As a graduate student interested in both advancing my education and finding a job to pay for my education, I tend to go to a lot of conferences. Or rather, I go to as many conferences as my school will provide funding for (thanks US Education grants!). The terms are pretty straightforward; if I present my research, and the conference is based in the USA, then they’ll fund me. This is really an awesome and generous gift, and I feel well lucky to have these opportunities. Sometimes, of course, I will not receive funding, and that’s when I get to put those student loan dollars to work.
Due to the nature of my primary research, public restrooms, I get a kick out of asking restroom questions related to session talks. This catches most people off-guard, because, who asks about restrooms when discussing retail store development and planning? I did just this at the recent ICSC Research Connections Conference in Chicago. The response to my question was a simple: “No, we don’t consider restrooms in our planning process”, which was pretty much what I expected. I could have phrased the question better, but I achieved my goal of asking a question (with a microphone) in a large panel session, and getting noticed. Now I’m not one for high-power, fast-talking networking situations, but I do make an effort. This later led to conversations with other people who were curious/interested in my work. While this may not lead to a job, at least I’m putting myself out there and practicing describing (and defending) public restroom research. I’m also putting the idea in people’s minds that restrooms are both important and under-valued. People need to talk about this, by golly.
All this brings me to my next restroom and conference related point, and that is women’s restrooms. I came across a startling blog by a young woman who attend a programming conference in St Louis, and discovered, much to her horror, that the female restrooms had been converted to male restrooms, and the far-away family restroom (a single-occupant type place) had been converted to the female restroom. The rationale was that there are so many more men than women at these sorts of conferences, or perhaps at this conference in particular, that someone decided this was an OK idea. As far as I understand, there was no discussion with the conference attendees, no notice in the program, no memo, no fax, it just happened. And it happened because people do not discuss restroom politics, or at least not openly.
This needs to change. I might get a kick out of being novel, but it shouldn’t be that way. Why is something that everybody does so off the discussion table? Why not plan for people to change their babies and carry out normal bodily functions? I don’t have to text and play Words With Friends, yet everyone is so excited by mobile application development. But I do have to go to the bathroom, and while I see the excitement there, I see no restroom agenda. At least, not yet. I’m hoping to change that.