Monday, June 20, 2016

Conferencing in Colombia with a Baby

With three month old Ida Luna in tow, I attended an International Astronomical Union conference on Communicating Astronomy with the Public in Medellin, Colombia in May 2016.
[note: VIDEO of my full talk below]

Giving a keynote astronomy talk in Colombia wearing 3 month old Ida Luna
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give an invited keynote talk to an important audience, despite still being on maternity leave.  It was a tight timeline to get all of her official documents processed for the trip, but everything came together and we made it!

Embarking on our three major flights from Sydney, Australia to Medellin, Colombia
Ida slept through most of our three (15 hr + 4 hr + 4 hr) flights, which was a huge relief.  I, on the other hand, did not sleep very much.  So when we arrived at the hotel at almost midnight, I was incredibly exhausted, while she was mostly awake.  It was a looooong night, but I did get some sleep, and woke to this incredible view!

Beautiful views of Medellin, Colombia
Ida looked very confused in the morning as she looked around the room, but she is a baby who's ready for adventure!  (thankfully....)

At the conference, I was not sure how welcoming people would be about me bringing my infant along, but I made sure the organisers knew that she would be with me well in advance.  Some participants certainly gave us the side eye at the beginning, but Ida was SO GOOD!  She only really cried when a sudden burst of applause startled her, so I tried to get her out of the room when I thought a talk was close to ending.

Ida Luna telling me what she thinks about the first talk she attended.
I quickly realised that most people were thrilled to have a tiny participant join the proceedings! People offered to hold her and help me, and many people shared their personal stories, describing challenges of getting to conferences due to having children, that I never would have heard without having my tiny person present.  Many people, mostly women, struggle dealing with these issues, and it's done quietly, behind the scenes, without anyone knowing the additional strain they go through just to be present at an event like this.

Ida sleeping peacefully through a session, just before applause woke her with a start!
There were certainly challenges of having her with me, compounded without having a support person along.  I wasn't able to do the post-conference day events or socialising, which I was sad to miss, and my fatigue grew with each day.  I didn't make it to as many sessions as I would have without Ida with me, but many people were eager to hold her and insist I go to talks.  It took me a day to warm up to strangers carrying her away from me, but I grew to know and trust them and Ida quickly loved the attention!

Unsure at first, Ida decided to win them over with her grins.
There were many fascinating discussion sessions, including one on how best to present astronomy to audiences outside major cities.  At the beginning of one breakout session, I was the only woman in the room... and I was breastfeeding in the back.  After a while, Ida started to get restless, so I made sure I contributed my thoughts to the group before we went out into the hallway.

Pedro Russo discusses the benefits of the Open Science Centre (we're in the back)
The conference organised to have all talks live-streamed online (view HERE).  The quality is fantastic and I would suggest that if an organisation goes through the effort to live-stream, set up a separate room at the venue to show the videos as well.   This would be beneficial for my situation, so a noisy baby doesn't disturb other participants, but also in case people show up late and don't was to disrupt by entering the room, or if someone is waiting for a phone call, etc.

Giving my keynote talk at #CAP2016 while wearing Ida Luna
My talk was on Day 4, by which time Ida Luna had acquired a huge fan following :)  I was fully ready to hand her over to the queue of people who offered to take her, but she fell asleep in the carrier and seemed perfectly content to stay there.  So I wore her while I gave my 30 minute keynote presentation!

In my talk, Fostering Creative Collaboration: Hack Days, Social Media, I shared my personal experience with science communication, beginning 10 years ago (!!!) when I started this blog.  I discussed different platforms for science communication and developing the communication strategy for the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO).   Then I talked at length about the benefits of and tips for holding a Hack Day, a free-form day of hands-on creation and collaboration.  Hack Days bring together astronomers, educators, science communicators, and media officers to develop new ideas, technical or artistic projects, based around networked technologies and the web.

Watch the whole talk HERE (nice screenshot, eh?!):

NOTE: dotAstronomy 8 takes place this week.  Follow #dotastro on twitter to keep up.  The Hack Day is on Wednesday, 22nd June 2016.

You can also read a summary of my talk in as it happened on twitter via storify HERE (A lot is in spanish, but some english too).

While I probably explored Medellin less than any new city I've visited, Ida Luna and I did manage to get out a little.  We saw Pueblito Paisa, a traditional colonial style tourist village on the top of Nutibara Hill.
My little cachetona at Pueblito Paisa
And she LOVED the aquarium on the Parque Explora campus near the Planetarium Medellin.  I asked someone to take a photo of us and she kept turning her head back to watch the fish behind us!

Ida enjoyed watching the colorful fish swim around at the aquarium.
And of course I tried some tasty local dishes.  A soup eaten with fresh banana?  HEAVEN!

Ajiaco, a traditional Colombian dish.
Overall, we survived our first conference experience.  It was probably easier with her at 3 months than it will be any other time over the next few years, especially when she she starts moving around on her own.  It was still challenging though.  I would certainly recommend taking a support person if planning to attend a conference with a baby, but it is possible without one.

A HUGE thank you to the Local Organising Committee and staff at Parque Explora for all the support and help.  It was a great experience thanks to your help.