I am going to my first conference and my mom wants to join. (She can probably get funding from her university to accompany me, even though she is in a different field.) Will it reflect badly on me if we stick together?

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    @aparente001 I think it's kind of cute.
    – user44796
    Dec 19, 2015 at 23:19
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    How do you expect she'll behave at the conference? Will she stand back and let you act independently? Or will she be in the presenters' faces, telling them about her wonderful son and his amazing ideas, all the while interrupting you? Dec 20, 2015 at 2:13
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    I feel like if you have to ask, the answer is obvious. (And if you don't, well, the answer is also obvious.)
    – user541686
    Dec 20, 2015 at 8:15
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    To me this question can be rephrased as: "Is it bad if my mom comes to work with me?"
    – dsfgsho
    Dec 20, 2015 at 11:32
  • 14
    She can probably get funding from her university to accompany me, even though she is in a different field. -- this sounds ethically very questionable, I must say. Dec 20, 2015 at 15:14

9 Answers 9


You ask about "stick together". This is probably not an ideal idea.

Generally, in a conference, you want freedom of action. Going with your mother may induce you to "talk to the known" person whenever you are unsure; i.e. you talk to her whenever you are not sure how to approach people - the notorious "escape route" - but this is exactly what conferences are not for.

When I went to my first conference, I made a point to talk to as many people as I could. At the beginning, it is quite a leap of faith. But later you find, it is fun, you get to know people, and you get to know new research directions and ideas. Sometimes it feels difficult, but remember: all you people have one thing in common - the topic of the conference. You are very unlikely to go wrong starting a conversation about that.

If you are unsure how to start, start with people which look like they are alone at the conference, and probably a bit lost. They will be grateful to get somebody to talk to; you may meet interesting colleagues (don't think that, because they are alone, they are not good scientists - good scientists may not be good at socialising), and notch up a good deed, to boot.

It is fine to take your mother to social events and the like, but I recommend that, if she joins the conference, say, because she is interested, that she stays mostly in the background and does not send signals of "supervision" to others or - even more importantly - to you. If you can keep that balance, then, by all means, bring her with you.

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    +1 for the "escape route". Making yourself meet new people is essential at a conference but can be hard, and it is much harder if there is an easy option available of talking to someone familiar Dec 20, 2015 at 11:41

A couple of things that come to mind:

  1. It's a bit troubling that you say "my mom wants to join." What do you want?

  2. Also, your first conference is an exciting moment in your academic career that you'll likely remember for a long time. Such an occasion can be a really good opportunity to strike out on your own, be independent, feel free to invent yourself as the person you'd like the world to see you as (and, as others have said, make maximal use of the professional opportunity of being at a conference, though personally I'm less bothered about that). With all respect due to your mom, who I'm sure is an extremely nice lady, it sounds probable to me that her presence will hinder such personal growth on your part, though she may not realize that.

Just my two cents based on the very small amount of information you've provided. In any case good luck, and have fun!

Edit: I also want to add, just in case you or anybody else reading this care, that I think "will it reflect badly on me" is the wrong question to ask. What I mean more precisely is this: if you happen to be a mature, strong-willed, independent person who just happens to get along fabulously with your mom and think you'll enjoy having her around, I'd say bring her along, and it doesn't matter what other people will think; life's too short to care too much about that (or, as Steve Jobs said, "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice"). On the other hand, the advice I wrote above is a way of helping you reflect on whether by letting your mom come to the conference with you, you may in fact be holding yourself back from becoming a mature, strong-willed, and independent person. If that is the case, then although having your mom at the conference may indeed reflect badly on you in the eyes of some people, that is not the reason why you shouldn't bring her -- rather, you shouldn't bring her but for a different reason, because of the more intrinsic fact that having her be such a dominant presence in your professional and social life is simply not good for you.

  • Curious to know whether Steve Jobs would've wanted his employees to not let his screaming at them drown out their inner voices :)
    – Rob Grant
    Dec 22, 2015 at 12:07
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    @RobertGrant this Steve Jobs quote seems like a good response to your question.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 22, 2015 at 20:33
  • Foolish as I am to debate with the Faithful :) 1) that quote is an argument of the excluded middle; I don't just belittle others, as evidenced by my not doing so here. I just applied Jobs' own quote in a way it should withstand without ad hominem responses. 2) It's an obvious inconsistency that Jobs said that while yelling orders at others. Except it's not inconsistent, because he didn't believe that. He wanted to do whatever he wanted, including shout at others, and dressed it in feelgood language.
    – Rob Grant
    Dec 22, 2015 at 22:09
  • And 3) Direct answer, as though Jobs were asking: I wasn't a terrible father and husband and didn't overshadow my much brainier and more talented colleague to the extent my tat gets rebleated online, so I've got that going for me :)
    – Rob Grant
    Dec 22, 2015 at 22:10
  • @DanRomik I think, as Steve can't defend himself, it would be fair to point out what he might say in response to such allegations by our friend Robert Grant: "While I was yelling orders at my employees, I didn't want them to let me drown out their inner voice, I wanted them to fight for it." (And if you fight, make sure you're right about what you're fighting for.) His employees were employees because they needed a leader to look up to, because they didnt have the aptitude to be the one yelling orders whilst changing the world.
    – J.Todd
    Dec 23, 2015 at 10:46

Would your mother attend the conference even if you didn't? If so, then sure -- but make sure not just to follow her to the talks she is interested in. If not (and the question makes me think that's the case), I think it would be a bad idea for her to join you.

  1. Conferences are professional events where your goal should be to meet and share ideas with others in your field. You will have something to talk about with them, but your mother won't.
  2. How would her being there impact your ability to socialize? This is going to depend on the conference, but people generally like to get drinks in the evenings. It would be odd if you went out with a few graduate students and she came along.
  3. Irrespective of how independent you can be, you should think about the signal it sends to your potential employers (i.e. people on search committees). Think about job applicants who bring their mothers to an interview and ask yourself whether that hurts their chances of getting the job.
  • 7
    +1 for Would your mother attend the conference even if you didn't?
    – Nobody
    Dec 20, 2015 at 13:48
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    Good answer, but as for Would your mother attend ... even if you didn't? I think you're making a rather utopian assumption that an academic's decision of whether to attend a conference should depend purely on professional interest and never be influenced by any other factor. E.g., no one should ever choose to go to a conference in Hawaii and skip a different conference in Cleveland that's slightly more relevant to their academic interests. (Yeah, I bet that never happens, right? ;-)). If humans were robots that might make sense, but they're not. I agree with the other things you wrote.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 20, 2015 at 23:37
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    @DanRomik The answer to "Would your mother attend... even if you didn't?" isn't necessarily binary. If the answer is "Hell, no!" then she shouldn't go; if the answer is "Of course she would", then she probably should go. If the answer is somewhere between, then that's more information to base a decision on. Dec 22, 2015 at 1:39
  • I downvoted because I think the point raised is entirely ridiculous. Not just moot...ridiculous. Parents should be honored and celebrated.
    – dwoz
    Dec 22, 2015 at 3:30
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    @dwoz Parents should be honored and celebrated... at the appropriate place and time. And by the same token, children and their independence should also be honored, celebrated and respected -- something that too many helicopter parents don't appreciate.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 22, 2015 at 17:37

I have seen non academic mothers accompany their children, or more accurately their grandchildren, to conference and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Even in the absence of grandchildren, it would be fine. For example, lots of conferences have time for an afternoon of site seeing and people often add on a couple of days of vacation.

As your mother is an academic in a related field (presumably since you said she can get funding). It makes perfect sense. As for sticking together, within reason that is fine. This is especially true if she can introduce you to people. Just make sure you keep the relationship professional.

  • The first answer mentioning the relevance of "academic mother"
    – justhalf
    Dec 20, 2015 at 15:30

Remember that a conference is first and foremost a major professional opportunity for you. So long as you will meet as many other conference participants as you would otherwise, and it wouldn't affect your performance giving the talk, then I see no reason not to bring her.

My mother sometimes asked to come to conferences with me, but I didn't let her, because I was afraid seeing her in the audience during my talk would put me off and I wouldn't do as good of a job giving it, which would negate the entire purpose of attending the conference. My mother could be very critical. Unfortunately she didn't live long enough to get to the point where academic talks got put on YouTube all the time, but she did read my papers. My father enjoys watching some of my talks on line now.

On the other hand, my partner is also an academic, and we often attend each other's meetings, and even go to different talks in parallel sessions and learn from each other at the meeting. My partner is very supportive and I love seeing their smile in my talks. If your mother is a good academic, I could believe that having her at a conference might be similar to that.

  • with all due respect, Joanna...your relationship with your mom might not have been all that it could be. who knows why that happened. Not me, certainly. Parents that are also academics can be celebrated without the least problem.
    – dwoz
    Dec 22, 2015 at 3:28
  • @dwoz What does "celebration" — whatever it means in this context — have to do with this? Me (or whoever else) giving a talk has nothing to do with my mother, and all to do with me and my work. If I feel that my mother's presence in the audience would hinder in a noticeable way my ability to give a talk to the best of my abilities, then I should feel obliged to tell her so and ask her no to come.
    – A.P.
    Dec 22, 2015 at 18:42

It's unlikely anyone would notice or care. Anyway, how would they know you are parent and child?

Having said that, in the UK a lot of conferences are funded by EPSRC or similar agencies, which in turn are funded by tax payers. As a tax payer, I have to say the folks who go on jollies to unrelated conferences can grate.

Overall it seems unnecessary and while I don't think it would necessarily look "bad", it would likely be a missed opportunity to talk to other people.

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    I downvoted because I don't like the idea that relatives are any different from any other non-expert attendee. If a conference wants diversity in its audience, then the organisers probably value that source of innovation. if it's a small workshop for experts, then how would a family member get in? I don't see how either strategy wastes tax-payer resources. Unless you are complaining about people who sign up to attend the meeting but then skip talks to be a tourist, in which case yes I hate that, but I don't see how that relates to family members. Dec 19, 2015 at 22:55
  • OP says "mom [...] in a different field" and answer is based on that. Nepotism != just family and nothing else in answer restricts to family (albeit all examples are family). By your logic, doesn't it make sense for OP to edit their question to "acquaintance ... in a difference field"? Also nothing mentioned in answer about it being a small workshop for experts. No idea how "[s]he can probably get funding from her university" or "get in", that's not the question. Anyway thanks for the comment. Dec 20, 2015 at 19:42
  • "Anyway, how would they know you are parent and child?" By reading the name badges?
    – user9482
    Dec 21, 2015 at 9:13
  • But (in my experience) few people bother with name badges. Also many women use their original name. Dec 21, 2015 at 9:32

I would chime in that if she wants to come to celebrate your success(es) and witness you if it's something you are publicly participating in, sounds great. I would say terrific.

However, if she is coming to overtly - overly - mother you when you are an adult? I recently learned terrific actually means terrifying by definition. So maybe it is terrific. So in that case... hmm

Was hard to tell from what you wrote, in that case, time to cut the ole umbilical cord, probably was time some time ago, in fact, not being sarcastic, I'd argue that cord was cut a long time ago.

That said, I'd welcome her to come and celebrate your participatory role in the conference, sure, bring grandma Esralda too, your family is likely proud of you and wants to support you.

If the former, go for it- if the latter? I'd politely state you are now an adult, and would prefer if she only came to witness the conference but did not bring any unnecessary focus during your academic responsibility post conference.

Best to you and her.

Tim Miltz


There are at least three issues here: conference funding, conference participation, and joint travel.

It is theoretically possible, but unlikely, that your mother's department has so much travel and conference money that every researcher gets to every conference they want. It is also possible that the conference is one your mother should be attending, and your participation is only a tie-breaker among conferences.

If neither of those cases applies, consider the following scenario:

  • There is a conference you should attend.
  • Your department regrets to inform you that there is insufficient travel budget for you to go.
  • You find out they funded another department member going to an off-topic conference primarily to hang out with a relative.

How would you feel? Unless it is a conference she should be attending for her own research, I think your mother should either not attend or pay for it herself.

As others have pointed out, to get the full benefit of the conference you need to get into casual conversations with other participants. Having someone with you who is not a specialist in your research area could be a hindrance. On the other hand, if she is attending primarily for your company, telling her you can't have lunch with her today because you want to continue a discussion over lunch would be unfair to her.

If the purpose in her going is spending time together in a different location, consider extending your stay for a few days after the conference and having her join you for that time as a vacation. That way you can concentrate on the conference while it is running, and give your mother your full attention during your joint vacation.

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    In my experience, faculty tend to go to conferences on their own grant money. Assuming the asker's mother is faculty, her spending her grant money on going to this conference doesn't affect whether anybody else in her department can go to a conference: they couldn't travel on her grant money anyway. Dec 22, 2015 at 1:42

The obvious answer is a RESOUNDING "yes." Invite your mom to come on her own dime and credentials.

When you present your paper, stop, point her out to the seven people in attendance at your session, and acknowledge her, calling her out as a beloved colleague in the unrelated field of xyz. Blow her a kiss, say "thanks, mom!" and go on with your paper.

Spend MOST of your time at the conference schmoozing with colleagues.

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