Mind & body, Research

An academic conference you can bring your baby to

By Yasmin Anwar

Babies are welcome at this Sunday's MoMiCon conference (iStockphoto)

Babies are welcome at this Sunday’s MoMiCon conference (iStockphoto)

Academic conferences don’t usually draw the Baby Björn and stroller crowd. But a small, family-friendly psychology summit at UC Berkeley this Sunday is taking steps to change that.

The “Misconceptions of the Mind Conference,” or MoMiCon for short, will be held at a stroller- accessible venue. Among other things, it will provide lactation and childcare space, kid-friendly food and entertainment, plus frequent breaks for breastfeeding and other nurturing needs. Travel costs will be defrayed for out-of-state speakers and attendees who want to bring along children and caregivers, such as a nanny or spouse.

Tania Lombrozo

Tania Lombrozo

“It’s a model for how a conference could accommodate mothers with young children, and help spark a broader conversation about how to make academic life more inclusive and family-friendly,” said MoMiCon co-organizer Tania Lombrozo, an associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

While the conference will feature keynote talks on parenting misconceptions and the impact of families on academic careers, its main thematic focus is scientific research that challenges common or intuitive beliefs about the human mind.

Talks with such titles as “Teenagers are not lacking their frontal lobes,” “We’re not born racist,” “Positive emotions aren’t all positive,” “Pursuing happiness can make us unhappy” and “Feeling powerless is not being powerless” will be given by leading scholars who also happen to be mothers of young children.

June Gruber

June Gruber

“Our goal is to provide a concrete example of how high-quality science and being the mother of young children can be compatible at an academic event,” said co-organizer June Gruber, a former UC Berkeley graduate student and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado.

Lombrozo, the mother of two young daughters, and Gruber, who has a 1-year-old son, came up with the idea after both were asked to speak at a conference when they were nursing their infants.

“It quickly became apparent that the venue would not be very accommodating, and the idea for MoMiCon was conceived,” Lombrozo said.

A keynote speaker at the conference is Mary Ann Mason, a UC Berkeley professor of law and of social welfare, and co-director of Berkeley Law’s Center on Health, Economic and Family Security. Her books include Mothers on the Fast Track (2007) and Do Babies Matter? (2013), which sought to pinpoint why women hold half the doctorates in the U.S. but just one-quarter of tenure-track positions.

Mary Ann Mason

Mary Ann Mason

Since 2006, when Mason was UC Berkeley’s dean of graduate studies, her advocacy and research has led to such family-friendly initiatives in the UC system as paid parental leave for childbirth, teaching relief for new parents on the faculty, expanded childcare facilities, dual-career hiring policies, stopping the tenure clock for childbirth and allowing faculty members to work part-time to accommodate childcare needs.

Another keynote speaker at the conference will be UC Berkeley developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, author of The Scientist in the Crib, (1999), The Philosophical Baby (2010) and the forthcoming The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.

All presentations will be videotaped and made available for viewing after the conference through MoMiCon.org and UC Berkeley’s YouTube channel. The event is full.