I’m a Convenor*

20 Aug

*Sung to the tune of ‘I’m a Believer’

When my daughter was eight months old, the other PhD students in my department insisted that I attend a bi-weekly research seminar. Our university had recently started a new initiative of postgraduate research training, and they were keen to bring me into the fold from which I had been absent for over a year. I kept getting secretly annoyed that they weren’t able to see that there was no way I could attend seminars without childcare, until they said ‘you can bring your baby, we can hold her for you when you’re talking’.

The first time we went was an autumn afternoon, and after meticulous nap-, toy- and snack-planning, it was great to be back where I felt like I belonged. I didn’t even know what I’d been missing, and I felt revived after that seminar, as well as proud of what I and my daughter had achieved together. (When I was new to mothering I lived in perpetual fear of public crying and wriggling, so a 2-hour university event was a challenge.) I also realised that this group of childless academics of various ages, nationalities and convictions had made one of the clearest feminist statements I’ve experienced first hand. If I ever finish my PhD, it will be in no small part thanks to them.

My daughter and I went to the seminar every other week for two-and-a-half years until my daughter decided she wanted to use her new talking skills to make herself heard in the seminar. It was not necessary for anyone to ‘hold her’ (the idea of trying to confine a baby who was enjoying crawling all over the place made me chuckle) as she was usually happy to play or cuddle with me. Even the occasional hunt for dropped crayons, Duplo-clattering or surprise smelly poo didn’t disrupt proceedings (or perhaps the gagging took place while I was out of the room changing her nappy). We spent our final seminar together with her on my hip, eating a banana, taking her own ‘notes’ and looking at my work on the big screen while I presented my research.

Now I have been asked to take over running the seminar, which is a lovely progression. I’m officially a ‘convenor’ on all the paperwork, with no idea what that actually means. Hopefully I can do a good job and make people feel as welcome and accepted as I felt.

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