As I was preparing to travel to Boston for the ACI Fall Convention, I realized I couldn’t easily remember when I last attended. I remember that I went to Cincinnati, and that it had been my second ACI Convention in Cincinnati, but I couldn’t remember when I went there.
So, I scrolled through my archives of the past years and I realized that my last ACI Convention was Fall 2019. Before than that, I went to Fall 2017 (right after my maternity leave). I also went to the ACI headquarters for the chairs’ training in early 2020. So, my first ACI in 4 years, and my attendance has been very limited overall in the past 6 years.
The prospect of diving back into the conference circuit brought to the surface a mix of emotions and reflections, especially concerning time management, environmental responsibility, and family dynamics.
1. The Interlude: The decision to start a family is a profoundly personal one and, for me, came with its share of career-related apprehensions – especially considering my dual appointment in two continents. As academics, we often live in a bubble of research, surrounded by deadlines and commitments. The introduction of maternity leave saw a shift in this routine, with my focus realigning to nurture a new life. As I was planning to return to travel and rekindle my international contacts, the pandemic started the era of remote work, making the hiatus from physical academic events unintentional yet extended. I enjoyed the online conferences, and that fact that I could participate and still read my daughter her story before bedtime, but I also missed the personal aspect of meeting and talking to friends and colleagues.
2. The Anticipation of Return: The thought of attending the ACI conference after such a break was a joyful one. I looked forward to participating in the committee meetings, exchanging ideas, and the spontaneous discussions that often spark new inspirations. Yet, this enthusiasm was tempered by practical considerations. There was the undeniable environmental impact of travel, and with a disastrous summer showing the pressing effect of climate change, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility. I also always feel guilty when leaving my young family behind, and whenever my daughter misbehaves or something goes wrong, I wonder if it is because I have not been present enough (I guess many working parents recognize this struggle!).
3. Travel and Environmental Footprint: The trip to the conference is a stark reminder of the environmental cost of academic networking. While I am happy I got upgraded to first class for a short part of the trip, I also feel very conflicted about the carbon footprint of flying. So I found myself thinking about what we can do as academics. More virtual meetings? How can conferences evolve to be more sustainable, blending the best of in-person and virtual environments? Especially in Ecuador, where every trip requires a flight as we don’t have railways, I don’t really see yet how I can travel sustainably.
4. Family Considerations: Being away from my girl was no small matter. Despite the support of my partner and modern-day conveniences like video calls, I always feel sad when I have to leave her behind. It underscored the importance of family-inclusive opportunities and more profound support for parents in academia. I will keep working on supporting academic parents, and advocating for affordable childcare at conferences and when going for research stays.
In conclusion, I expect my return to the ACI conference to be an intellectual refresh but also a time to realize that we can put more sustainable practices into reality. Hybrid options are not offered anymore, and that is a major pity.