses out on something she wants to do… that’s just the reality of being a parent.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            You have no idea at all if she actually made the choice. Please Google “reproductive coercion.”

        4. Sarah N*

          Wow. You know zero things about this person’s life or how their kiddo came about or what the situation is with their partner. Also, maybe women don’t CARE about your OPINIONS on their own reproductive CHOICES.

            1. Starbuck*

              We live in a society. If women aren’t able to access education and advance their careers and support families because childcare is such a huge burden, that’s a problem for everyone.

              “Her child, her problem?” Whatever happened to “it takes a village?”

            2. ket*

              I find this attitude very ungenerous. This was one guest lecture — the letter writer’s child is not derailing the entire education of a cohort of PhD students, single-fistedly preventing a cure for cancer, rendering moot the intellectual work of the entire field.

              When people are confronted with difficult situations, they try different things and see what works. The letter writer tried a thing and will probably try a different thing in the future. There is no world-bending involved, and I certainly hope people extend you more grace than you indicate when you’re in a tough spot for an hour.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                I have no way of knowing of course but I find Ainsley’s comment to be a very male attitude TBH.

                I don’t like kids, even babies and am of the opinion generally that I don’t want to be around them. That said, I fully support OP’s opportunity for education and speak loudly in favor of more resources for mothers particularly safe, affordable, available, and convenient childcare.

                OP is going to have to figure this out though. The “baby” is basically a toddler at this point. Taking it with her to lectures is not going to work and her education is not more important that the collective educations of the rest of her cohort. The good of the many and all…

        5. Kerrij*

          So one person should take precedence over the rest of the students? THEY didn’t choose to have her child, she did. It would be better that she missed out, than all of them do because she’s a distraction.

          1. Sarah N*

            Or, maybe they would gain a better education by including the voices of ALL people, even if it’s sometimes a little inconvenient. Maybe an educational environment limited to the voices only of those for whom it is easy for them to gain access for themselves, with zero accommodations, is a very stifled one where learning is very limited and conscribed. Maybe the OP’s voice is valuable here, and an effort should be made to make sure it is included, and everyone’s education will be better for it.

      5. Oxford Comma*

        I think one offs are understandable. Stuff happens. Emergencies happen. Someone comes in once to a talk with their kid and I’m not going to blink unless the baby/toddler/child is disruptive. But if it becomes a regular thing? Then it starts to become a distraction.

        One of my grad school profs once threw an absolute hissyfit because of of my fellow students dared to ask her if it would be okay if her 12-year-old (very well behaved too) could sit in the back of the room because her child care had fallen through for that particular day, and the prof’s reaction seemed OTT to me. But if this student had wanted to bring her child every class, I would have thought the professor was right to object to it (although I hasten to say, in a more toned down reaction).

        OP#2: if you have a good relationship with your adviser, I would recommend using Alison’s script. I do also suggest you see if there’s anything else available at your university. In my experience, university day cares are insanely overpriced, but there may be some kind of informal network you could tap into.

        Also, something to look into if you ever have to travel with a child to an academic conference, a recent development in some fields is for there to be childcare “grants” where you can get money to help pay for childcare during a meeting.

            1. RUKiddingMe*


              Of course internalized misogyny has set women against each other for … ever which creates a dynamic where instead of supporting each other we actively undermine other women.

              A win for the patriarchy that way. Another win that is. Keeps us “in our place” and all that.

              Twenty years ago (wow almost twenty years into the 00’s…) it was even worse than now I guess.


              1. Oxford Comma*

                She was pretty old school. She insisted on being called “Professor” and not by her first name. We had a lot of non-traditional students in our program at the time, so you’d have someone in their 30s or 40s who had been in the workforce for years, often as a librarian but without the degree, and you still had to call her Professor So-and-So.

                I think it was less about misogyny and more an adherence to a set of standards that were changing. I knew the daughter was well behaved because my classmate had asked and received permission for her daughter to be in one of our other classes. That other prof had no issues with it (also a woman).

                If it had been more than a one off, though, I would have raised eyebrows and I think my classmates would have raised eyebrows.

      6. Academic Addie*

        > If it happened twice, I’d move from “annoying but forgivable” to “would probably talk to person and/or advisor and/or organizer about it.”

        If it’s happening a lot, the department needs to get involved. I recently got a phone call from the daycare center where I did my postdoc. They have an infant slot for us! Unfortunately, our kid is now 3.5 and we moved for my tenure-track job. We were on that list 4 years. My husband was stay at home the entire time we lived there because we couldn’t access childcare. A lot of university towns have scaled really weirdly, and in proportion to odd demographics (students + older faculty), leaving weird service gaps for people of child-bearing age.

        There are resources out there for making departments more inclusive. If a department is finding that certain types of people are systematically having problems accessing events, there is a problem that needs fixing. NSF ADVANCE has some nice guidelines, especially for inclusion of women, and I’m pushing my department right now to adopt more of these practices (which includes limiting the start time of talks).

        1. Ainsley*

          Having children is a choice. Your choice shouldn’t mean others have to bend over backwards for you.

          1. Can't Think of a Name*

            Having children is not always a choice. Reproductive coercion is a real thing women in abusive relationships face. Also, not everyone lives in urban, liberal areas with affordable access to birth control or abortions.

          2. Starbuck*

            This is such a naive and simplistic response that I don’t think it really adds to the discussion. Who is asking anyone to bend over backwards? We have seen letters here from parents taking advantage of co-workers for childcare, but this is not that. OP is just asking if her baby is allowed to exist in the same space as her for what, an hour?

          3. Academic Addie*

            And it doesn’t. Now that I’m the boss, I do, however, bend over backwards to create opportunities for women.

            So suck it.

        2. Kaisa*

          Thanks for mentioning NSF ADVANCE! Supporting the efforts of researchers whether mothers, fathers, elder-carers, disabled in other ways, etc is not a solved problem but it is certainly one in which some best practices are available. The wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented — we can learn from the innovations of others.

          1. Academic Addie*

            > The wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented — we can learn from the innovations of others.

            Amen. As a woman cross-appointed in computer science, I have to fight the “it wasn’t invented here!” syndrome so hard on everything.

    7. CrickettheCat*

      I’m really struggling with this one. On the one hand, as an audience member, yes, my first reaction would be to be annoyed. I do tend to find kids and babies distracting when I am trying to listen intently to a speaker.

      On the other hand, we need to acknowledge that a lack of access to childcare (LW’s situation) and the brunt of childcare falling to mothers (may or may not be LW’s situation) puts women on the “mommy track” and bars them from advancing quickly or at all in academia as well as other professions. So, while the above would be my first internal reaction, I do strive to not make it my external reaction. Ultimately, I’d rather have to hear a baby doing baby things than limit someone’s career.

      I’d say this is especially the case in academia, where hours are long and weird and unpredictable.

      We need to do a much better job of supporting parents (especially women) in academia (and out of it), and until we do, I think it falls to us to just grin and bear it when moms gotta mom.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I agree with you … except that while I support women and don’t want to have their career or education harmed for the sin of being female, I take issue with someone else’s child being a distraction to me/my career/ my education.

        1. TL -*

          This. I’ve zoned out at an academic talk for a minute, maybe two, and taken a good 15 minutes to be able to ‘catch up’ to the speaker again. A baby would actively hinder me from learning, which would be the whole point of the talk.

          Even worse if I end up speaking to someone afterwards (which usually happens) and I can’t discuss the topic I just spent 45 minutes listening to. Then I look rude, disinterested, or like I’m really undereducated for my job.

        2. Lilo*

          I am a mom and have also given a few talks and would find a baby in my talk to be distracting. I like kids a lot but “going to the back” with a noisy baby simply is not good enough. You need to get the kid out of the room asap.

          1. Ginger ale for all*

            There are many times when taking the baby outside is the better option when they start fussing, like lectures, weddings, plays, and movies. But I think the mom was okay in bringing the baby in if there was a good chance that he/she was likely to have slept through it.

            1. TL -*

              That’s very culture dependent – I would absolutely fall on the side of it’s not okay and the potential of disruption with a baby is enough that it’s not appropriate to bring them in at all.

            2. Lilo*

              I also don’t think a 16 month old is likely to sleep through a lecture. They’re aware enough to be more interested in the unusual surrounding.

              1. WellRed*

                Yeah, if they are old enough to walk its probably well past the time they might be counted on to nap when you need them too.

              2. The Original K.*

                I agree. That’s a toddler, not a baby, and toddlers are generally pretty active. I would fall on the side of assuming a 16-month-old would NOT sit or sleep through a lecture.

            3. Dust Bunny*

              A 16-month-old is not a good candidate for this. I don’t even have children and I know that. There is no way any of my nieces/nephews/cousins’ kids would have lasted this long through a talk at that age.

            4. Observer*

              At 16 months, though, Mom should have known better. I can’t entirely fault her for TRYING. But she doesn’t seem to have planned for the really high likelihood that it wouldn’t work.

        3. McWhadden*

          It’s cooing at a talk not crying or being overly loud. I get it’s more distracting (for me too) than for people used to kids. But if a grown adult loses all ability to learn because of minor distractions they probably don’t have the brain strength for that program anyway

          1. TL -*

            A talk given by a nervous, fast-talking academic with a heavy Chinese accent on a topic that’s directly related to your work, where she’s covering 30-40+ figures in 50 minutes or less, in graphs you may or may not be familiar with interpreting, using highly technical language, where precision and nuance is incredibly important, where you’re both trying to understand and evaluate their work and simultaneously try to parse how/if it interacts with your work is probably enough of a challenge on its own without adding in the baby element. Even for those whose brain strength equals Dwayne Johnson’s body strength.

            Some talks are 10-15 figures from someone with an (American if you’re in the USA) accent, very accomplished public speakers, very easy to follow. Some are not.

            1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              And I’d say 50% of talks in my department, if not more, are of the former type (if not Chinese, then Indian, Eastern European…). People who do good/relevant-to-you research are not always the best speakers.

          2. Alton*

            I think this is an insensitive way of looking at it. Grown adults can have a wide range of neurodiversity and ability, and there are people with conditions like ADD or learning disabilities in academia, as well as people with physical disabilities like hearing loss. There’s some balance here–people who are particularly prone to becoming distracted have some responsibility to try to adapt to reasonable background noise and distractions (you can’t expect people to never sneeze, for example), but people should also be considerate about minimizing the distractions they cause.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            Ever sat behind someone answering and then taking a cell phone call in the middle of a talk? As they sorta-whisper into the phone?

            Just because it’s not loud enough to technically drown out the speaker doesn’t mean it isn’t annoying, distracting, and causing the people around you to professionally write you off if they have that option.

          4. Gaia*

            That is incredibly rude and not at all accurate. The reality is a cooing and giggling baby (in a lecture hall) is distracting. And it is probably louder and travels further than the parent realizes. Humans are also inclined to latch on to the sound a baby makes by millions of years of evolution so our focus goes to that sound instead of the adult human talking. It has also been shown in many studies that a quiet whisper (or, in this case, coo) can be more distracting than a normal volume discussion because our brains try to figure out what is happening.

            None of that has anything to do with the “brain strength” for a program. It is basic human cognitive capabilities innate in our development.

            1. Liet-Kinda*

              And, as noted above, this is not like listening to a college lecture. This is often someone summarizing 2-3 years of research in 30 minutes, in the most dense and highly technical way possible. I don’t want to be distracted by gabbling for two seconds and miss a critical piece. I’m already hearing impaired and it’s quite difficult enough.

          5. Liet-Kinda*

            Maybe my kid just has a set of pipes on him, but cooing and gigling and gabbling can be extremely loud. And high-pitched, and out of context.

          6. Genny*

            IME, 16 month-olds don’t really “coo”. Their vocalizations are much more screechy and pre-speech like, which is a lot more distracting than a 3 month-old cooing.

        4. Neptune*

          I don’t know. Over the course of my education I’ve sat through many talks and seminars where my concentration hasn’t been 100% – there have been crying-baby incidents, but also times when I’ve been sick or tired or distracted by a personal issue, or there were roadworks outside or the speaker was wearing a really weird shirt or there was a funny-looking bird sitting outside the window or whatever. These things happen, and despite those lapses in concentration I managed okay and absorbed most of the info and have got my degrees. I don’t think that hearing the occasional noise in a seminar (if handled well – OP absolutely should remove the kid from the room as soon as any crying etc starts) is going to derail someone’s academic career.

          Having to frequently miss out on lectures, seminars etc when you can’t get childcare because of the possibility that your kid MIGHT distract someone else really can derail someone’s academic career, though, and that happens almost exclusively to women. I would much rather deal with the occasional distraction in a lecture than know that another student had to miss out completely on that lecture, and probably a whole bunch of other ones too.

          1. Yorick*

            But a child of that age is almost certainly going to be a distraction. It’s not the small chance you’re making it out to be in your 2nd paragraph.

            1. Neptune*

              Yes, it likely will be a distraction. That’s not really my point, though, so perhaps I’m not making myself clear; I’m saying that I personally am willing to occasionally cope with that type of distraction because I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, while the systemic exclusion of mothers from learning and networking opportunities is a pretty big deal. I have coped with talks where a live outdoor theatre production was happening in the quad outside the window and still managed to get my degrees.

          2. Sarah N*

            YES. Thank you. I don’t see anyone whining that their life has been ruined by the thunderstorm outside my classroom or the (constant) construction on campus. Yet somehow one peep from a baby and it’s the end of the world.

      2. SJL*

        Should parents without childcare be able to bring their children to the office too, so as not to “limit their careers,” and who cares who else is disturbed?

        1. Amtelope*

          In some offices, including mine, occasionally bringing kids to work is fine. This is very culture-dependent.

        2. FreddySteddy*

          In my unfriendly opinion – no. I like kids, I have kids, but other people’s kids are distracting once they can walk on their own and downright challenging if the kids have big personalities or are attention-seeking.

          I am fully aware that child care gets tricky when they are old enough that they *could* be home alone but that makes a parent uneasy and it’s really hard to get after-school care. I am aware that some children are golden. I am aware that some offices are really kid and family friendly.

          But, it’s a place of work and in the very long run, if your kid is there, you are not as efficient at all. All it takes is one bad day/latent cold/bored kid to ruin it. The reality is: you have a child, you have a job, find child care (yes, that’s cold and yes, often it’s very hard to find the right care and it’s not fair that it falls on women more than men).

          Toddlers are inherently very unpredictable. LW got lucky the first time and should not expect that her toddler will be easy to manage all the next times. Believe me, I understand the wishful thinking “Little Alicia will be quiet and wonderful while I listen to this lecture about llama grooming.”

          And in today’s day and age at a university, surely there are other ways to get the info presented at this lecture if you can’t attend. Ask a classmate to take notes. Ask the professor or lecturer to email you the slides, or do they record it and can you have a copy of that? Is it even possible to Skype in (while toddler is occupied elsewhere safely in the house with the Skype mute on so the toddler’s noise doesn’t bother other listeners)?

          1. Liet-Kinda*

            Yeah. Seconded. I have enormous sympathy for kids but they really have no place in an office where people are trying to work.

      3. toomanybooks*

        Totally agree with you.

        My wife is in academia working on her PhD right now – has been for a few years – so I asked her about it to get an insider’s perspective. When I asked “Could someone bring a baby to a talk?” after explaining the letter, she immediately and breezily said “Yeah!”

        I think the fewer barriers in academia based on gender and class, the better. I say that means providing childcare or being understanding about babies being present. I don’t have kids and never want them, but I do understand that having a baby takes a tremendous amount of work – and money – so who am I, child-free, to scoff at someone who’s working hard to raise a child AND complete a degree because I can hear the sounds of a baby for an hour or so? After that talk I get to go home and sleep on my own schedule and not worry about keeping someone else alive.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I do want to say that when I emailed the OP to let her know I was printing her letter, she told me she had an update – her advisor emailed her later that night and apologized, and said she had been worried the noises would distract the speaker. But she also said she didn’t want to exclude the OP and recognized the difficulties of being a mother/student. She said that later she asked the visiting professor, who said that she had not in fact been distracted or bothered by the baby.

        Now, maybe that’s just people being nice — I think some people in the professor’s shoes would say they weren’t bothered even if they hadn’t been thrilled. But it’s also possible that this varies by field or by program.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          That’s going to vary by each speaker though – extrovert Vs introvert, etc. It also doesn’t account for the others in the room. We don’t know what the other students thought.

        2. TL -*

          I’d be more worried about bothering the other attendees than the presenter, honestly. I would be really upset if I’d organized my day to go to a talk (and I ran experiments, so it really was reorganizing my entire day sometimes) and ended up not being able to pay attention because of a baby. It would made me feel like I wasted most of day.

          Some fields and/or departments are more baby-friendly but where I worked, it would have negatively impacted your reputation and collaboration opportunities, because people would assume you didn’t take other people’s time seriously.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            The collaboration opportunities is an important point. People don’t like to work with people that bring drama into a project, whether it’s baggage or babies. Women already get less opportunities for collaboration.

            1. HQetc*

              Maybe, but people are also more likely to collaborate with someone they met than didn’t, so not going to the talk also limits your collaboration abilities.

              1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                I don’t think most people are saying that. I think they’re saying that the OP should try to be more creative in her childcare strategies so she can attend at least the most important of these talks unencumbered.

            2. ket*

              I think it’s pretty unfair to characterise this as “drama”. Babies are babies — toddlers are toddlers — they are not drama. They’re (to be blunt) just another logistical problem.

            3. Sarah N*

              Um, yeah, women already get less opportunities for collaboration in large part because PEOPLE ARE DICKS ABOUT THEIR BABIES EXISTING IN THE WORLD.

          2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Me too. I have presented with all sorts of weird distractions in my time, including babies, sirens, cats mating outside, construction, and a pack of dogs who ran in, knocked over the refreshment table, and ate what was supposed to be lunch**. As a speaker, I’m totally focused on my gig and can tune it out because I am speaking, not listening. For the audience, though, it is harder.

            **This one did distract me as soon as the table crashed over and the mayhem of clearing the dogs out of the room ensued, but that was because I started laughing

            1. PB*

              and a pack of dogs who ran in, knocked over the refreshment table, and ate what was supposed to be lunch

              Wow. This tops anything I’ve experienced. Bad for your presentation, but what a story!

              1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

                Shoot, it wasn’t even that bad for my presentation. Talk about an icebreaker to make the people in the audience relax and be comfortable asking the outsider questions! Once they saw that I wasn’t mad or offended or thought anything negative about the community, everyone totally opened up. Hardest part was not to start laughing every time I looked at the door. I did feel bad for the folks who were hungry and counting on lunch, though

              1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

                I was presenting to a Tribal community and in those communities it is common for dogs – owned, stray, and in between- to roam free. The dogs, being smart, recognized what the car from the local cafe that did most catering for Tribal government events because they often got leftovers. As the car drove to the lecture spot, more and more dogs started to follow, which is a normal thing. However, this time the driver was in a rush and didn’t completely close the doors after bringing in the food and we got raided. It was hilarious and so much more entertaining than anything I could have said

                1. Gingerblue*

                  That is amazing. (And I’m now thinking of the talks I’ve been to that I wished would be interrupted by dogs…)

                2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

                  @GingerBlue – I would swap pretty much any Q&A session for a pack of dogs, even if they raided the buffet every time

                3. Gingerblue*

                  @Danger: Gumption Ahead: “This isn’t, uh, a question, so much as it is a comment in, um, three parts, so–” *sound of snarling as questioner is carried off by hounds*

        3. Lillie Lane*

          Considering how much the OP wanted to speak with the visiting professor, I wish her adviser would have tried to set up a lunch or meeting with the OP and speaker so they would be able to chat.

          1. MK*

            Eh, that would probably be a) too much to ask from a visiting professor and b) possibly unfair to other students.

            1. Been there, done that*

              Uh, it’s not too much to ask- it’s the whole point of having visiting speakers, to interact with folks in the local department. Lunch or coffee with students is a pretty common way to make time with the visitor available to students and others who’d like to chat with them.

              1. MK*

                If it’s part of the schedule for the visit and available to all students, of course. But arranging it specifically for someone who cannot attend the seminar for whatever reason as an extra? That can make sense once or twice in exceptional circumstances, not as a regular thing.

                1. TL -*

                  Right, and it depends on the speaker (and their schedule) as well. Some of them won’t have time, some of them would be delighted to, and some of them would find it a waste of their time to give half an hour to an hour to a grad student that wasn’t theirs.

                  If it’s a particularly prominent researcher, the adviser may not even have the clout or may not want to use the capital to make it happen. A five minute chat after a lecture is generally enough for the presenter to get a sense of what you’re working on and extend the invitation to email them if they think it’s sufficiently interesting.

                2. PB*

                  Yes. Sometimes, a speaker is in town for a few days. Other times, they come in, present, maybe eat a meal with a group, and hit the road again. If the visiting speaker had some flexibility, setting up another time to meet might have been nice, but it’s not going to be the case every time, and it isn’t reasonable to expect someone to extend their schedule to accommodate one student.

            2. I woke up like this*

              No, this is very standard in academia. If you have a speaker visiting whose interests align with one of your grad students, part of your job is to facilitate opportunities for them to connect and network. At least in my field.

            3. Gingerblue*

              Nah, it’s pretty common for visiting speakers to have lunch or coffee or another meeting with faculty or students who want to chat with them for whatever reason. Not always possible, but very common. I’ve done it on both ends, as speaker and grad student.

        4. Yorick*

          As the speaker, I would’ve been very upset about a baby being in the audience. But you can’t really SAY that, can you? If the parent asks, you don’t want to be rude. If their faculty asks, you don’t want them to be mad at the parent.

            1. Yorick*

              Yes, it’s not outlandish to say that, but many or most people are going to feel some social pressure not to.

          1. Smile and move on*

            This, you cant say that you don’t want a kid there look at all the comments above on the outcry that not allowing someone to bring their toddler everywhere is condemning women to poverty. You sound like an ass if you say anything.

            We had a similar situation this weekend, Saturday my husband and 12 year old son needed to sit at the cheesecake factory after our lunch my hormone raging son had not been able to not notice the young pretty female having a very hard time breastfeeding her child. I can’t ask that woman to not breast feed her child in the restaurant, nor do I want to. I also understand that my 12 year old seeing a young woman with her breast completely exposed while burping her child is something at this stage in his life he is unable to control his body and I don’t have another option other than to smile and take my daughter through the mall while my husband and son have a slice of cheesecake and wait for my son to be presentable.

            1. DreamingInPurple*

              I don’t think the situations are actually very similar. I sympathize with your son because I was young and hormone-ridden once also, but the young woman and her child are eating in a place that is designed for people of all ages to eat in (Cheesecake Factory in particular is very family-friendly). It’s not the same as someone bringing a baby into a lecture environment, either in terms of impact to others or even whether others would notice.

              1. Smile and move on*

                My point was that its not socially OK for a speaker to ask someone to take their disruptive baby out. It makes you unsympathetic to women, and marks you. I get they are not exactly the same thing, just that both situations are times when the best option is to smile and move on so your not an the ass.

                For the breast feeding I’m fine with women breastfeeding whenever the baby is hungry no matter where they are and I’m not asking them to cover up no matter how long of a time it takes or how exposed they need to be. I remember being a breastfeeding mom. That was just the situation we were in recently and for me it hit home on this. It was one of those times that just stunk and there was nothing that could be done or said that would have made it better only worse.

                1. biobotb*

                  It actually is socially acceptable to ask someone to take a disruptive baby out of a lecture. Your story is not at all analogous.

        5. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

          I tend to think her advisor’s apology was unhelpful in the long run. There are going to be many presentations in the future or conferences where bringing a child will not be acceptable. Sometimes it’s a legal thing, at an off-site conference perhaps the organizer’s liability insurance doesn’t include children, and sometimes it’s because many children are disruptive because they are children.

        6. epi*

          I am a PhD student in public health and it is accepted to do this at my school. I once had a class with a woman who didn’t have childcare for her baby for the first few weeks! It was a bigger deal for her than for us because she took the baby out regularly.

          I get that some people will find this distracting, but making education and work inclusive for people who have traditionally been excluded will involve changing those environments and our norms of behavior within them. That won’t always feel natural or convenient at first! But inclusion is about more than that one individual classmate, and it helps us do our best work and be our best possible society. High achieving women students of many ages are very well represented in my program, and it reflects our values and work as leaders in maternal and child health, and health disparities. The very prevalent attitude in other environments, that no one should even have to know your baby exists, is reflected in the inclusion and success of women there in my observation.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Some of us have issues with hypersensitivity to noise (mine is related to a learning disability) and I also am not great at auditory processing and struggle to absorb information in lectures. I’m not sure why a parent’s desire to bring a child to class should override the needs of other people *who are actually enrolled in the study program and are paying tuition* to take the class without unnecessary distractions.

            So . . . do you choose parents’ rights or ableism?

            1. Lilo*

              I am a grown up stutterer an while I manage public speaking okay now, I do find disruptions a little harder than some might. I am a mom and I get stuff can be hard but there really are a lot of options and had OP talked to her advisor, there might have been a solution raised. Ask first.

            2. Elizabeth Frantes*

              Me too, DB. Always had misophonia and it turned me into a social recluse. I wish people would realize that some of us can’t handle certain noises. I mean everyone has things they hate to listen to. But those of us with misophonia, it’s overwhelming. I don’t want to hear you chew, drink, snuffle, etc if I have to be paying attention. Children are noisy, they are a distraction, that is just how they are. That means they don’t belong in many settings. They will grow, and hopefully, their mothers love them enough to teach them manners, and social graces, and realize that they aren’t the center of the universe.

              Do not expect the rest of the world to be happy with those who refuse to socialize their children. And remember that those children will probably be very unpopular, not do well in school, and have a hard time in the workplace. That’s why you start training children how to behave very young, and you don’t take them to places where it is unreasonable to expect them to behave like everyone else in the lecture etc.

              They will have plenty of chances to attend lectures when they are in school themselves.

              1. Kj*

                This is about competing needs. Say someone has a dog allergy. Someone else is blind and needs a service dog. Who ‘wins?’ Or to make it more personal for you, you have misophonia and issues with chewing/noises. But there is a person with autism around you whose stimming behavior makes a small amount noise. Or a person with diabetes who needs to eat to maintain blood sugar. Who ‘wins?’ Your request that no one snuffle, chew, drink etc in public is a not a reasonable one. Should people with colds not attend lectures?

                Women with children being able to attend lectures and participate fully in society is a good. So is people with disabilities being able to do the same. Frankly, there is not a perfect solution to this. I don’t think that children should regularly attend college lectures, but the anger directed at the OP for daring to try to have their child at a lecture is pretty disturbing. I’ve been in college when someone had to bring a kid to class. Honestly, I didn’t care. And I do have ADHD, so I am distractible, but that is on me to manage. If it had been regular and a problem, I would have gone to the office of disabilities and asked for an accommodation.

                1. Yorick*

                  But women with small children CAN attend class without the child there. Most women with small children are able to do so. I would not at all consider bringing your kid to class to be a need that should be accomodated.

                  However, I’d be fine with a student bringing their kid to something like office hours, where it’s just me and the student talking and we can pick up easily if the conversation is derailed by a noisy baby.

                2. Kj*

                  Yorick- Why not? I get saying it can’t be a regular thing, but if there is an emergency and a woman can’t attend class without a child and makes all efforts to minimize the impacts, why would you not accommodate that? This is an equity issue. Women who are mothers already are behind when it comes to education and d0n’t get the chances men with kids get or women without kids get. Sure, it is their “choice” but why do we insist on penalizing women who have kids if they are making good faith efforts to minimize the impacts on others?

                3. Yorick*

                  A toddler is so distracting that it really isn’t possible to minimize the impact on others. Like, those kids are rowdy.

                  And honestly, let’s be real, if you’re bringing a toddler into my class and trying to control them, you’re not really listening to me and learning much anyway. You’d do much better to stay at home, read the chapter whenever the kid was asleep, get class notes from another student, and come to office hours to ask any questions you had.

                  People with kids have many different options. If none of the “someone else watches my toddler while I go to class options” work this time, another option is to miss the class. Students miss class for a variety of reasons and still get their degrees and jobs and good futures.

                  IMO, it’s not appropriate to compare a lack of childcare to a disability anyway.

                4. Kj*

                  Yorick- Why is it not appropriate to compare the needs of having a child with the needs of having a disability? I’m a woman with learning disabilities and they seem comparable to me. I didn’t have kids while I was in school, but the mothers I went to school with seemed to struggle as much if not more than I did. Different struggles, sure, but comparable. And in terms of equity, discrimination against parents and discrimination based on disability are equally bad.

                  And I do argue with the idea that kids are inherently disruptive. Sure, toddlers of a certain age are. But I’ve been in classes with kids who were not disruptive- a person in my grad school cohort brought an infant to class one quarter and the only distraction was that we all (including the professor) cooed over the baby at the start of class. And in undergrad, I went to an institution that had a lot of adult learners from lower income groups. Many of them brought kids to class when the kids’ schools were out/babysitter was sick and I never remember being distracted. They all made efforts to minimize disruptions, I am sure, which is why I don’t remember it.

                  And some schools/teachers are cooler about missed class than others. I’ve had profs that didn’t care if I was there if I passed and I had profs who’d fail me if I missed more than 1 class. Sure, kids in a laboratory would be bad. Kids who couldn’t sit still would be bad. But I don’t think we should penalize women for trying to make bringing a kid to class work. If it really doesn’t work in your class for reasons, you can say that as the prof. Many profs I’ve had haven’t cared or been totally ok with kids (if well-managed).

                  I’d rather people try to combine an education and parenthood than give up on education.

                5. Neptune*

                  @ Yorick: “Students miss class for a variety of reasons and still get their degrees and jobs and good futures.”

                  But by that exact same logic, students are distracted in class all the time for a variety of reasons and still get their degrees and job and good futures. Surely there can be a balance where we accept that just as missing the occasional class due to childcare issues is not the end of the world, neither is occasionally* hearing a distracting noise?

                  *Key word being occasionally – of course lecture theatres should not become creches.

              2. Kathryn T.*

                “They will grow, and hopefully, their mothers love them enough to teach them manners, and social graces, and realize that they aren’t the center of the universe.”

                Just their mothers? Oh the irony.

            3. Delphine*

              There is the possibility of compromise. I doubt parents “desire” to bring their kids to class and they’re just as much enrolled in programs and paying tuition as you are. If you have a situation that prevents you from accommodating and you brought it up, I doubt anyone would tell you that you have to sacrifice your learning opportunities. This isn’t an either/or situation.

          2. Engineer Girl*

            I’m really getting tired of this false equivalency. The parent has other options other than bringing the baby to the lecture. There’s remote access, videotape, and even a babysitting co-op. The child is 16 months old at this point. It’s been over a year and the parents haven’t make arrangements for this? The lectures also weren’t a surprise.
            Forcing others to accommodate babies in symposiums is NOT the only available solution. And it is NOT anti child to ask a parent to use one of the other options.
            I’m really getting tired of “my preferred option is the only one and if you don’t like it you are “ist”.” mantra

              1. Kj*

                Because people are angry at the OP for daring to try to be a student and a mother. It is actually pretty scary to me to read the comments. I don’t think the OP was in the right 100%, but the anger directed at her is pretty awful.

                1. Social*


                  I’m also HIGHLY amused at the sheer number of people who seem unable to focus unless they’re sitting in complete silence.

                  Like, where do we set the bar here? Is someone in a wheelchair distracting because her wheels are making noise? Should she then be forced to leave? Is someone who needs to use the restroom multiple times so distracting that he should leave? Should someone with allergies who is blowing their nose be asked to leave?

                  Figure out how to operate in a world with noises and distractions rather than being mad at the fact that distractions exist.

                2. Yorick*

                  I think this is a particularly uncharitable read of the comments.

                  If a student said to me, “I want to attend this lecture but I don’t have daycare for the baby, what can I do?” I would try to find a way to make it work.

                3. Observer*

                  No one is claiming that they need absolute silence. But to claim that a laughing toddler that needs to be “settled down” is not disruptive is really disingenuous.

                4. Engineer Girl*

                  I’m also HIGHLY amused at the sheer number of people who seem unable to focus unless they’re sitting in complete silence.

                  People aren’t asking for complete silence. They are asking for minimum interruptions.

                  In addition, many (especially in technology) have sensory processing disorders. That would make it difficult for someone to absorb highly technical material via a lecture.

                  To say you are “amused” that people process information differently from you is myopic and tone deaf.

              2. Yorick*

                The OP didn’t realize there were other options, but she seemed to consider daycare the only option besides bringing the child to the seminar.

                People are pointing out that there are often things (like remote access to view the presentation) that can help with this issue.

              3. Engineer Girl*

                The OP did NOT say she didn’t have options. She stated they had tight finances. That’s where babysitting co-ops come in.

                1. Yorick*

                  Right, she only said she couldn’t afford daycare yet, not that there were no other childcare options.

              4. Observer*

                Because what the OP actually says does not bear out “no option”. She also handled the situation poorly, and got offended rather than trying to understand what went wrong.

        7. Elsie*

          I was at a grad school lecture recently with a lecturer who was the mayor of a major town. A man moved to take his two (older) boisterous children out of the room, and the lecturer…in this huge room…actually stopped talking to stop him. She said something to the effect of, “I don’t understand why we’re not comfortable with kids being kids, and it bothers me when we decide we need to immediately hush them and rush them out, especially when it’s usually women who have to take them out, and then get excluded from valuable parts of daily life.” I understood her point, but then…because they were, in fact, being boisterous…also found the children extremely distracting for the rest of the lecture.

          This post also reminded me of the professor from Columbia, SC who told a student she could bring her six month old to class and also offered to hold him during class. ( I’ve had classmates bring their kids/babies to class when in a bind, and think it’s great to be supportive if they’re generally quiet, but I’d be really annoyed if my professor taught the whole class holding a baby. And I do find it hard when parents don’t accurately assess the level of distraction their child poses (including the child who recently came to class and scribbled so aggressively I could hear it on the other side of the lecture room…a noise I’m guessing a parent is used to).

        8. Observer*

          I think that this is very good for the OP. But I do think that she still needs to take the feedback she’s getting here very seriously. Not the “Oh, you horrible, inconsiderate, disrespectful person. How DARE you even think of doing this!” stuff.

          But, the reality that 1. Toddlers rarely can be relied on to stay really quiet throughout the course of a lecture and that 2. toddler noises can REALLY, REALLY be distracting to others even when a parent doesn’t hear it as “loud” is something that the OP needs to recon with.

        9. Aurion*

          I still think it’s very inappropriate for the child to be there, even by the grace of the visiting speaker and/or the advisor. Not all visiting speakers could handle the disruption of the toddler, and more importantly (at least according to the email) the advisor did not poll the other attendees.

          Maybe the speaker can roll with it since they are very familiar with the subject that they’re presenting on and presumably the distracting toddler is only affecting the speaker’s presentation. The attendees are disrupted by the toddler while they are trying to absorb new information or an unfamiliar subject, and it follows that, on average, the attendees would be affected by the disruption much more than the speaker.

          I’m sympathetic to the difficulties of being a parent, and as others pointed out some of these talks aren’t so optional. But just as OP doesn’t want to be limited by missing out, neither does the rest of the audience – and this one child can affect many members of that audience.

        10. Else*

          This definitely varies by field and likely program as well. This situation if it wasn’t repeated too often and she took the kid out when he talked would be fine in my partner’s (education) and my fields (library sci), but would not be great in many others.

      5. JamieS*

        Alternatively parents could realize when and where it is and isn’t appropriate to bring a small child.

      6. Wintermute*

        I think we can all acknowledge that it’s unfair while still being honest about the fact that it’s the way it is. When I give legal advice it’s often prefaced by ‘yes this is awful, but it is also factual’ and in this case while I agree we should all work towards a society where lack of childcare access isn’t a huge factor in keeping poor people poor and in keeping women from attaining the highest levels of professional accomplishment, in this case the fact is it does hurt your image and change how other people perceive you.

        1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

          I agree with this line. We will all benefit from a society more supportive of parents, but making those changes takes long. In the meantime, we have to accept that sometimes we’ll have to go for a not perfect solution. It does not good to base our reasoning on how the world should ideally behave.

        2. Susie Q*

          How is it unfair? There are certain areas where children including small babies should not be. This has nothing to do with fairness.

          1. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

            Personally, I think it’s unfair that someone should miss out on a professional growth opportunity because of financial limitations/restrictions. That goes for the OP who can’t afford childcare, to the person who can’t afford transportation.

            The unfairness, to me, isn’t that a child isn’t welcome in that sort of setting, it’s that childcare isn’t available to the OP so that she can attend without her child.

            1. Grapey*

              I vote for policies that would give parents free childcare no exceptions…in the meantime, I still don’t want to be interrupted by babies in grad courses. Society isn’t the way I want it to be right now, but that changes with policy, not inconveniencing others.

            2. Susie Q*

              Childcare is available. She just can’t afford it. Those are two completely different situations.

              I don’t understand why someone else should pay for childcare for another person’s child. You chose to have the child, you pay for the child.

              1. Kj*

                Because it is a societal good for women who are mothers to have jobs, careers and lives? And society needs children to continue? Look, I get it is no one else’s ‘job’ to pay for the OP’s childcare. But as a whole, society is pretty terrible to parents who are trying to manage life, work and kids. And that is an equity issue.

              2. ValkyrAmy*

                Having access to free/low cost child care, education, healthcare, etc. are remarkable ways to promote societal equality and remove the barriers that poverty places in front of people who want to learn and thrive and develop skills that will better their lives.

                And since a lot of the childcare burden falls on women, having access to childcare (and paying child care workers a decent wage) will allow more women to further their education.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  Absolutely. If we look at societies where this kind of thing is the norm (e.g. Scandanavia) people are overall doing much better and have a higher quality of/more satisfaction with life than we do here.

              3. Wintermute*

                As a confirmed bachelor who’s childfree, I agree with you on a philosophical level to some extent, however data is what data is– societies that implement policies to enable access to childcare have higher levels of education, more class mobility, greater levels of prosperity, and improved outcomes for children of low-income homes.

                Part of the libertarian ideal is people rising to the level of their ability. To ME, as a libertarian socialist, part of that is removing barriers to allow people to rise to the greatest extent of their capability and ambition.

          2. Smarty Boots*

            The dept/program could acknowledge that its students have babies and that the students with babies are missing out and could work on a solution that helps these students attend without their babies. The ONLY solution is NOT: yes, everyone can bring their babies. There are other ways to address this. For example, dept/program reserves the room next to the event for childcare. (yeah, yeah, legal stuff yadda yadda — this can be addressed if the dept is committed to it.) Dept. helps set up a childcare co-op. and so on.

            1. Observer*

              I was thinking about that, too. If people are thinking about this and really want to make a difference, it really is NOT so hard to arrange a child care room nearby for occasions like this.

            2. Brisvegan*

              Even if setting up childcare is not feasible, access via systems that allow for remote interaction, eg Collaberate or Google hangouts might work, as might recording lectures, or providing a draft paper and encouraging email contact etc. Some of these might also allow better or different access for non-parents (eg people working other jobs, people with disabilities that impact attendance or processing or people with all sorts of non-grad school responsibilities).

              They are not ideal, in that the socialising context changes, but I am a big fan of making my lectures more accessible whenever possible. People have so many challenges when studying. I think I have a duty to make things as accessible as possible for everyone, not just those for whom traditionsl lectures are best.

              Lots of lecturers might be open to various access options, though some will not. For students: please ask if there are any options.

              Also, students might be able to get help via student welfare offices (for some social/monetary assistance information) or disability support offices (eg to get a note taker if you have auditory processing issues etc). I find many students aren’t aware of the full range of assistance available. Please check your various student services out for help. (No idea if LW has already done this. Just putting it out there for all the students.)

          3. Wintermute*

            What I meant was that it’s unfair on a societal level that the fact child-care access is difficult, beyond the economic means of many, and a barrier to full participation in education and the workforce because it helps preserve barriers to class mobility and gender disparity. Not that it’s unfair that you can’t bring a baby into a lecture.

        3. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          This almost goes to the “life isn’t fair” mantra. A local professor liked to push boundaries and he allowed 8 year old children to register/attend his classes. I support his position that anyone regardless of age should have access to education. However, I also under the frustration of other students when limited class time goes to “class tourists.”

      7. MK*

        I would think that being known as the person who brings their kid to professional events is going to be much more limiting to someone’s career than occasionaly missing a seminar.

        1. Debra Wolf*

          Agreed. A mother bringing a child to an academic talk actually increases the perception that mothers can’t handle being a mother and a graduate student.

        2. HQetc*

          See, I actually think this really depends. If it really is *occasionally* missing a seminar, maybe. But if that seminar is with a particular professor, who runs a lab with a great postdoc opportunity that would be just perfect for you, and, despite your kid being there with you, you are able to ask some bomb-ass questions that indicate how much you could contribute to this work, maybe not. Academia, for all its myriad problems around gender, diversity, work-life balance, and the intersection of all those, can also be a place where “woman with baby” can immediately turn into “brilliant grad student I absolutely want as my postdoc because of two smart questions.” Pretending like these seminars aren’t also major professional advancement opportunities is missing a big part of this question.

      8. CAcats*

        I would note though that childcare falls to the woman because they choose it to be so. I’m a working mom, but I’m not going to work late because I want to get back to my kid, and if that prevents me from moving up, so be it. So I am choosing that. I work in corporate American and so not academia which I know often is a big difference.
        My kid’s father is perfectly capable of caring for him during this time, I just want to be there to do it. Not because I feel I HAVE to as a woman, but because I want to. Men make the same sacrifices of not getting enough family time if they spend more time working, but they tend to choose that route instead of what women choose.

        1. merp*

          I may be accused of derailing here, but.. our choices reflect cultural expectations. Reframing it as always totally free, 100% personal choices ignores the fact that some people would demonize women for making other choices.

        2. Half-Caf Latte*

          Oh, honey, no. You have a lot of privilege to be able to say that you are choosing not to work late, and to be able to afford/absorb the consequences of that.
          Women are absolutely punished in the workplace for having families in a way that men are not. I’ll leave it to my more eloquent peers to elaborate, but this kind of talk does not help men or women in the workforce.

        3. Kj*

          No. You are falling into the fallacy of you are not affected by culture. Please consider that there are reasons that women make this “choice” and that men make the other “choice.”

        4. RUKiddingMe*

          “I would note though that childcare falls to the woman because they choose it to be so.”

          I keep coming back to this. Who chooses it? The moms? Just because you may want to structure your life completely around your child(ren) doesn’t mean that all mothers want to be the ones to have to do most of the child things.

          The “choice” such as it is was made by society…a patriarchal society wherein males equate mowing the laws a couple times a month, shoveling/blowing snow a couple times a year, and the arduous job of taking the cars in for an oil change … done by someone else … with cooking, cleaning, laundry, chauffeuring, scheduling, etc., etc., etc. every single day, seven days a week.

          Gee…anyone wonder why a patriarchal society would think that childcare should fall to women? I’m stumped.

      9. Kathleen*

        I fall completely in line with CricketttheCat. This issue is difficult for me to unpack. On one hand, as a young female attorney, I watched throughout school and after as my female friends with children were repeatedly at a disadvantage both practically (because they couldn’t make events/talks/etc.) and implicitly (because older, mostly male attorneys didn’t want to hire moms.) I also agree that even when the labor is divided equally, males are given much more leeway when they bring children places- I’ve seen this first hand several times.

        Although attending events may be optional, my experience is that jobs are had through networking, and OP is clearly missing out on these opportunities.

        Having said all of that, as someone without children who doesn’t particularly love them, I find children to be incredibly distracting in lecture settings. Even normal baby noises in a professional environment would drive me up a wall, and someone who repeatedly brought their child to lectures would annoy the heck out of me. I also wonder if being *that* person could negatively affect people’s thinking of her and hurt her in the future. Hopefully some of the other commentators suggestions will work for the OP, because I’m rooting for her success

    8. professor*

      wow, the responses to bringing kids to talks is shockingly negative. At least in my field, it’s very common, even at conferences. Heck, I’ve seen people give talks while holding their babies! The thing is, you sit in the back/aisle so you can easily leave if the child begins making noise. So yeah, if baby is giggling or what not, LW should have left. Frankly, a sleeping baby is less distracting the person on facebook next to me. This is an major issue and allowance to help women manage work/life balance. I say this is a child free person with very little tolerance for children too…

      1. TL -*

        This is probably a field-dependant thing, but I’ve never had a baby at a conference (except mealtimes) or a talk. And I rarely see people on Facebook unless undergrads are attending; people are either paying attention or working (quietly) on their computers. Seminars are voluntary things.

          1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

            And I think it also depends on the occasion: people would give more leeway at an informal seminar rather than a formal one.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            I’ve been thinking about this. My degrees are anthropology and sociology. So people right? In discussions over the years with other anthropologists/sociologists, totally non-scientific, completely anecdotal…many of us have come to the conclusion that we don’t really like hanging out with other people. Studying them sure, interacting, not so much.

            I can’t really recall any lecture, seminar, symposium, etc., etc., etc. (and I’ve been at this one way or another since 1980) where outsiders of any age would have been welcomed as such. And… off the top of my head I can think of at least a dozen people who would Take Issue with a baby, particularly a vocal one in an academic/professional lecture.

        1. Alice*

          At library conferences, I see babies all the time. At data science conferences, never.
          Btw, the gender ratio at the data science conferences is about 80-20 men-women.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            I’ve seen them once or twice at academic library conferences, but it’s not common. I’ve had colleagues who bring their partners with them and the partner usually takes care of the child(ren). Maybe we see children at a meal or on the vendor floor or rarely at a big speaker event if it’s a nursing mother who’s sitting way in the back of the ballroom, but I can’t recall the last time I saw a person with a child of any age at a paper presentation.

            1. else*

              Same for medical library conferences, although they may also appear at early evening social events or lunch to be shown off. :) @Alice, are you talking about ALA or its regional affiliates? The setting is really super different in some ways.

              1. Oxford Comma*

                I’ve been to both medical library and academic conferences. I agree the regional meetings can be way more casual and it might be more acceptable to bring a child to conference events. I would argue that if you’re new to the field, you want to avoid that till you get a feel for what flies and what doesn’t.

                Haven’t been to ALA in years, so I can’t comment on that one.

                As I commented above, I’ve been hearing about some conferences (not necessarily library ones) where there are childcare “grants” you can apply for if you have to bring your baby/toddler/child. But from what I understand, the money is for paying for a hotel sitter/defraying the costs of another caregiver. Not so that someone can bring a kid into a conference where someone’s giving a paper.

        2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

          I think so as well. I just came back from a conference and there was a woman who bought her baby to all the sessions she attended. The baby was very well behaved (he/she slept most of the time), but still I talked to many people who commented on it. This was a conference of about 3000 people, so the fact that it came up so frequently highlighted how unusual it is in the field.

      2. WellRed*

        Sitting in the back is all well and good, until the door is at the front and you have to leave with giggling/fussingbaby, then send a friend in to haul out a stroller, all while the lecture is happening, ouch.

      3. Debra Wolf*

        Yes, it is very common these days for parents to bring children to places where they don’t belong. That doesn’t make it ok. (The person next to you on Facebook is also not ok.) It’s interesting that you dismiss someone’s opinion as being less valid because the person doesn’t have children or even doesn’t like children. Whether or not someone likes or has children does not negate the fact that the speaker and audience (who also may be women) have rights too. I totally agree that we need to help mothers (not “women”) manage work/life balance, but not at the expense of everyone else.

      4. Yorick*

        In my social science field, I have never seen a baby at a lecture or talk. Our national conference provides daycare, so I’ve seen babies at the conference but not at the actual conference events.

        While teaching (university), I’ve had students ask to bring kids to class in an emergency. If kids are older it was no big deal. If someone with a younger kid or baby asked to, I told them no but they wouldn’t be counted absent (I didn’t take attendance anyway) and they could come to office hours to go over the material we covered that day.

        1. the_scientist*

          Yup, my dad is a community college professor and typically teaches non-trad students and new immigrants trying to obtain qualifications to work here. He once taught a class that started early in the morning and he had a lot of students who were late because they had to drop their kids off at daycare before coming, and unfortunately the daycare didn’t open early enough to allow them to drop off their kids and still make it to class on time. He worked with students to ensure they were able to make up the missed material (and that there wouldn’t be lateness/absence penalties) but he also lobbied the school to change the time that this course was offered so it was more accessible.

        2. curly sue*

          Heck, I’m a professor and had child care fall through at the last possible second a couple of times myself. My (then nine-year-old) daughter sat in on class when that happened and was deeply amused when my students started calling her my “new TA.” I’ve got a couple of students with children and yes, I’d welcome them sitting in as long as they were of an age where they could be quiet — sleeping infants or school-aged children.

          Sometimes life happens, and kindness to others can make all the difference.

      5. Dr. Pepper*

        My field is also fairly child accommodating and it’s not unusual to see babies or children at academic functions or industry conferences. You will not automatically be met with scorn if you bring a baby to a lecture. However, it’s very much expected that if the child becomes noisy or fussy, they will be removed from the room. Failing to do so will incur unfavorable judgement.

        One of my fellow grad students had a baby and she often brought the baby to talks and various other department events, because her husband was also a student and childcare is expensive. Her advisor was fully included in these decisions and nobody had an issue with it. She was very considerate and I never found the kid disruptive. Some of the other grad students would also watch the baby for her occasionally if it was a particularly relevant talk that she didn’t want to miss.

      6. nonymous*

        In my corner of academia there has been a growing movement to support parents during meetings by making childcare available at low cost and specifically program/identify events which are child-friendly. I believe this is the inclusive route to take.

        Compared to the kids I see in public (e.g. at the grocery store or whatever), the children I have seen at conferences/meetings are remarkably well behaved. And while I believe it is important to reduce the barriers that disproportionately affect mothers in the workforce, I think there is a balance to strike between catering to that demographic and being sensitive to the fact that are some women have made the choice to sacrifice/delay motherhood or finances to prioritize their career. The US at least, is not truly at the collectivist stage where we believe that providing for children is a shared community responsibility beyond some basics.

      7. epi*

        Mine too. I think this will also vary by the field, its values, and its representation of women. But I don’t get the impression that most commenters are even academics, to be able to say with any authority what is acceptable in that world.

      8. CAcats*

        This would never ever happen in my field. I’m in corporate insurance. Occassionally someone will bring their kid through to say hi, but that’s it. It’s just not an environment for kids. We have more women than men working here, and plenty of parents, this just isn’t done or would be acceptable. If you can’t get care, then you don’t attend (whether its a workday, conference, whatever)

      9. Lilo*

        My undergrad degree is in a lab science and a baby at a conference would never fly, but you would never, ever be able to do the basic work without childcare because it would be straight up impossible to bring a baby to lab dye lab to safety. There are dangerous chemicals and sources of radiation everywhere. If a person even stepped in the door with a child they would be asked to leave immediately, and banned if the violations continued or were serious (this would be the same for lacking safety gear or shoes).

        1. a non non*

          I also work in a lab science (biology) and I have seen so many babies at every conference I have ever been. No one brings their babies into the lab (well, at least not during working hours, sometimes they park their older kids in the conference room next door after hours/on weekends to run in and change a wash or something) and so everyone I know has childcare during the week, but a lot of conferences are on weekends or involve travel, which make normal childcare arrangements difficult.

      10. MCR*

        OP #2 – As the mom of a 20 month old, I can assure you that regardless of whether it was OK to bring your child to a lecture before or not…it’s not going to be OK for much longer. By 18 months you are not going to be able to get your kid to sit still for longer than a few minutes, much less be silent. So regardless of everyone else’s opinion on whether it was OK in the past, it’s not going to be OK in the future, so you need to work on getting childcare for the next time this happens!

      11. kittymommy*

        I cannot think of a time I’ve seen a child at one of the government conferences I’ve been at. Sure, some people bring their families to the hotel, but not to the actual conference events.

    9. beth*

      Unfortunately, I agree. An academic talk is not a child friendly space. People need to be able to focus on what the speaker is saying, and ambient noise and unexpected movement (even if it’s just quiet noise and small arms wiggling) can be really distracting; it’s not fair to your fellow attendees to bring in that kind of disruption. It also doesn’t reflect well on your reputation as a scholar; as a grad student, attending these talks is essentially part of your job, and it’s hard to believe that you’re fully focused on the talk while you’re also providing childcare.

      Obviously your best option is to find other childcare, but I know that’s easier said than done sometimes. When you have no options other than to bring the baby or skip the talk, I do think you have to skip the talk. You can always ask a colleague to share their notes if the topic is of interest to you.

      If you haven’t done so before, it might also be worth asking around about if your program or university has resources for parents–you never know unless you ask, after all.

      1. Been There, Done That*

        It’s easy to say “can’t you just…”, but I remember from my college days there were student job boards and I’m wondering if one option might be to hire a student babysitter (check them out in advance!) to mind the child outside the lecture room and hand her off right after the talk? It would cost less that hiring a sitter for half a day, if you can get someone who’s on campus already anyway.

        1. TheRedCoat*

          As someone who did a lot of this sort of babysitting as an undergrad (our school eliminated the daycare facilities, but kept the little park for several years before converting it to a community garden), thiiiisss! Hell, for some of my regulars, I’d even exchange ‘can you look over this paper for me’ for ‘I’ll take your kiddo to build snowmen in the park’.

          1. the_scientist*

            Yes! childcare is expensive but the letter writer works at a university. It’s like a baby sitter mecca. Surely there are many competent undergraduate students who would be happy to earn some extra money doing a few hours of baby-sitting here and there. Letter writer, use this environment to your advantage! Even if it’s not for academic events, having a roster of reliable babysitters around is invaluable for when you just need to run errands for an hour, get some uninterrupted writing time in, or even go on a date with your partner.

            I think others have pointed out the very real systemic barriers facing women with children and I am sympathetic to them, but also, a 16-month old isn’t a baby. That’s a toddler, and toddlers are endlessly disruptive (I like kids, I want to have kids, but let’s be real about the fact that toddlers are basically tornadoes in human form.) You might be able to count on a 6-week old sleeping through an entire guest lecture, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for this age.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              One of the reasons I am child-free is that I know I would not cope well with the toddler stage. Tornadoes in human form is a good description. I’ve also been known to describe them as “independently mobile chaos elementals.”

            2. ket*

              Have to agree — I did a lot of conference calls with a 6-week-old (even nursing without anyone knowing while on video!) but the same child as an 18-month-old is not… amenable…. to silent stillness….

        2. Reba*

          Yes, this was going to be my suggestion. Do you have a responsible student, or does a faculty member have a nice teenager? Could you share the cost of a sitter with other parents in the department?

          Since from Alison’s comment update we know your adviser is supportive, maybe your department might take on organizing a sitter for some events if there are a few parents who would use them.

          if you take on the cost of the sitter individually, I know that paying $50 or whatever to attend a talk is not ideal for OP, but I think it’s the best solution. For a talk that you wouldn’t mind leaving part way, maybe not, but for a talk you really wanted to attend like this one, maybe worth it.

          OP, consider that *you, yourself* were distracted during the talk by needing to care for kiddo. The expense of the sitter is not only a matter of etiquette but also for you to be able to get as much out if it as you can.

          FWIW, I wouldn’t have been bothered. But kids change a lot from week to week, and what might have been quiet snoozing at 11 months could be unacceptable bouncing off the walls at 12 months.

          1. Reba*

            To add, if the department makes a habit of this they can talk about it to higher ups and prospective s as an action they are taking to reduce barriers to women and non trade students to participate in higher education.

    10. Aaron*

      I think it’s a play it by ear sort of thing. I’ve had classmates (I’m in a teaching program) who’ve had to bring in babies (and once even a newborn lamb) and provided they’re quiet and leave when something comes up it’s no problem, even in fairly large lectures.
      It’s worth pointing out too that if you can’t afford childcare (or find it) you can’t afford it. It’s not like letter writer wants to attend the ballet, she’s attending something she needs for her program.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        … a newborn lamb?!

        I guess it was an orphan or something and needed round the clock care – but unless it was a vet or farm school, I’m totally boggled.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Could have been a pet.

          I used to work for a veterinarian and bottle-raised several puppies and kittens. Puppies are quieter. Kittens are all lungs and stomach.

          I would not have brought them to an academic lecture.

      2. xxx*

        Would you look for work without having child care set up?

        The same should apply for school studies. It’s realllllllllllly unfair but if you can’t find the child care, you might have to postpone the studying.

        1. Birch*

          That’s not fair in either situation–there are a lot of cases where someone already has a job or study position and things change, babies aren’t always planned, money has to be juggled a certain way and people can’t afford to lose the job or position but also can’t afford child care. It’s not as simple as saying “get a 100% solid child care situation set up before you’re allowed to get a job or start/continue studiying.” I’m sure everyone knows that’s the ideal plan but life doesn’t happen in an ideal way.

          1. KAW*

            Well then it seems fair that the lecture environment should be compromised and disrupted for everyone else, too.

            OP would be inconvenienced by not going to the lecture, so she figures it’s better to inconvenience everyone else by showing up as she pleases. The cooing and giggling were just fine by her, I guess it doesn’t matter if others found it distracting. Just tell them life doesn’t happen in an ideal way, suck it up buttercup!

            1. Birch*

              I think you were misunderstanding what I said. I was replying to xxx who said “Would you look for work without having child care set up?”

              My point is that a lot of life situations are unpredictable (and also like, people need money to live…) so it’s not practical to expect people to have perfect childcare set up before finding a job or study program. OP could have had childcare that fell through or that they suddenly couldn’t afford for this semester. It’s not the case that people always irresponsibly neglect to set up childcare when they’re in these difficult situations. I was talking about the whole story, not just this one lecture.

            2. ket*

              That’s very unkind, KAW. It seems like you’re doing a lot of exaggeration in this discussion and it doesn’t seem warranted. What are you litigating from your own life experiences?

        2. Washi*

          I think this is one of those things that seems fair on the face of it but can lead to really serious inequalities. When we give zero flexibility for varying life circumstances, usually the only people who can meet those standards are in more privileged positions (men, the wealthy, able-bodied people, etc.) A truly equitable approach is to lay out clearly the true requirements and deliverables of a job, and have high standards for them, but be flexible about how people get there. A lot of people have offered some ideas for this situation – trading childcare, skyping in to lectures, etc, that don’t compromise others’ ability to learn without being needlessly rigid.

          1. Ashie*

            You are 100% correct. There’s no point in creating inequities in 2018. We’re living in the future! Live streaming is a thing!

        3. ket*

          Grad school is totally different than work, and the best time in academia to have a kid. With all due respect xxx, OP, don’t listen to these folks! You can stretch and bend that PhD all kinds of ways. Pay an undergrad $15/hr to play with your kid on campus. Swap with other grad parents. Go into a little bit of debt but not too much. Use videoconferencing and live-streams of lectures. You can do this and it’ll be great.

          Then when your kid is 8 you can sit down and do homework together — you can work on your tenure packet while she’s doing addition worksheets :)

          My qualifications: had kid after grad school; have female and male friends who had kids in grad school, with the gals having 2 kids each in grad school; have childless friends who did grad school or actually didn’t finish, as the case may be. The girlfriends who had kids in grad school had a lot of work on their plate at that time but are now reaping the rewards as they’re mid-career with middle-school kids and it’s all come together in excellent ways for them. I’m the one who had the kid after the PhD and I’m mid-career with a toddler and a job that would not quite be described as first-tier. Hah. Everyone I’m talking about was in a STEM field where women are still a significant minority and motherhood is an exotic condition.

      3. beth*

        The thing about department talks is they’re usually ‘optional’. As in, you’re not strictly required to go to any particular lecture…but as a grad student of the department there’s a strong expectation that you’ll find a way to get to most or all of the ones relevant to your research, and probably at least a couple on tangentially related topics. If you skip too many of them, it can be interpreted as you slacking off (not to mention, you’re missing out on both information and connections that can be really helpful to your research). But since there’s no concrete requirement that you have to go, you really can’t say that you had no choice but to bring your kid along to a given lecture; you had the option to stay home, after all.

    11. Been There, Done That*

      Agree. Although I understand your situation, taking the baby with you is not the solution. “Cooing and giggling” might sound charming, but it’s unwanted, unexpected, distracting sound in that setting. Standing in the back is still in the room, and sound travels.

    12. lobsterpot*

      I find this a little on the patronising side. Maybe it’s my own beliefs and maybe it’s the cultural context I am from (UK postgrad, highly active student unions) but in my experience there are so many barriers to women in academia (as PCBH po NTEd out above) that I think this is actually a wider issue of indirect discrimination against student parents. Expecting postgrads to attend a high number of events is fine – it makes complete sense. But, especially in some universities that have a high percentage of mature or late returning students, or the institutions in your the uk that have a lot of non traditional students, I think the institution has to expect and prepare to offer accommodations.

      LW, are you aware of whether your SU or postgrad union if you have one on campus has campaigned on issues facing student parents? At a previous job we campaigned successfully for all buildings to have changing facilities and for extended crèche hours and reduced rates for postgrad and early career faculty.

      Either way I think that yes, it can’t always work to bring the baby along. But responding that not everyone thinks the baby is cute totally ignores the underlying issues here of sexist discrimination and wage suppression in the early career/student tiers of professional academia.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Childcare is something you have to deal with in academia or industry. Finding a solution early on benefits the parent.
        There are so many more options now Vs 20 years ago. You can remote attend meetings, men are actually expected to help with caregiving, meetings can be taped.

        It’s also disrespectful to reduce the issue to not liking a “cute” baby. This is about the ability of others to concentrate and absorb information they need to graduate. Parents of children should get help but not at the expense of others. There’s solutions that work for both groups.

        1. lobsterp0t*

          I totally understand that, but I have also been a research postgrad, and while yes, there are elements of professional to events, I am actaully strongly in favour of changing a culture that is inhospitable to people’s actual lives. And grad school, whilst a professional training ground, is also considerably more informal in a lot of fields than other more conservative industries or sectors.

          My point was really, though, not that it was fine to take the baby, but that the systems humans work in should be more hospitable and facilitate options like this. In universities especially, there is so much institutional wealth, it is really silly to leave barriers to student parents in place when there could easily be bursaries or crèche etc that can be made more accessible. There’s no reason not to and needing institutions and systems of work to step up to modern day human living requirements isn’t a bad thing or a mark of being less professional; it’s a sign of it being time for those systems to change.

      2. MK*

        You point out to a real problem, but the solution cannot be “let’s start bringing babies to professional events”. I question whether it actually helps the issue of sexist discrimination; on the contrary it probably re-enforces the negative stereotype that a female professional will prioritize her children over her career.

        1. Elizabeth Frantes*

          Bingo. The idea that women = mothers ends up with the idea that children is all women SHOULD do. Which means men will be chosen over women every time. Considering the grief I’ve gotten over my long life from WOMEN for not wanting to marry and have children . . . well, let’s just say I ran out of tolerance for their life choices a long time ago. Like crabs in a bucket. Yeah, you’re life’s hard because you chose to have a child, that’s why I chose not to! I saw how hard my mother had to work and she had a very supportive husband. I wish it had been acceptable then to have him stay with the kids and she run the business!
          I know a couple who does that it their kid is AMAZING.

          1. Delphine*

            But many women are mothers. The solution isn’t to decrease their accessibility to opportunities because you think having them around will make you look bad in the eyes of the majority. Women who choose to be mothers and work are not the problem. The stereotype itself is the problem and the way to defeat it is to make sure women have equal access, whether they are mothers or not. To make allowances and be flexible wherever possible.

          2. lobsterp0t*

            But, life is hard for women who have children because of patriarchy, not because of motherhood. We live in 2018, there’s no reason for maternity (or more generally, parental) discrimination.

            And, hey, I get the child free thing… I am child free too, and I get where you are coming from. But the professional consequences of parenthood for women are unique to mothers, not to fathers. It’s sexism.

      3. HannahS*

        Yeah, I think a lot of the responses are being unnecessarily condescending? Something. The OP didn’t think it was this great innovative idea to bring her baby. She didn’t do it because she’s someone who thinks that her baby is everlastingly adorable and that no one could possibly be bothered by it. She clearly knows it wasn’t ideal. Scripts for talking to the supervisor, reaching out to other students with children, speaking to the student union, etc are much more helpful suggestions than, “No matter how cute you think your baby is…”

        1. Delphine*

          This is the response whenever we have a question of this sort. An odd mix of “I know your situation better than you do, you had options!” and “Them’s the breaks! Quit your job/degree program/volunteer opportunity!”

      4. Pommette!*

        Great comment and great points.

        I’m in a field where it’s completely normal for parents to bring babies to conferences and public lectures. I like this practice well enough, and do not find it disruptive (there are well-developed norms, including “sit or stand near the door and run out if baby fusses or coos”). That said, while it does somewhat lighten one of the many barriers currently excluding parents of babies from academia, and helps make the fact that some students are parents visible, in the end it isn’t a solution to the many kinds of discrimination (sexist definitely included) endemic in our field.

        The issue isn’t whether we let parents bring their 0-12 month old in for a talk; it’s whether we have frequent, necessary, evening events (with expectations of post-event socialization and networking), in a country where evening child-care is virtually inaccessible to people who don’t have a lot of money or familial support, and, more broadly, that we structure grad programs on the assumption that students won’t have any outside family responsibilities. And then we wonder why our faculty members are disproportionately likely to be white men from middle or upper class backgrounds.

        1. Washi*

          Yes!!! This applies to other fields as well – when you make it so that the only way to be seen as serious and dedicated is to constantly be available for very and evening and weekend events, often with no set end time, you make that profession feasible only for a very small group of people, who are likely to be young, middle/upperclass, and men. Clearly some institutions are ok with that, but some are not, and I think if a university or company wants a diverse group of people, they also have to be more flexible with diverse life circumstances. Some of that will mean finding creative solutions so you don’t have a toddler in a lecture, but I think some of it involves the underlying workaholic culture of the US. Why do people have to work 50-60 hours a week to get ahead? Is all of that really productive or could you get the same results with less? (As has been shown to be true in many countries with shorter workweeks.)

        2. Yvette*

          Your second paragraph about requiring events and assuming availability reminds me of a situation I was in my freshman year at college. This was a school known for having a very small commuter population, freshmen residents were not even allowed to have cars on campus. I did not live on campus and worked.

          I was taking an anthropology course, and on the first day of class the professor announced that there would be films shown in the evening, and attendance would be mandatory. I thought OK, he will hand out a schedule. He then announced that the first film would be that evening. I thought OK well that is because it is the first one, he will hand out a schedule. I happened not to be working that night so no problem. Next class, no schedule, and he announces the next film would be the next evening. I was able to swap hours with someone.

          After the film I went up to him and explained the situation and asked if he could provide an advance schedule. He just seemed genuinely surprised that this would even have been an issue, that it never even occurred to him a student might have outside obligations like a job. (not in an arrogant way, more like a clueless way). Anyway the next day in class he handed out the schedule for the remainder of the films, and when I took his successive class next semester, a film schedule was handed out the first day.

        3. lobsterp0t*

          YESSSSSSS. Totally agree. This is what I mean by accommodations. Not,bring kids to adult events… make the events accessible.

          I love your solutions!!

        4. beth*

          Your second paragraph is exactly it. Academia is too often structured on the assumption that it will be people’s (both grad students’ and professors’) whole lives (or at least their highest priority among the things in their life). It’s unhealthy for students on the individual level, and it discourages diversity in a way that’s unhealthy on an institutional level as well.

      5. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        If you’re a parent, you need to take responsibility for that. Children don’t belong everywhere and this needs to be accounted for long before you have kids. There are numerous suggestions–LW could have had partner watch child, arrange/exchanged sitting duties, looked for daycare, etc. It’s not use to the world to care for your child–that’s up to the parents/caregivers. Make arrangements long before you get pregnant, get social nets, etc. This is a college–I can’t believe there are no students around whom LW couldn’t have woked with to provide care or tape the lecture.

        1. skunklet*

          Things change; I spent 6 years in the Navy and then went to college – as a single parent. My then elementary aged son would yes, occasionally come with me to class (no, I didn’t ask anyone) and occasionally attend lectures. I had day care, but gee, I did 5 1/2 yrs of college in 4, plus I worked 2 jobs so I occasionally had him with me so I would see him. No one knows what happened to OP before this very moment – did the spouse/boyfriend die? Walk out? You’re presuming that things remain static and nothing every changes. Heck, maybe a daycare provider just became unavailable. We don’t know. So yeah, planning’s great, but sometimes, you gotta punt.

      6. Dust Bunny*

        Women could also start handing babies over to their spouses more often. If a baby can disrupt her professional life, it can just as well disrupt his. But they need to start making a point of not being the default parent every time.

        1. Risha*

          There seems to be a lot of assuming in this comment section that the LW has a partner. There are a thousand different ways to end up a single parent, possibly with little to no familial support, and only maybe half of them are at all under the person’s control.

        2. PlainJane*

          Just want to second this. I totally understand that not every parent has a partner, but if you do, and you don’t insist that partner participate in the raising of your child, that’s at least partly on you. I get that there are societal expectations around women and caregiving, but we women also have agency and do not have to sacrifice our careers, hobbies, and personal time to conform to someone else’s sexist expectations. I’m getting pretty frustrated with the “women are helpless in the face of a sexist society” narrative. We aren’t.

      7. RUKiddingMe*

        But in the US no one cares about accommodating others you see. The campaign you did for changing facilities…here it would still be being “discussed/debated/looked into” after OP’s *grandchild* had its a PhD.

    13. Flash Bristow*

      Completely. I’m easily distracted by certain noises – sweet wrappers / crisp packets are one… The noise leaking from headphones is a second… Small children are another. It’s not fair to potentially disrupt several other people’s learning for your own sake.

      Ask the lecturer(s?) if it’s ok to record the talk when you don’t have childcare; if so, pop in just before they start and place down your recorder, leave, and pop back in as everyone begins to file out to collect it.

      Otherwise, do you have a friend who would let you copy their notes to read over?

      I hope you find a solution and I realise it’s tricky, but I really don’t think it’s reasonable to take a child to a lecture unless it’s been specifically approved in advance (and even then as a fellow student, I’m afraid I’d probably object).

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        IME recording lectures/acquiring transcripts is sometimes kind of a fraught situation, and negotiated at a much higher level than a single student. If a recording is going to exist, it should be through the school/grad program. In my program, if people found out that a lecturer hadn’t given permission for the department or the library to have a permanent copy of a lecture but one particular person was allowed to record personally…boy howdy would the S have hit the F.

        1. Deep Purple Dream*

          This. I had professors who refused to allow recordings of class. Recording or streaming a visiting lecturer would need to be negotiated beforehand with the lecturer.

    14. kilika*

      To be honest, I wonder if some of this isn’t a USAmerican problem.
      I’m from another country, where kids are far more common, and as long as the kid is reasonably quiet I don’t think anybody would care much. I’ve been to class with babies in the back, my sister has taken her baby to class. There was even a viral video a while back of a student who brought her baby to class and wanted to leave when the baby started fussing but the professor didn’t want her to have to leave, so he picked up the fussing baby and kept teaching while holding it. Everybody thought it was cute.
      If people can get over the occasional accidental cellphone ring, that person who spills the coffee at the back of the room, the squeaky chairs, the whispering, I really don’t understand why a quiet baby is such a big deal.

      1. ket*

        While traveling I have found people not in the US or not from the US to be more comfortable with children than Americans. It surprised me.

    15. Alice*

      I disagree. In my department it’s perfectly fine to bring a baby (not a toddler) to a talk in the evening. If he starts making noise, take him outside and settle him in the hall, then come back.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        It may be fine for you but it’s rude. and 16 months is usually/often a toddler.

        1. Alice*

          OK, well, now that you’ve informed me, I will tell everyone in my department that we should change our organizational culture because someone on the internet thinks it’s rude.

    16. Yorick*

      You’re also disrespecting the speaker by bringing this in. Having a noisy baby in an otherwise silent room would be a terrible distraction while giving a presentation, especially considering many people are incredibly nervous about public speaking (yes, even mid- to senior-level academics who are invited to give lectures).

    17. Tech-Anon*

      I am curious if there would be an option of recording or livestreaming these talks? It may limit participation for the OP but she could always follow up with the lecturer afterward.

      1. Yorick*

        The talks in my former department were livestreamed using something like skype, so people watching remotely were able to ask questions (we always checked with them first when Q&A time started).

    18. DogTrainer*

      Agreed. I have a PhD (2012), and children are absolutely not a normal thing at academic talks. I would have been furious and thought the person was unprofessional.

    19. agf12*

      This is incredibly uncharitable- OP is a student who is trying to learn but doesn’t have access to affordable childcare. The fact that they have a kid does not mean they need to miss out on networking and learning opportunities that will enhance their education, and (most?) workers in higher ed that I know would be really empathetic to that situation.

      1. KAW*

        I guess the other students that are trying to learn but don’t have access to child-free, non-distracting environments (because of people like OP) don’t count. How uncharitable.

      2. coffeeee*

        I used to work for a childcare company. The government will subsidize daycare based on income. At least 60% of the kids where I worked received some form of assistance.

        But that’s beside the point. If she felt like she couldn’t find daycare for her child, she needs to stay home with that child. It’s really unfair and inappropriate to bring that child into a lecture that bother those around her. As others have mentioned, she could ask if remote viewing options are possible or ask if the lecture can be recorded. Hell, in Universities I attended I often brought a standalone recorder to class and placed it near the lecturer so I could review my notes later in case I missed anything.

        1. bonkerballs*

          I work in Seattle, and while the government may subsidize childcare a) not many daycares in Seattle will accept subsidies because the government doesn’t subsidize the full cost so the center loses money and b) there are not nearly enough daycares for all the people who need it. The daycare I worked at was pretty small – our infant room could only take 6 FTE infants at a time. Our waitlist for the infant room had over 100 people on it. I tell people I know if you even thinking about having kids in the near future you need to start getting on waitlists now otherwise you’ll never get in. Affordable, accessible childcare in the US is a joke.

          1. ket*

            Yep, to get a kid into the daycare at my university it’s best to sign up at the beginning of 2nd trimester so you have a chance of getting the kid in before she’s a year old.

            1. ValkyrAmy*

              I think you need to sign up about 2 years before you get pregnant! I just got notice that we were approved for my first choice daycare. My daughter is 6.5 YEARS. :)

        1. Parenthetically*

          Imagine seriously quoting a character who spent seven years singling out a child for verbal abuse as support for your ideas.

    20. Carol Pilbasian, The Notary*

      Agreed. I love babies (I have an almost 3 year old myself) but this would annoy me. I wouldn’t be expecting to have to deal with that sort of distraction during a lecture. I think you need to find alternate arrangements in the future. It will probably be less stressful for you and let you enjoy the lecture more as well.

    21. coffeeee*

      Agreed I’d be highly annoyed and irritated. I wouldn’t be able to focus on the lecture with baby noises around. It’s an inappropriate place to bring a baby.

    22. Elizabeth*

      Agreed. I’m another one that would be very distracted by a kid making noises.

      OP, I know you said you can’t afford daycare, but I wonder if you could find a young babysitter that works in your area? Like, someone you could pay 20 bucks or so to watch your kid for a couple of hours while you go to the event? Maybe, if you know some other parents with young kids, you can ask them who they use.

    23. sfigato*

      I disagree. I think making reasonable accommodations for people caring for small children to attend professional events is something that should be standard, especially if your organization wants to be inclusive. I’ve been to several meetings where people brought kids and so long as they take them out of the room if they get disruptive, it’s fine. A baby cooing is no more distracting than a cell phone going off or someone whispering to their neighbor. Some organizations will provide free childcare for community meetings to allow people caring for children to attend. Not everyone can afford a babysitter, and if you are dealing with a population that is likely to be low-income (like grad students), making reasonable accommodations for small children should be part of the deal.

      1. Jay*

        Reasonable being the key word here. Not “we’ll accommodate the parents who couldn’t find a better solution, and everyone else just has to put up with it”.

        1. PlainJane*

          This. Livestreaming and teleconferencing are reasonable accommodations. Making it difficult for everyone else in attendance isn’t reasonable.

    24. Could be Anyone*

      I’m sympathetic, but to be honest, I think I would be pretty distracted by even a silent, sleeping baby in a lecture/classroom setting.

      1. CM*

        Agreed, I’m easily distracted by noise and movement — while a truly silent, sleeping baby wouldn’t bother me, you can’t count on babies being completely silent and still.

        I had a baby during law school, so I totally sympathize with this OP. I would bring the baby to events only if they were small meetings where I cleared it with the person running the meeting beforehand, or if they were large rooms where it wouldn’t be too hard to sneak out unnoticed if the baby started making noise. Finding others in a similar situation and swapping childcare with them is a great idea — we had a parents’ organization at our school (you could even start one, and extend it to other schools/departments too) . Finding reliable daycare is SO important, but also so challenging and expensive. Unfortunately, sometimes I just had to miss out and that was part of the tradeoff I had to make because I was doing two all-consuming things at the same time in my life.

        Best of luck, OP! I’m glad to hear the update — it sounds like your supervisor might be up for some brainstorming about how to handle this situation in the future.

    25. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Universities are full of individuals who would be happy to earn a few bucks to play with a toddler on site, while a parent is attending a lecture. Check with the career center, or ask fellow students if they know someone who could help out.

    26. Jaydee*

      Even if you don’t have the finances to pay for full-time daycare, it’s really important to have someone (ideally a couple someones in case one is unavailable) who can watch your baby when you have a Thing to attend and your partner isn’t available. Do you have family members in the area, a friend or neighbor, or someone who can give you the name of their babysitter? You’re a grad student, so does your university have an early childhood or elementary education program whose students might be specifically looking for childcare work? Can you trade off with another parent – you’ll watch their kid while they goes to X and they’ll watch your kid while you go to Y?

    27. Nesprin*

      Academic here- You cannot bring an infant to a lecture and expect it to go over even remotely well. Academia is a reputation game, and “brought her toddler to a lecture” would pretty much sink my opinion of LW2’s judgement and professionalism, along with her respect for and interest in the speaker. Speakers are invited to both share information and for networking purposes- with a 16 month old, you are not able to pay complete attention to the lecture or effectively impress a visitor.If I was your advisor, we’d be having a talk about norms and your need to follow them until you have the senority or power to do else wise.
      Posters above discussing whether your advisor could kick you out- FFS your advisor will be writing the rec letter that will get you your first job- you want your advisor to rave about your dedication and talent with no asterisks.

    28. CD*

      What also struck me is that the OP took the baby to the back of the room and the speaker at the front of the room still asked her to leave. Clearly it wasn’t as quiet as she thought.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, I want to be clear that I am pro-baby, and I generally support my students (and grad students) when they need to bring their baby to class or to meetings.

    But I am not supportive of people bringing their babies/toddlers—without giving me notice—when we have guest speakers. Even if the baby’s noises are not very distracting, someone getting up and pacing in the background can be very distracting and can detract from our guest’s ability to present. As a host, I would want a head’s up so that, at a minimum, I could confirm that my guest would be comfortable dealing with the possibility of a baby (some are!) and all the baby soothing that has to happen. If someone intermittently brings their baby, that can make it difficult for me to cover all the bases that make me feel like a professional and gracious host.

    This is a long way of saying I agree with everything Alison has written, including her scripts for raising this with your advisor. Regardless, you should do some proactive damage control with your advisor (she may not be upset, but you’ve nothing to lose by talking to her sooner than later).

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      Yeah, the baby’s noises by themselves might not be the most distracting – any shushing, rummaging for bottles, talking to the baby, pacing etc etc is likely to be even more so. I feel for OP, of course, but I feel for the people in the seats around her. I wish there were more options.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Our bodies are biologically wired to pick up on movement. A wriggling baby is going to set off that trigger. A wriggling adult would do the same thing but they’d probably be asked to stop it or leave.

        1. thankful for AAM*

          And we are wired to respond to baby sounds! That makes them much more distracting than paper shuffling or candy wrappers. I find I am totally distracted by children bc I want to go play with them.

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Or the diaper blow-out (ask me how I know!)

        My field is very, very parent friendly, so in general parents contact the meeting/conference organizer and ask about bringing the child first, then the conference and meeting organizer will help them figure out the best place to sit, set the ground rules for fussy/noise/motion, show them where to store anything that needs to be kept cold (dads need somewhere to keep the breastmilk), where to pump, etc.. Overall it works out well, but everyone in the room is aware that a baby is present and it is impossible to have a child be 100% guaranteed, not distracting .

    2. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

      I agree that OP should have cleared with the advisor first (and I know it’s generally not useful to say it afterwards, but there will probably be other similar occasions). It’s nice to let people know in advance if there are going to be problems; who knows, maybe the supervisor would have been able to arrange some help. Even now, I think it could be a good idea to discuss with the supervisor and ask her for advice, especially since they seem to have a good relationship and the supervisor is also a woman. Although, I would be prepared for the possibility that she answers: “skip the talks altogether”.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I agree with all of this, and, frankly, I was a little surprised to read the letter-writer’s assessment of not knowing what else she could have done other than bringing her child to the lecture. It’s also possible that the advisor might be able to arrange for a webinar for those unable to attend in person, if he/she is aware of these sorts of circumstances, or might know someone on campus who’d be willing to entertain the child outside the lecture hall for a reduced childcare rate.

        I am entirely sympathetic – I restarted my master’s when my second was a newborn and my first was about two (and I had an absurd job – my spouse is a saint). It was really tough and a relief when it was done. However, it would never have occurred to me to take the baby or toddler to a school-related function without clearing it with my professor or the organizer first as those are generally not child-friendly environments.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Organizations or conferences or whatever that don’t want children in the audience could arrange for the availability upon childcare. Organizations that are actively seeking to diversify and be inclusive in their membership are on top of this. At the annual and quarterly meetings of one of my organizations, for example, they ask about childcare needs in the registration materials and provide childcare as needed.

      1. Susie Q*

        It’s not the responsibility of an organization to take care of a child. It’s the parent’s responsibility. Children are a choice. Make that choice and accept the resulting consequences.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          Thank you Susie. This is a parent’s job. Arrange childcare for the kid you decided to have.

            1. CAcats*

              But is this common? I mean, I obviously know it happens, and there are always exceptions, but we are talking about academia here, so it’s presumable that these are educated folk who know how to control their fertility?

              1. Riley*

                a) Most of the highly effective birth control methods are hormonal and not everyone’s body can handle that, for many different reasons.
                b) Things happen. Birth control pills get missed and condoms break. You can use all your birth control methods correctly and still be in the <1% of people who get pregnant anyway.
                c) Not everyone can afford effective birth control.
                d) There are times when people do not choose to have sex and are impregnated against their will.

                And so on. It is neither helpful nor kind to make assumptions about how people got pregnant. Presumably someone who is trying to get through school with a child has already heard enough about how irresponsible they are.

                I'm pretty sure the point of your comment is just that we should be able to assume that an educated person chose to be pregnant, but really, those kinds of speculations aren't our business.

                1. very anon for this*

                  Thanks, Riley.

                  Kids happen for all sorts of reasons, and I hate the way in the US it always goes back to some twisted moral reasoning: either it was planned, in which case it’s all “your choice” so don’t expect accommodations, or it wasn’t planned, in which case you’re stupid, irresponsible, a victim who didn’t avail herself of her “choices” so don’t expect accommodations, or you have an abortion, which is only for irresponsible women who didn’t plan ahead or “put themselves in a bad situation”. I honestly don’t know what to say in these conversations. Yes, I’m educated. Yes, stuff happened, and now I have a kid. Yes, I realize in this instant when someone’s blathering about “my choices” and “you wanted it” that it would be really awkward to say it was all an accident that I didn’t put a stop to. Yes, I’m pro-choice and this kid was in the end a choice, because I do have the resources to have an abortion. Yes, I love this kid! And yes, I was actively trying *not* to have a kid, and here we are.

                2. Parenthetically*

                  +1 to Riley and very anon.

                  If we want to be inclusive to women and not treat them like outcasts when they have children, schools and workplaces have to be the ones to change. Accessible childcare is a progressive value and it grosses me out that otherwise-progressive people will sneeringly deny opportunities to mothers because they “chose” to get pregnant. It’s regressive and awful.

              2. Phoenix*

                Birth control is imperfect, as is access to it and to information about it. “Educated folks” can still have birth control failures, preventable or otherwise.

              3. Oxford Comma*

                Birth control doesn’t always work.

                Also, PhD programs are usually anywhere from a 5 to 7 year commitment. Postdoc might be 2 more years. Plus the years you spent in undergrad and/or a masters. So that’s an awfully long time to expect someone to stay child free, and in any case, I would argue that expecting someone to stay child free is totally unreasonable.

                Even for people pursuing undergrad degrees, that doesn’t preclude them having children. There are an awful lot of non-traditional students out there. And many of them have children.

                I don’t have kids, but stuff happens. When I had jobs in the private sector, there were plenty of people who had childcare emergencies. It’s when bringing your children to work/school becomes a regular thing that there’s a problem.

              4. very anon for this*

                Well, let me tell you a few things……

                ….I have a PhD in a STEM field, and my spouse is an MD….

                … and we still conceived an ooops baby when I was changing birth control methods…

                …and I didn’t go through on the abortion I had scheduled. So.

            2. not a lot of ways to get pregnant*

              Advice my mom gave my sisters, friends, everyone we knew in high school and college: You may or may not plan on having sex but know that if you do you must have a plan for how you are not to going to have a baby, or you are planning on a baby.

              1. Phoenix*

                And if your plan fails? Birth control is not perfect. Plans change after the baby arrives. Throwing out a simple “you should have planned better” and a shrug is heartless.

            3. poolgirl*

              True, but in those cases, it was a lack of planning that caused them to have a baby. And in that case they still need to realize actions have consequences.

              1. Phoenix*

                No, it’s not always “lack of planning” – birth control isn’t perfect, and neither is access to it or education about it. What if their carefully chosen methods failed? What about cases of rape? As I said, it’s heartless to suggest that “actions have consequences” as if that absolves any sense of compassion or impulse to assistance toward parents in tough situations.

              2. Parenthetically*

                I hate this mindset. “Actions have consequences”? Yes. And we as a society realize that the minds and work of mothers don’t diminish in value because they’ve had a child/children, and we recognize that a society that forces women alone to “live with the consequences” of their reproductive choices is exactly the type of society many of us have dedicated our lives to fighting against. This mindset amounts to saying, “No, no institution or society should have to contemplate changes that empower mothers because we have to make those irresponsible ignoramuses pay for their mistakes” and that is… horrible.

                You can’t credibly be for reproductive freedom and against a society that provides for mothers.

            4. Washi*

              And sometimes you think you have everything planned out, but life happens, and then your childcare falls through and you need to figure out other solutions for a little while. Most people don’t end up in a situation without childcare through sheer carelessness.

              1. Phoenix*

                I assume you’re speaking of the hypothetical “you” – I am not a parent. I’m merely aware that birth control is not perfect and that plans are rarely foolproof.

          1. wickedtongue*

            Sometimes that childcare falls through at the last minute (this person is in grad school, let’s assume she had a plan). Also, sometimes childcare just isn’t available at the times you need it, or in the way you need it (late night, overnight). If organizations are serious about “work-life balance” and diversity and inclusion, it’s in the organization’s best interest to provide childcare options (among other strategies).

          2. Pontoon Pirate*

            Your username is causing me some dissonance here, because it doesn’t seem like you’ve absorbed many of the lessons of the podcast from which it’s derived.

        2. Pommette!*

          People make choices about having children, and have to live with those choices. I’ m not a parent, and I don’t have any useful advice to give to anyone else on that front.

          But institutions also make choices about the kinds of membership they want to have. When those choices have disparate impacts on certain groups of people and ultimately reduce diversity within the institution’s membership, it’s a problem. If a field is structured in a way that makes it prohibitively difficult for parents to participate (and academia is structured in ways that make it extremely difficult for anyone who isn’t young, super healthy, and free from any familial responsibilities to progress professionally), that field will lose out on diversity. That’s bad for the individual people who get excluded, but it’s also bad for the field, for specific social groups that get dis-empowered as a result, and for society at large.

          So it’s definitely incumbent on academic institutions to make themselves more welcoming to people with children.

          1. Kaitlyn*

            Yes, this. An institution providing childcare during a conference or a talk is an institution that recognizes that female parents often bear the burden of childcare more often than their male counterparts, and that that is a systemic barrier to mothers and their full participation in academia.

            Also, side note, but I’m appalled at the female commenters who are insisting that mothers’ issues don’t impact them and to not lump all women together. Get intersectional with your feminism or GTFO.

            1. DogTrainer*

              Please don’t tell me that I don’t meed the definition of a feminist just because I disagree with you.

              1. Parenthetically*

                If you don’t support women’s reproductive freedom or diversity in academia, you’re not a feminist. *shrug*

                1. DogTrainer*

                  I didn’t say that. I just said that no one is the pope of feminisim – you can’t say what’s feminist and what’s not, and you certainly can’t read that much into my comment.

                2. Parenthetically*

                  “You can’t say what a feminist is and what’s not.”

                  Actual snort. If we can’t define feminist, then literally everyone can say they’re feminist and there’s nothing we can do about it. A certain ferret-haired, small-handed politician could say he was a feminist, and I guess you’d just have to shrug and say, “Well, there’s no pope of feminism, so I guess a serial adulterer and sexual assaulter who claims that women are for f***ing and are only valuable if they look good giving head is definitely ALSO a feminist.”

                  A feminist IS: a person who believes in the principles of equality and empowerment for women, and who strives to build a society in which women are valued, treated fairly, and are enabled to be full participants in society.

                  A feminist IS NOT: a person who perpetuates the exclusion of women from certain segments of society.

                3. DogTrainer*

                  I think you need to learn how to debate in a professional manner. We probably actually agree at a certain level, but your behavior is really rude about the entire conversation.

                4. DogTrainer*

                  In fact, I think we can agree on your general definition of feminism. But that doesn’t mean that we agree in the extent to which it needs to be taken. I certainly wouldn’t say that you’re not feminist because you don’t take it as far as someone else does – who am I to judge? And even though I am pro-choice, I would never tell someone who’s anti-abortion that they’re not a feminist just because of that difference.
                  Sometimes it’s probably very clear when something is “not feminist,” but otherwise it’s really judgy and rude to tell someone that they’re not something simply because there is a (pretty weak) disagreement. As a fellow feminist, I need to be clear that you don’t define me.

              2. Kaitlyn*

                Oh, I would LOVE to hear about the version of feminism that doesn’t make space for mothers’ needs. Please. Go on.

            2. Another Anon*

              “Get intersectional with your feminism or GTFO.”

              This is so perfect I want to put in on a lawn sign in my front yard.

            3. Kathryn T.*

              Thank you for this. My grandmother graduated from college in 1937 and got her PhD twenty years later; during that period, she married and had four children. She had had to break down several institutional barriers just to be admitted to grad school as a married woman, so there was absolutely no way that anyone was going to cut her any slack for having children.

              She still attended all her lectures, though! Never missed a class, never missed a talk. How did she do it? By LEAVING HER CHILDREN IN THE CAR. For four hours. My uncles spent an entire year of their childhood being left to entertain themselves in their parents’ car for four hours twice a week, when they were two and four years old.

              Now obviously, that’s appalling to a contemporary audience (it was less so in the 1950s). But it’s kind of the inevitable outcome when our culture makes mothers the default parent and our institutions declare that child care is only an individual responsibility and not an institutional one. My grandmother was a brilliant scholar, a pioneer in her field, and changed the legal and political landscape of this country forever with her work. In order to get there, however, she had to put her schooling ahead of her children and make choices that frankly were detrimental to her family in both the short and long term.

            4. Elizabeth Frantes*

              This is offensive, and I say that as someone who chose not to have kids.

              Please move on.

              – Alison

              1. Phoenix*

                You know, I had thought your comments had a victim blaming tone to them – this one took the tone and blew it way up. “Slaves staying on the plantation”, really??

          2. the_scientist*

            I would like to give this response a standing ovation. Thank you for so clearly articulating this argument!!

          3. Washi*

            Yes! I agree with the prevailing opinion that realistically it’s not possible to have a 16 month old in a lecture without distracting others, but my take on this was “this was an experiment that did not have the desired result, try something else next time” not “how dare you bring a child that previously slept through a lecture to another lecture/you are irresponsible and should have dropped out of school rather than attempt to continue juggling childcare and studies.”

            Realistically, if we don’t make accommodations for child-rearing and other forms of caregiving, professions will be more male and more wealthy and probably more white. I’m not saying that she should distract everyone by bringing her toddler to every lecture, but I am saying that I think her university and advisor would ideally be understanding and flexible in finding ways that she can continue with her studies and have networking opportunities, and there are some great suggestions from commenters on this thread.

            1. Anoncorporate*

              Yes, thank you. If institutions remain as they are, it will always be more convenient for men to enter academia and more barriers for women. This will inevitably skew the gender proportions. Also, people who think it’s oh so easy to access childcare are so deeply entrenched in privilege. Even if you’re not in academia, so many working class women have to deal with balancing their work schedules and raising kids because they can’t afford childcare. If they leave their children at home, they risk getting CPS called on them. I agree with whoever said “Get intersectional with your feminism”. You can call yourself a feminist, but if you are judgmental towards women who are not as fortunate as you, you are being discriminatory.

          4. Lizzy May*

            This. It’s 2018. There are ways of making talks accessible for parents and still not disturb the speakers. Livestream the talks, use webinar software so people at home can ask questions. Offer drop in daycare that you can sign up for, especially for evening events that fall outside of regular childcare offerings. Academic institutions need to do better so that parents (and this sort of thing almost always falls on women) aren’t in a position to be picking between bad options in the first place.

          5. Parenthetically*

            “institutions also make choices about the kinds of membership they want to have. When those choices have disparate impacts on certain groups of people and ultimately reduce diversity within the institution’s membership, it’s a problem. If a field is structured in a way that makes it prohibitively difficult for parents to participate (and academia is structured in ways that make it extremely difficult for anyone who isn’t young, super healthy, and free from any familial responsibilities to progress professionally), that field will lose out on diversity. That’s bad for the individual people who get excluded, but it’s also bad for the field, for specific social groups that get dis-empowered as a result, and for society at large.”


        3. Grumpy*

          Wow, way too harsh. Not helping parents with childcare encourages discrimination. Not to mention the broader problem of falling birth rates and aging population.

          Children are more than a personal choice. They’re more important than any other choice. It’s crucial that society as a whole and organizations in particular, do their best to support parents. Otherwise our birth rates will continue to plummet and no one will be around to be productive when we and all our peers are too old to work and produce products and services.

          Parents are raising the next generation, they deserve special accommodations.

          1. cheetah*

            While I believe everyone should have the right to choose to have children or not – you are dead wrong about birth rates plummeting and that being a problem. In fact, during my BA I learned in detail how the opposite is true. More and more people are being born into this planet with a limited set of resources. You really might want to educate yourselves on population growth on impacts. But I’m going to stop there to keep the thread from derailing.

            1. skunklet*

              in the US, specifically (as well as Japan), it IS true, however, resources aside. that’s one of the reasons we’ll have a social security issue in the future….

          2. Susan*

            More than any other choice? I don’t know that I agree there. It feels too much like “my choice to have a child means that you need to sacrifice”. I don’t like that.

          3. Mallows*

            Promise that your child will do something useful for society and I’ll agree with that. Otherwise, I’ll pass on special accommodations when the child in question may well grow up to assist the 1% to hide their income to avoid paying taxes.

        4. CM*

          “Children are a choice” is a huge derail.
          Human beings have children. The OP has children. Let’s deal with that reality.

        5. Lilith's Good Friday*

          Nope. If an organization wants to be sure they are reaching the best talent, that means accommodating common needs. My job and my husband’s job both do this well (both have on site day care and are open to babies are the workplace when all other options fail) so they keep their best employees.

      2. KC without the sunshine band*

        I don’t think it’s up to anyone else to arrange childcare. The parent is the parent. The child and childcare is the parent’s responsibility. In the technical field I am in, bringing a child to anything like this would make you look completely tone deaf and only partly interested in what was being discussed, like you had to come and didn’t care enough about the rest of the audience to get childcare. And any child sounds would be terribly distracting. It’s just a big no.

      3. Colette*

        I think that providing childcare is a good way of removing barriers that might prevent parents from attending (although it’s logistically difficult, since 3 infants, 2 toddlers, a 6 year-old and a 10 year-old, none of whom know each other, is going to require a different set of caregivers than 10 7-9 year olds, and they won’t necessarily know who will show up until the event).

        But the OP can’t make that happen, because she’s not running the talk.

        1. fposte*

          Even when I run the talk, I can’t make that happen. I either have no budget at all (many such talks are given without direct payment) or a dedicated pittance honorarium for the speaker that can’t be used for anything else. I have no way to create a child care option.

          I think it’s actually more okay to have a baby at bigger conference talks than at smaller departmental talks–the exits are readier to hand, the room is bigger, the experience more random. If somebody brought in a baby to a department talk, I might touch base with their advisor and ask them if they could talk to their student about alternative arrangements. (We’re almost always livestreamed, so that’s one right there.)

          1. Colette*

            And you need a suitable location, and supplies (i.e. change table, colouring books, toys), and trained staff (with first aid, police check, etc.) and insurance. Are parents expected to pay? If not, how do you prevent abuse (i.e. parent drops off the child and goes to work/to the pub/to take a nap)? It’s a nice idea, but it takes time and money to make it happen.

            I think that’s the kind of thing the university as a whole would have to take on, because they would need to supply space and budget.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              Providing childcare can also be a liability nightmare. What if a child gets hurt while in care? Which is certainly far from impossible – kids are astoundingly fast and creative when it comes to finding ways to hurt themselves/each other.

              Is the liability something the university is set up for and willing to assume? Do they have appropriate insurance or an appropriate location? Can they require that children be vaccinated to avoid spreading illness? What about allergies?

              I think it would be nice to provide childcare for talks, conferences, and so on. But there are more practical and logistical problems, and potential financial complications, than I think a lot of people are considering.

              1. Kaisa*

                Plenty of national organizations have been working on this. For instance, the Joint Math Meetings (biggest set of pure + applied math meetings in the US) has grappled with this extensively and figured out that providing care won’t work well for them. They surveyed a lot of parents and learned about preferences and tried childcare at one point. Instead they’re providing grants for childcare. That means you can fly in a provider, hire a babysitter locally, or cover the cost of drop-in childcare for your older kid. They can avoid liability problems, help both moms and dads, and provide something that is as useful for the breastfeeding mom as for the dad of 12-year-old triplets.

                The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, CA has a lot of visiting scholars, and they’ve also experimented with providing grants for childcare and they have a person on staff who helps out with family logistics. I went to a conference there with a baby and was able to breastfeed baby during breaks and pump in their pumping room. My husband also got his flight out covered by the childcare grants, as he was the full-time care provider during the conference. The baby did not come into lectures with me. My only regret is that my husband took the baby to Acme Bakery, La Farine, and the Cheeseboard without me during those lectures ;) He did bring me one pastry….

                Some organizations are making real efforts and it is helpful to the profession and its members.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  I wonder if it would work in some cases to provide a “cry room” type of arrangement. With appropriate permission, it wouldn’t be too difficult to set up a way to stream in the lecture, so parents who needed to bring or sit with a child would still be able to at least hear the lecture without disrupting others. It doesn’t sound ideal, but might be better than nothing for a fairly minimal cost.

                2. Kaisa*

                  AnonEMoose, another reason I liked MSRI (Math Sciences Research Inst) is that they already have a conference room on the second floor that is set up to stream in the lecture from the main room. It’s set up that way for overflow, but could be used as a “cry room” if it’s a smaller crowd.

                  The Institute for Math and its Applications in Minnesota live-streams a lot of talks/conferences and I’ve for sure watched some with baby in lap. Sent a picture of the livestream on my laptop and the kid in high chair to the administrators to thank them :)

      4. anon today and tomorrow*

        When you’re organizing a conference or a guest speaker, oftentimes you barely have the money to pay for the venue, let alone the stipend for the speaker. The times I’ve had to help with a conference or host a guest speaker for a non-academic org, we’ve had just enough money for the actual event so there would never be enough for something like childcare.

        This is a great idea in theory, but it’s also really not feasible for a lot of organizations and their budget. Not to mention, I would think there’d be a worry that if something happened to a child, the organization would be held responsible. I don’t know if it’s really the burden of the organization hosting an event that is typically not suited for children to come up with childcare options.

      5. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

        Most organization’s and conference’s can’t afford to provide free childcare (at least not without tripling everyone’s registration fee), and in this case the barrier for the OP was financial not availability.

      6. Higher Ed EA*

        I agree with a what people are saying here. I think this is a place where there is a gap between what SHOULD BE and what IS. Academia *should be* parent-friendly and should have policies in place that allow participation for people who have children, whether that’s providing childcare, scheduling talks during the day when children are generally in school or at regular daycare (rather than in the evenings), providing live-streaming or call-in options for attendance, providing lecture venues where people who (in an emergency) must bring a child to attend are able to view/listen to the lecture without disrupting other attendees (perhaps a live stream in an adjoining room or similar). Many institutions (including where I work) are paying a tremendous amount of lip service to diversity, equity, and inclusion issues on campus, and this is a MAJOR issue for parents, and especially for moms! So, I definitely think the LW should work with her advisor and others in the department to find real-world work-arounds that would work for her situation. I do NOT think she should accept “Just don’t attend” as an option (although I have been in a faculty meeting where a mom was told that! Arg!), but should push to find another solution, even if it’s setting up a recorder (as someone here suggested)–at my university you can borrow a recorder from the library system. Not attending lectures regularly can have a seriously negative impact on your career in academia, beyond not being able to learn what the lecturer is teaching, there’s also networking and the whole “see-and-be-seen” aspect is huge.
        All that said, there is also the truth that academia IS NOT yet set up like it SHOULD BE. And alas, having your child with you (especially if it distracts someone else) is not going to look good. And, truth be told, the LW is going to have a hard time focusing on the topic herself if she’s worrying about the noise of her child, let alone other participants or the lecturer. And even if your child is an angel the whole time, there are a lot of important people who might see the child there (during the networking part of the event, at least) and think it more than a little off and think less of the LW as a result(as witnessed by the number of people on this comment thread who find it off!). This could have long-term professional consequences for the LW, which is unfortunate! The patriarchy is strong! So for the LW, the focus needs to be on real-world solutions, not whether a child SHOULD be at a lecture. The LW is definitely in a catch-22 (bring the child, miss opportunities/don’t attend, miss opportunities). I hope the LW is able to work with her department and her university to come up with something that works. Also, I encourage the LW to try to get involved/reach out to anyone at her university trying to improve diversity issues and mention the challenges around this.

      7. Rock Prof*

        Particularly for students, who likely might not have access to good and affordable childcare, though it certainly helps everyone, this is such an important thing for conferences to consider. This lack of access to affordable childcare has been shown to be one of the things that holds back women from completing graduate studies. As a field scientist, it’s an even bigger problem when you need to go out of the country or be back country for extended periods of time, and I know a lot of people with kids in graduate school struggle a lot with their lack of options.

      8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m speaking very specifically about graduate seminars with guest speakers. When I hold community events (or conferences), etc., I do arrange on-site, licensed, liability-covered childcare. But it’s extremely difficult, and I often cannot convince the General Counsel’s office that we should take on the unique liability associated with providing childcare.

        But that’s not something I’m able to provide as a benefit exclusively for some grad students at grad-and-faculty-only guest lectures. I’m usually putting this stuff together on fumes, and I don’t have the personal budget to pay for others’ childcare. But I’m happy to advocate for the expansion of childcare services on campus and from my department, as well as creating multiple modes of access to professional opportunities and talks for grad students with childcare responsibilities that may preclude attendance.

    4. Toddlers are unpredictable*

      I think we also need to look at this based on the babies age.
      – A baby under 6 months that can be soothed with a bottle or a diaper change is honestly fine to bring anywhere mom is.
      – A baby 6-12 months who was fed during or immediately before the talk so they were down for a nap would also be fine to take places where you need to concentrate, but starting to be a baby that you would need to keep better tabs on the clues that they were getting fussy.
      -A baby 1-3 years old are completely unpredictable and have not learned to regulate their volume, a bottle isn’t their only source of food at this point and they are learn to walk and learning to talk. Children in this age range can be perfect angels one minute and a tornado of terror the next for no reason.

      Having kids is hard, and finding childcare for them is even harder and its not fair for women or for families with small kids, when childcare for one child costs the equivalent of a nice 2 bedroom apartment. I was OP and it took an extra 3 years to finish my degree and I didn’t have the choice to take the great internship because of childcare, but something had to give when childcare was not an option and school was the thing that had to give for us.

      1. TL -*

        I disagree strongly with your first point. It’s not appropriate to bring baby anywhere mom (or dad) is, even a young baby. Most of my workplaces you absolutely could not bring your child in of any age for very valid safety reasons (and also, hey, we’re not running a daycare. We’re trying to get work done.)

        Also, children and young babies are inherently disruptive and while I absolutely agree most social places should be child-friendly and workplaces should have child-friendly policies, that doesn’t mean they need to allow children in the workplace. It’s reasonable to decide that babies aren’t appropriate during a time where people need to be incredibly quiet and concentrate intently.

      2. Ann Perkins*

        While I don’t agree that you can bring a young infant just anywhere (got kicked out of a liquor store for that once), this age breakdown is good. The toddler years are the most difficult for disruptions. They’re old enough that they’re not napping as frequently and are fully mobile but too young to sit quietly and read a book or watch a movie.

        1. Parenthetically*

          “got kicked out of a liquor store for that once”

          That is insane. I just looked it up and apparently laws really vary from state to state (in mine it’s perfectly fine to bring in a child, as it should be, but no one under 21 can come in without an adult present) but seriously WTF are you supposed to do with your kid? Leave them in the car so someone can call CPS on you!?

          1. Thursday Next*

            My local wine store has a small table with crayons and coloring books. It’s actually a great idea–it keeps the kids corralled away from all the glass bottles.

    5. WakeRed*

      LW #2, I also suggest checking with the women’s center on your campus to see if they can help you find childcare for events like this. I think the Center on my campus, if it doesn’t already, would be willing to help grad students since it can be such a burden for women students!

    6. Academic Addie*

      This is something my department is wrestling with. How can we support the students we have, with the challenges we have? Our stipends are not high enough for anyone, let alone student parents. If the kids are at the Head Start (state-subsidized day care), they get out before seminar. We don’t have any control over the stipend – that’s set at the state level. So we need to look at other solutions so that they aren’t penalized. My preferred solution is moving the seminar earlier, in accordance with NSF ADVANCE guidelines. What we really need is more flexibility to serve the students we have.

  4. Marmalade*

    Re: #5, it totally blew my mind to learn (from AAM) that in the US, it’s not the norm to have an employment contract. In my country, by law, all workers must have a contact. I’ve had a contract in every job I’ve ever had, even casual customer service ones.

    People do work under the table of course, but it’s not that common, and mostly occurs in hospitality/service type jobs.

    1. Bea*

      My boss is European, 75% of my job is telling him “that’s not how we do it here in the US. You’re overthinking this.” Years in the states and he’s still awestruck!

      The good thing is he’s never indignant or visibly (privately) annoyed when we pass legislature for more job protections or employees rights. Unlike my previous American bosses who seethe at paid sick leave and such!

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Well you know in the US if you didnt get a job immediately following 1) the chewing off your own umbilical cord, 2) build your own house from the wood you made from the the trees you felled with the axe you made yourself, and built your own vehicle with metals you forged from the Earth, all while having a 106• fever … youre just lazy.

    2. Quoth the Raven*

      From Mexico here, and it surprises me too. I’ve had a contract for every job I’ve had that pays above minimum wage. I know some people work without them (especially when outsourcing is involved, and even then most people get contracts for very short terms) so it does happen, but it’s usually seen as not cool.

    3. Wannabikkit*

      I find it mind-blowing as well!
      Written employment contracts are required by law in my country (NZ) too.

      1. Comms Girl*

        Same thing in Europe, and even more so in Centeal Europe – there will be hell to pay if a labour inspection pays a company a visit and finds people without a contract.

    4. Ragazzoverde*

      100% agree, also in my country once someone has passed the 6 month probation period you can’t just fire them for no reason, there needs to be a certain number of warnings over a fairly long space of time (except in the case of gross negligence obviously)

      How can you expect the employer to stick to whatever deal they’ve given you if you don’t have a contract?

      1. TL -*

        Well some things it’s illegal to retroactively change (salary) and most employers just stick to the terms. If you don’t, employees leave and then you have a gap in coverage and have to find someone else to cover.

        Some industries and employers are more shady than others but bait-and-switches are really rare – I’ve heard of them but I’ve never know anyone who has that happen to them. If the employer says you get $36,000 a year, 2 weeks’ vacation, federal holidays, and 6 sick days, you can very reasonably expect to get just that.

        1. Shop Girl*

          That is really not any protection for the employee just luck. Federal laws provide the minimum of protections but even those are under attack. The deck, in the US, if totally stacked for the employer.

      2. Been There, Done That*

        Yes to your last sentence. Or, as I’ve heard more than once working in the US, an employee handbook isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. My current job is maybe 10% of the detailed description in the job posting.

        1. Gaia*

          I always laugh a bit when someone (usually new to the workforce) gets indignant about something being “written in the handbook so it has to be that way” Oh sweet child, that isn’t a contract. They don’t care…..

    5. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yep :) just different expectations… but before reading aam wouldn’t have expected it. No contract generally says to me something illegal (probably tax dodging/benefit fraud) going on. Or in US.

      1. Gaia*

        The really interesting thing is we have “offer letters” which lay out the terms we verbally agree to and many people from countries that have employment contracts (and, honestly, many people from here too) mistake these for contracts (you know, because they look exactly like one and both parties sign it and everything). Except they often include a line that explicitly states it is not a contract. That said, some states are starting to allow employees to sue for breach of contract if the original terms are violated. My state, for instance, is upholding promissory estoppel against employers – a specifically contractual concept – when employees can show the employer acted in bad faith.

    6. Former call centre worker*

      Came here to say this. I’ve never had a job without a contract. It sounds bizarre and exploitative to me

      1. Blue Bird*

        Yes, having no contract seems to be an advantage to the employer, not to the employee.

        If the “penalty” for breaking the agreement is that word gets around and it’s harder to hire good people – that’s not much of a penalty. If I don’t get my full wage, for example, I want to be able to sue the living daylights out of my employer. I want the guarantee that they have to uphold their end of the bargain.

        1. TL -*

          Not paying wages is wage theft and you can absolutely sue/report that; you should get your owed wages and the employer often gets fined.

          1. MK*

            Without a contract it’s much harder to prove. Also, breach of contract has much more severe repercussions than simply not paying someone.

            1. TL -*

              Most people get their salary in writing and either have time cards or are exempt.
              Again, I don’t know anyone who’s been paid over the table and been shorted money, but I do know that everywhere I’ve worked, it would have been really easy to file a complaint and get evidence.

            2. fposte*

              Breach of contract would be a separate independent legal action brought by you, involving your finding a lawyer of your own and waiting for a court date. If you don’t get paid your wage, you get to go straight to the DOL, who will do the legal work for you.

            3. Gaia*

              Your salary would be documented somewhere and states take this kind of thing very seriously. My state, for instance, would recover my wages, plus fines for late payment of wages (one day’s wage for every day it is late), plus liquidated damages (usually equal to unpaid wages). Anything recovered would go to me. It would likely also open up an entire audit of all wage practices for all employees.

              While we don’t have contracts, only the worst and dumbest employers mess with wages intentionally. Even in very “employer friendly” states the Department of Labor/Industry/Wages is something no employer wants to tangle with.

        2. Riley*

          Interesting. Most contracts I’ve heard about in the US just protect the employer, not the employee. A not uncommon one is to give employees a signing bonus that they owe back if they leave the company before 2 years or whatever the contract term is. As someone who lives and works in the US, if an employer wanted me to sign a contract I would be concerned that that meant they weren’t going to treat me fairly because contracts are often used to make it harder for the employee to leave. Not always, and it depends on the field, of course.

          1. Blue Bird*

            Cultural differences are endlessly fascinating to me. I’m used to thinking contracts are for my own protection, so I’m unsettled if I don’t have one. Funny it also works the other way around!

            1. Gaia*

              It is very true! I love learning about how other places do things, it helps you better understand the world!

          2. Former Producer*

            My first two jobs were in TV news, where it is extremely common to work under contract. It used to be just the talent (anchors/reporters) would have contracts but now, many positions do. My first job I started as an associate producer with no contract but when they wanted to promote me a few months later, I had to sign a contract saying I would stay for 2 years. I didn’t want to stay that long because it was a toxic work environment, but the salary increase was enough that I decided to sign it. I was able to get out of the contract six months early by transferring to another TV station in the company, where I had to sign a whole new 2-year contract. If I had left there before the 2 years was up, I would have had to pay them back the moving expenses they paid for me. So in my experience, contracts are definitely more beneficial for the employer, at least in an industry like TV where people move around all the time and employers want to keep people from quitting.

        3. Anonny*

          It *is* an advantage to the employer — this is the US after all. I live in an “at will” employment state, where you can be fired whenever for just about any reason. The mentality that creates is to always be in a low-level fear for your job. In contrast, in the US a contract that protects the employees would be more or less viewed as a license to laziness and entitlement. :-P I’m exaggerating a bit, but not by much.

          1. Lucille2*

            Even in an at-will state employers can’t terminate on a whim. There are still legal employee protections and such things as wrongful termination and discrimination in at-will states. I manage employees in an at-will state and have never been able to easily terminate an employee. When terminating an employee for performance or behavioral issues, there is always a series of thorough documentation, a PIP, and approval by the company’s HR and legal dept. An issue has to be particularly egregious to terminate someone on the spot and the documentation and approval is still required.

            There are places in the US that terminate people wrongfully without consequence. An employee has to know their rights and have access to the resources to fight a wrongful termination. Unfortunately, it’s not always worth the fight.

            1. AnnonAnn*

              This is not correct. At-will means the employer absolutely CAN terminate on a whim, just as you can quit on a whim. They can only not terminate for reasons specifically protected by law (i.e. based on race or gender).
              While documentation, PIPs, etc. are certainly good practice, they are NOT required by law in the U.S. (in at-will states).

    7. Rez123*

      I know! Not having a contract here usually means tax avoidance. When applying for a job, you are not goign to quit before you have a contract in hand because you don’t want to just trust the recruiter telling or emailing that you have the job. The contract is a legal document that proves everything so you can’t screw over the employer and the employer can’t screw you over.

    8. GermanGirl*

      Yes, in Germany everyone has a contract, and there are benefits for the employer as well, like 3 month notice for both sides so you have more time to transfer knowledge and hire a replacement, so my company’s US branch also offers contracts to their employees.

      @#5 maybe find out if your husband’s company is a branch of a foreign company. That’d explain a lot and you’d also know to expect having a contract for other positions at this company.

      1. Liane*

        Being part of a non-US-based company doesn’t mean you have a contract, or any of the benefits common in other nations (more leave, better job protections, etc.) I worked a number of years for a UK-based pharmaceutical company’s US facility. My vacation time was a couple weeks, mat leave a few months (combined FMLA & disability), I didn’t get months of notice when I was let go, and I didn’t have a contract. Everything was done just as it was at any of the American-owned companies of varying sizes I have worked for.

        1. MK*

          It doesn’t necessarily mean that you get the same benefits, as the company is not legally obligated to offer them, but they might choose to do so.

      2. OP #5*

        The company is based in the US city where we live so doesn’t seem to be a European influence not to mention it isn’t something that’s offered to all employees; it appears to only be an option if you know to ask for it. After I sent in the question, I did casually here a senior level guy talk about his own contract and how he pushed for someone on my husband’s level to negotiate a contract so it could just be that this guy sees it working well for him and is making it a “thing” for lower level staff, too.

    9. hollow exuviae*

      Yeah, came here to say this also. There’s a lot of US-specific things I find out from AAM that are just plain bizarre to a European! Working a job without a contract seems so outlandish to me, haha.

    10. Ruth (UK)*

      I once worked on a market stall when I was a teen-ager without a contract but that was illegal (I was paid below minimum wage and it wasn’t taxed etc). But all jobs have contracts here.

      I work at a university and if a student helps at an open day or something and we pay them for it, we need to draw up a contract for them and so on.

      1. Cat wrangler*

        In the UK (and a lot of other European countries), if you work for a certain number of weeks, you’re deemed to have a contract of work by default even if you don’t have a written/digital copy and temporary /agency staff are supposed to have the same conditions of work as permanent staff, including access to sick and vacation pay plus training (if appropriate). When I worked for my local authority, we were given access to the in-house annual health checks/welfare services and expected to participate in staff forums etc.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Yes, and while there is no legal requirement for a written contract, there is a legal requirement that every employee must be provided with written confirmation of the main terms and conditions of employment, so most employers will incorporate this into a formal written contract, although other terms may be elsewhere, such as in an office manual.

          For instance, the contracts we issue to our employees have details of salary, normal working hours, start date holiday entitlement, notice periods, and (where appropriate) a non-compete clause.
          Normally we will have sent out an offer letter, then once that’s been accepted we issue the contract to be singed before or at the time that the employee actually starts work.
          Further stuff including processes and procedures, disciplinary and grievance stuff etc is in the office handbook.

        2. Koala dreams*

          Yes, it’s the same in Sweden. If you work for someone and they pay you wages/salary, then you are considered to have a contract. A written contract protects both the employee and the employer, since it makes the terms of employment clear. So if someone would copy the US way of sending an offer letter, receiving a yes, and have someone start working, here in Sweden, I’d assume it would also count as a contract.

    11. Jelly*

      Yep. In my country I’ve even had a contract for a 4 month seasonal job at a hotel at a ski resort. It’s really strange to me that they don’t have employment contracts in the USA. Everything is written in the contract (working time, days, benefits, your pay, paid leave, health insurance and other insurance) and gets signed by both the employees and the employer.

      1. EPLawyer*

        most of this stuff is spelled out in the offer letter or in the negotiations. We just don’t have contracts spelling out the length of employment. It’s “at will” meaning they can fire you for any reason or no reason, as long as its not discriminatory.

        Believe me, we have access to the courts if employers don’t pay or make changes to our salary retroactively. Or fire us for discrimination.

        1. Magenta*

          None of my contracts have spelt out the length of employment, other than to cover the probationary period and any benefits that increase after a set period of time.

          1. Gaia*

            I think the big difference is 1. in the US our “protections” that would normally (in other countries” be written into a contract are law and so the courts are open to us if these are violated and 2. we don’t do contractual notice periods (either for quitting or termination). For quitting it is the professional norm to give 2 weeks’ notice (and the consequence of not doing so is a damaged professional reputation) and when being terminated there is often no notice (but, again, while technically you can be fired for any reason employees are quick to sue if they feel it was discrimination so employers are often careful to document the reasons lest they find themselves paying large sums to lawyers).

            1. Magenta*

              Contracts in the UK will specify a notice period, but in reality if you leave without honouring it there isn’t much your employer can do. The norm is a month/4 weeks but for very high level jobs or if you have been there a long time, it might be longer.
              My contract says my notice is a month for the first 5 years then a week for every year I’ve worked there up to a maximum of 12, but if I gave 4 weeks notice instead of 8 it would probably be fine. The company has to give me the same notice, but can opt to have me leave earlier but still be paid, they can also pay me off and have me leave early if I quit.
              Ghosting might affect your reference, but probably less now than in the past as a lot of employers will just confirm employments dates and no more.

          2. Neptune*

            (In the UK) you would probably get that in spelled out in a fixed-term contract, like if you get brought on for three months to cover someone’s mat leave or something.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        It’s not strange. In the US the government favors industry over actual people therefore anything thst protcts the company will get preedence. This allows the employer to change things pretty much on a whim and the employee to have little, if any recourse. Welcome to America!

    12. londonedit*

      Another UK voice chiming in to say that the idea of not having employment contracts blows my mind! As others have said, they work both ways – the contract sets out the benefits and rights for the employee, but also the rights for the employer (such as notice periods on both sides, disciplinary procedures, etc).

      I work with a lot of freelancers, and in the past we’ve always just asked them to do jobs on an ad-hoc basis and they’ve invoiced us and we’ve paid. But from the end of this month new HMRC (tax office) guidelines mean we need to draw up contracts for each freelancer we work with, and for each job they do we need to get them to sign a Statement of Work agreeing all the terms of the job. It’s annoying because we often have last-minute projects that need a quick turnaround, and we now can’t book anyone in unless they’ve signed the initial contract and we’ve done all the paperwork, but it’s to do with tax and having to prove that the people we’re engaging on an ad-hoc basis are actually freelancers rather than people who should be deemed to be company employees with full contracts and benefits.

      1. Brett*

        The benefits and rights portions are normally laid out in a written offer letter or employer handbook, both of which can be used in legal proceedings against the employer or employee (how binding they are varies from case to case).
        The big difference with no contracts is that there is no defined term of employment. An employee can leave any time they want and the employer can fire the employee any time they want.

        1. londonedit*

          Unless you specifically have a fixed-term contract, which will set an end date, there’s no defined term of employment here either. You’ll have a longer notice period than in the US (usually one month, though three months is also not unheard of) but you can still leave your job at any time. I also mentioned downthread that even though I do have a fixed-term contract of 1 year, I’m still free to leave at any point as long as I give the required notice.

    13. Flash Bristow*

      Uk here, and yes – you generally get a written contract to read, check and sign before you start work. However if you don’t have a written contract, you will still have an implicit one. So if you come in every Tuesday at 10 til 2, and the company give you £10/hr / £40 each week (say), then after a few weeks if they turn round and say something like “oh, you’re not really an employee here, you can’t have any paid leave”, you can point out that by paying you to work there thus far, they’ve demonstrated content with the arrangement and thus a contract is implied to that extent – with all the legal rights that any other employee would have.

      Sorry that got wordy but I hope it made sense?

      I really can’t get my head around “at will”. Doesn’t that mean the majority of workers in the US have to deal with a constant feeling of job insecurity hanging over their heads?

      1. TL -*

        I’m an American currently living in NZ and as far as I can tell, Americans are more aware of poor performance leading to the possibility of firing and therefore more of a sense of “I need to be performing well at my job.” Mind you, Kiwis are just a lot more laid back in general, so that could be a factor as well.

        But I wouldn’t call it a “constant feeling of job insecurity.” My friends who have been fired knew it was coming and why. I’ve only known two people who were let go unexpectedly and both times it was because the company was struggling financially; one was in a food service job (no notice, no service) and one was an engineer (fair amount of notice and severance and lots of apologies on the company’s part.)

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          This is a thing that varies a lot by employer and industry. When my spouse worked in a call center, I’d say “constant feeling of job insecurity” was, if anything, an understatement. Turnover was over 100% per year in that call center and they tended have a round of layoffs every year.
          But yeah, in most places you will indeed have some warning.
          Then again, I used to work with laid-off workers and the number of layoffs, even mass layoffs, that came with little to no warning were greater than I’d expected.

        2. Perse's Mom*

          I don’t think ‘Dunning-Kruger’ is quite the right term for it, but it always seems to me that the people I’ve worked with who do well at their jobs are the most worried about job security while the ones who are awful seem the most self-assured that they’re doing wonderfully and therefore are never in danger of being let go.

      2. Shop Girl*

        Yup. I could walk into work today and be let go. I would likely get unemployment (26 weeks at I think third of my pay with a max). Since it is 2 days before the end of the month my health insurance would end in 2 days. Depending on policy you might get accrued vacation time but not sick time. Some progressive states might have some protections but it varies.

      3. Susie Q*

        The only people I know who have worried about getting fired at any moments notice are the people who deserve to get fired. These are people who sleep at jobs, spend all their time surfing the internet, and overall terrible employees.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          To be honest, the worst employees tend to be the most surprised when they are fired. Every once in a while, I deal with someone who saw the writing on the wall, but, for example, the person I fired for falsifying their time cards over an extended period of time – after once being warned that time needed to be recorded fully and accurately – was the most indignant, claimed that they had no idea they could be fired for that, and felt that we were being horribly unfair by firing them “out of the blue”.

        2. Geoffrey B*

          Do you know any LGBTI people? Because some of the folk I know in the US have demonstrably well-founded fear of job insecurity for reasons that have nothing at all to do with their performance.

      4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        To a greater or lesser degree, yeah.

        I mean, my boss could walk over to me right now and order me to pack up my things. What stops me from feeling insecure about it is a) I know I perform well, b) I know my company has invested time and money in hiring me, getting me licensed, and training me for my role, and c) I work for a ginormous company that absolutely revels in red tape. It would be difficult for my boss to spur-of-the-moment fire me without having company hoops to jump through, even if there aren’t legal ones.

        1. OP #5*

          Indeed, that’s been my experience working a variety of types of jobs in the US- even when I haven’t been a good performer, usually it was clear that the hassle to hire and train a new person would keep me in the job as long as I was willing to stick around (except for in the case of being asked to quit a job because I was really slacking and it wasn’t shocking AT ALL.)

          In the case of the mysterious contracts at my husband’s work, they seem to be less of a “we won’t fire you at a moment’s notice” assurance since that isn’t really a concern as my husband is a great performer but most of a “here are the guaranteed rate of raises, bonuses and some perks for the next few years” versus how it has been which is just “here’s the raise and bonus you get this year, a surprise every year with no negotiation or guarantee it will be rising at a rate that you are happy with.”

      5. Gaia*

        I’ve never felt real insecurity in my job (heck, even when I was being laid off this summer I never felt really insecure because I knew, even without a contract, I had certain protections in place) because I am good at my job and firing me suddenly would almost certainly signal potential discrimination since there is no other cause which would lead to a complaint and/or lawsuit – not something most companies want to mess with. It happens, but it could happen with a contract, too, and the results would be the same: you sue.

    14. Neptune*

      Yes! I had no idea how that would even work when I first heard of it. It also finally explained why there were so many AAM debates over letters about “am I required to do XYZ” or similar, where I would be thinking “well, what does it say in your contract?”

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        That said, every contract I’ve ever had has had some variation of “any other duties as needed” in it to cover them asking you to do something not specifically in your contract…

      2. SageMercurius*

        The only time I didn’t have a contract (UK here) was when I was working part time in a pub, but as mentioned above, there was an implicit ‘verbal’ contract: I agreed to turn up for shifts and in return they would pay me. We got green payslip things with tax information on them as well, so there was at least admin proof that they were upholding their end.

    15. doreen*

      I always kind of wonder- in the countries where everyone has a contract , are they actually individual contracts negotiated by each person or are they sort of a blanket contract imposed on all of a company’s employees with a few provisions specific to each employee? I ask that because 1) I can’t imagine a company individually negotiating pay, vacation time and policies, disciplinary procedures and so on with each of hundreds or thousands of employees and 2) it’s not uncommon for employers in the US to have written policies (or sometimes employee handbooks) that cover many of the same issues as the 250 + page union contracts I’ve worked under , so I’m wondering if it’s a matter of “same result different method”.

      1. Elfie*

        UK here, and just in my experience, they’re a combination. Usually there are some company-specific things thrown in (sick leave, usually holiday, hours of work, etc), and some that are role-specific (could be pay, location, etc). You usually negotiate for money, but it can sometimes be hours of work, or the like, but it’s generally the equivalent of changing x to y in the contract. There’s a lot of stuff around flexi-time, or accommodations, etc that isn’t in a contract, and that can change – but it generally doesn’t if your manager doesn’t change. Now I’m thinking I ought to go check my contract to see what exactly is in there.

        1. EPLawyer*

          So they CAN change and everything is not in the contract. Just like in the US. You have an offer letter than spells out the basics: pay, holidays, vacation time, benefits, hours. Then other things are in the employee handbook or are manager specific.

      2. Rez123*

        We have contracts and in my experience they are standard contracts for everyone but then there are few points that are personalised for emplyees (pay). A lot of things such as vocation time, benefits, diciplinary actions are not usually nagotiable so they are either standard or not necessarily mentioned since PTO is determined By law.

        My contract is only 1 page long. It has all the necessary information that is relevant to me. The handbook has other factors that are changeable. Some are related to employment laws, some are compnay policies, some are union additions etc.

      3. Karen from Finance*

        In my country (I’m in Latin America) it’s a combination. Most of it is legal formalities and company guidelines, and they fill in with your personal data and salary info. You don’t really negotiate anything into the contract you wouldn’t be able to for the job in the first place.

      4. CM*

        I’m in Canada, and, like a lot of things, I think we’re somewhere between the USA and Europe. I’ve always had a contract but it ranges from a vaguely-written single page to a big stack of paper with appendices. It also ranges from a piece of paper that just re-states what the laws are re: minimum severance, etc to one that spells out a bunch of special requirements beyond what the law requires (on both sides).

        Some places will use the same boilerplate contract for everyone at a certain level (staff vs management, etc) and some will negotiate a lot of stuff individually. This can be good, or it can lead to the same kinds of problems as secret salary negotiation, where the company’s taking advantage of some people and chalking it up to who negotiated better.

        At my last job, we gradually figured out that we had all signed completely different contracts and it created a lot of distrust.

        I’d be curious to know what kinds of things are covered in the contracts other countries have.

      5. Geoffrey B*

        I’m in Australia. Here, the Fair Work Commission and other agencies define an “award” which is default rules about pay and conditions for each industry, but individual employers can negotiate an “enterprise agreement” which overrides these rules. (FWC has to approve these, and must be satisfied that overall employees are better off than they would be under the award.)

        Usually an EA lasts for three years, and bargaining for a new EA starts ~ 6 months before the end of the old one. In theory, every employee can nominate their own bargaining representative. In practice, usually the relevant union is the main negotiator from the employee side. The employer then offers an EA for voting (which may or may not be acceptable to the union) and employees vote on it; if it gets rejected, it goes back for further negotiation and another vote.

        EAs cover things like salary progression, working hours, conditions, and so forth. Here’s an example:

    16. Anononon*

      Usually, it’s really not that bad. Most employers are decent at minimum, and there really is an extremely strong cultural expectation that employers won’t completely screw you over (fire you for no reason with zero warning, 180 your job description, take away your benefits). Does it happen? Yes. But it’s just as shocking to us. It’s why, when people ask questions about awful work places here, Americans are just as aghast and up in arms as non-Americans, because it’s uncommon and unusual. We’re not just shrugging and saying, “we’ll, what did you expect? No rules, no expectations in this country.” Also, Alison gets a decent percentage of questions about awful workplaces from non-Americans. And, a lot of those questions talk about how they can’t just get rid of the awful employee. Contracts don’t make y’all exempt.

      (Unfortunately necessary caveats section. But wouldnt mandatory contracts be better?? Maybe? I don’t know. I’m just saying it’s not like without them is a lawless wasteland. But I’m American and have never not been screwed over by the system?? That sucks, but you’re in the minority. Most workplaces here follow most of the norms that contracts require. Find a better job (and have no financial worries about leaving before a mandatory leave period.)

      1. Elfie*

        I think it’s that not having a contract seems so insecure to me. I won’t even hand my notice in to my old job until I get that physical document in my hands. Even though there’s still the caveat that it’s dependent upon successful checks, or that I’m going into a probationary period where they can still get rid of me within a week. Maybe it’s a false sense of security, but I’d be worried all the time if I didn’t have a contract. I’m a reasonably well-performing employee, but I do suffer from Imposter Syndrome, especially when new to a job.

        1. Anononon*

          I totally understand that. There are many parts of American society and life that rely on formal written documents, and it is shocking to think of a place that instead just has what seems to be some nebulous honor system in place. Like getting a mortgage with zero loan documents/signed contracts. My comment is just as someone who is inside that nebulous honor system saying, somehow, it generally does work.

          1. londonedit*

            It could well be a case of being used to what you’re used to, but not having a contract seems very insecure to me too. Maybe it’s just because we tend to hear about people being ‘fired’ in the US much more commonly than in the UK, but it seems terrifying to imagine that you could turn up to work and be told ‘We’re letting you go’. I understand that in the US it’s uncommon for people to be fired unless there’s been some prior discussion about performance, but here, you can’t fire someone without going through a disciplinary process involving an escalation of verbal and written warnings, unless it’s a case of gross misconduct (which usually covers things like being drunk or violent, fraud and theft).

            Again, this may be perception, but I have the idea that it’s easier to lay people off in the US than it is here – in the UK you can’t implement redundancies without going through a whole process of putting everyone who’s affected on notice that their job is at risk and proving that the job – not the person – is no longer required.

            That’s not to say companies always do these things properly – they absolutely do, people do get screwed over – but you have recourse if they haven’t followed the procedures properly. Yes, it means there is often less flexibility for employees – I currently have a three-month notice period in my job, although one month is more usual in non-senior positions – but it also means that unless you’ve punched your boss in the face or stolen a load of cash, you can’t walk into the office on a Tuesday morning and end up with no job by lunchtime.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Having been on both sides of layoffs in the US, it’s not easy to do and there is recourse for not following the law. While you do not have to notify employees, you open yourself up to a lawsuit or board of labor inquiry if you, say, lay someone off and post their job within months of it. In the ~5 layoffs I’ve lived through, the employee is also offered severance of varying degrees of generosity (a minimum of 2 week’s salary plus vacation time paid out and a max of generous lump-sum payment, eligibility for partial pension, and lifetime dental coverage at no cost).

      2. Kelsy*

        Most illegal things are not that common. Most people don’t commit any crimes but we still need laws to cover and protect the small minority of people affected by rare crimes.

        I’m a European who moved to the US for love and my spouse is the only reason I’m here. I’ve only had decent bosses here in the US so far but I’ve been laid off with little notice (only 2 weeks, which is more than many people even get) and employment just doesn’t feel as secure here. And both my spouse and I are privileged and we have white collar jobs, so we get better treatment. People with low paying jobs are not so lucky, many of them don’t have any protections or paid time off. They also have no real negotiating power.

        I think the lack of workers’ protections promotes social inequality and it’s bad for society. Of course that not everyone is affected by it but the most vulnerable members of society definitely are. It’s very privileged to be able to say “just find a better job”.