Several folks read and commented on my previous AEA post. That is heartening. One comment was about what a new person should do at the conference. That is today’s post. I am fortunate because the Graduate Student and New Evaluator Topical Interest Group post in aea365 last week talked about just that. I recommend you check it out.
Although I couldn’t find a “First Time Attendee” session in this year’s on line program, I could find a lot of other sessions which sounded interesting. In the past, this session was offered just before the reception on Wednesday. That was a long time ago (I found reference to it in the 1999 program), however, and AEA (like so many other things) has moved on, grown, and changed. I remember attending several and contributing because I was a long time attendee. They were informative, much like the aea365 blog post.
The one thing that the aea365 post didn’t mention that I think is important is children. AEA is, and always has been, family friendly. Children are welcome (by most; there are some curmudgeons, to be sure). I am a single parent by choice. I built my family through adoption. From the time my oldest daughter (now 20) came home, I took her and then she and her sister (now 17) to AEA; we went as a family until 2007 when AEA was in Baltimore. By the time they got into high school, it was harder to take them. (I did take Mersedes last year to Minneapolis; she isn’t coming to DC this year; this being her high school senior year…) They developed their own cohort of friends, people who still ask after them today when I go alone.
How did taking them actually work? Most of the hotel venues used by AEA can recommend a sitting service, one that has been used by their guests. It is worth the cost. When I was President, the service was a life saver. (I used White House Nannies in DC) I paid an hourly rate when I needed coverage, which was about 30% of the time. The rest of the time, the girls attended sessions, took their coloring books and sundries to the back of the room and played quietly while I did my professional thing. There were multiple benefits in this arrangement: They got to see Mom “working”; they got to see parts of DC they wouldn’t normally see (arrangements were made at the time of booking), they learned behaviors of a professional meeting, saw what was expected, and learned to talk to grown-ups. They love to tell the story of sitting under the table in the back of the room, though I don’t know how many years they did that…I’m guessing a lot. Some of my best friends are also their friends with whom they maintain relationships. If you have a partner, bringing children is easier. Some of my friends took their son/daughter and traded off responsibilities; their children also created a whole cadre of connections, some of which last to this day. Being in DC is a wonderful opportunity for a young family; DC is an amazing city with lots to see and do. I strongly urge you to take a day (or two) and enjoy the city and the conference with your family.