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In Two Places at Once: The Impact of Caring Responsibilities on Academics' Conference Participation


"In Two Places at Once" was a research project led by Dr Emily Henderson and supported by the Warwick Research Development Fund and Institute for Advanced Studies.

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- What is the "In Two Places at Once" project?

"In Two Places at Once" is a small-scale, exploratory study which aims to explore how academics' caring responsibilities intersect with their attendance of and participation in conferences. In this project, 'care' is conceptualised in a broad way, to include children, parents and other relatives, pets, friends and kin.

- Why explore caring responsibilities and conferences?

Equality and diversity studies of the academic profession tend to focus on issues of care in relation to higher education institutions, rather than professional spaces that academics circulate in outside of their 'home' institution/s. However conferences are an important part of the academic profession, and (though there are caveats to this) conferences and academic events are sites where academic careers are developed, opportunities for collaboration arise, and new ideas are encountered. In this study, academics are not researched as unfettered individuals, who are able to freely avail themselves of all the benefits of a conference. This study explores how these opportunities are impacted by the caring responsibilities that academics are involved in while at conferences.

- What are the research questions?

The key question posed for this pilot study is therefore, 'How do academics' caring responsibilities affect their attendance of and participation in conferences?' Within this overarching question, there are the following sub-questions:

  1. What are the specific factors of caring responsibilities that impact upon academics' conference attendance/participation?
  2. What are the strategies that academics employ to manage caring responsibilities while attending conferences? (Including support from the academic's institution or from the conference itself, as well as other sources of support).
  3. Do these factors and strategies differ in relation to international travel for the purpose of attending conferences?

- What did the research involve?

The study involved approx. 20 participants from any discipline, anywhere in the world. Participants were recruited on the basis of (i) attending a conference (of at least one day) during the research period (April-June 2017), and (ii) having at least one caring responsibility.

Before attending the conference, participants were sent a time questionnaire to fill in during/just after the conference, on which to record their interactions with those they care for during the conference. After the conference, I interviewed participants (by Skype or face to face) about this conference, and conferences in general.

- How will the research be put to use?

The project involves a stakeholder group of representatives from academic associations who can advise on the best way to communicate findings and recommendations to conference organisers. It is hoped that some avenues for support for those with caring responsibilities can be explored through this research. Learn more about the stakeholder group.

- Who is working on the project?

Principal Investigator: Dr Emily Henderson, Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick (e dot henderson at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Research Assistant (2018): Xuemeng Cao, Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick

Research Assistant (2017): Julie Mansuy, Centre for Education Studies and Law School, University of Warwick

Reactions to the project:

"[Your project] definitely resonated because I'm bringing my 2 year old with me [to a conference] (with my 19 year old baby sitting during the day!)...I think it is so valuable what you are researching!" (Lecturer)

"Latterly I find myself the invited Keynote presenter travelling alone - simultaneously free of caring responsibilities and bereft" (Professor)

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