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Maybe my question is rather weird, but actually it turned out it is also a question of my colleagues. Usually when you register for an academic conference, there's an option that you can register a companion. I'm wondering if it is appropriate to register my girlfriend as a companion? Does it sound so bad?

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    Registering a companion is really important for conferences where registration includes the accommodations and meals. If whoever is accompanying you is going to stay in your room and eat conference meals, then they need to be registered. – StrongBad Mar 25 '15 at 9:30
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    Are you worried about whether bringing a girlfriend (as opposed to wife) would look awkward or scandalous, or raise issues such as whether the conference hotel allows unmarried people to share a room? This won't be an issue unless the conference is being held in an extremely conservative location. (In the U.S., it would be completely fine.) If you are concerned about the location of this conference, you could always ask the organizers whether it would be appropriate to bring your girlfriend as a companion. They'll probably say "sure, why not?", but either way you'll know. – Anonymous Mathematician Mar 25 '15 at 16:11
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    What else would a companion be? – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 25 '15 at 16:47
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: You haven't watched Firefly, have you? (More seriously, though, I agree with your question.) – O. R. Mapper Mar 25 '15 at 16:48
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    @O.R.Mapper Of course I have ;lp However, you should come to terms with the fact that that is a work of fiction! It is not real. – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 25 '15 at 16:55
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In the conferences I am aware of, companions are people not attending the conference, but coming along with some of the participants for tourism or company. Depending on the venue, they may or may not offer some alternative activities for them (anything from visits to the city to a heap of maps and sort yourself out).

If this is the case, your girlfriend would fit right in, as long as she is not interested in the conference itself.

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Davidmh's answer makes sense for conferences where registration is a "package deal" including lodging, meals, maybe travel, etc. Here is another possibility.

At the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings, participants have the option to register a "nonmathematician guest" for a small additional fee. The conference describes this as:

Any family member or friend, who is not a mathematician, and who is accompanied by a participant in the meetings is eligible for this category. Guests will receive a badge and may accompany a mathematician to a session or talk and may also enter the exhibit area.

(The "exhibit area" in this case has booths operated by publishers, software vendors, etc, often selling their products at a discount.)

For this conference, registration doesn't include any travel, lodging or meals (participants are supposed to arrange those separately), so the only benefit you get from registering a guest is that they get a badge to attend the conference. If you are traveling with a companion but they don't want to get in to the conference, there would be no reason to register them at all.

Some possible reasons to do this:

  • You need someone's assistance to get around inside the conference (pushing a wheelchair, carrying books, etc)

  • Your guest is curious what a conference is like

  • Your guest wants to be able to meet you inside the conference venue during breaks, meals, etc.

  • You just want to be with your guest during talks, etc.

The "nonmathematician" requirement is to point out that this is not supposed to be used as a way for you to get a colleague into the conference for cheap (at this conference, registering a guest is $16 while regular registration was $250-$400). Of course the only enforcement would be the honor system.

So a girlfriend would be just the sort of person for whom this category is intended, provided that she is not also a colleague.

I once made use of this option when the conference was held in the city where my parents live. My father is not a mathematician but is interested in math, so I registered him as my guest. He enjoyed attending some of the less technical talks, browsing the books in the exhibit hall, and generally just experiencing the atmosphere of a mathematics conference.

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    Actually, Davidmh's answer even makes sense for conferences for which registration is not a "package deal". I've seen conferences that arranged for city tours or other freetime activities in parallel to the technical sessions for companions. The package may or may not also include a ticket for the conference banquet. So the companion ticket may easily be for "parking" the companion at least some of the time while science is happening. – DCTLib Mar 25 '15 at 15:08
  • @DCTLib: Interesting. For the conference I described, there were no such activities scheduled, and the conference banquet required separate registration and payment. – Nate Eldredge Mar 25 '15 at 15:09
  • To contrast Scott Seidman's answer, I'll also add that the Joint Mathematics Meetings are held in large cities in the US, so that companions would not normally have trouble finding things to do. Guest registration would only be required if the guest actually wants to enter the conference venue. – Nate Eldredge Mar 25 '15 at 19:12
  • @DavidRicherby: Well, not necessarily. I meant that as a possibility instead of an actual reality. I rephrased. – Nate Eldredge Mar 25 '15 at 22:48
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    @PaulRichards Perhaps they put them in a room with a smouldering waste paper basket and a view of one black sheep from the window. – starsplusplus Mar 26 '15 at 13:48
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The companion option provides a convenient package allowing someone to participate in the nonscientific aspects of the conference. For example, I've been to some remote conferences where if your guest wasn't a conference attendee, meals had to be eaten at the very expensive facility restaurant, instead of at the conference buffets.

These kinds of things can be very convenient. I've seen people who thought they'd be able to avoid the cost of companion registration, only to knuckle down and buy it at the "gate price" once they're on the ground at the conference, and this can be more expensive.

Sometimes, companion registration may be an option because it is anticipated that non-conference attendees may have a rough time without it.

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