Hugs and Trips

qwinne’s post made me think. I don’t believe I have ever hugged a student. If a colleague goes in for a hug, I won’t avoid it, but I definitely won’t initiate it. I can’t recall if I’ve ever hugged my now-80-y.o. former mentor. Maybe? Probably not. I am not a touchy/huggy  person, in general. I don’t like to hug friends or most members of my ancestral family. (Again, I don’t avoid hugs, but anyone who’s paying attention will notice me stiffen and I never initialize any form of social touch, except maybe a handshake. There’s on-the-cheeks kissing as a form of greeting in my ancestral culture, which is just disgusting, and I thankfully don’t have to suffer through that anymore.)

However, I am very affectionate as a parent. I love LOVE hugging my kids and husband (and, before I was married, my boyfriends), but other that a couple of select family members (no, my parents are not among them), I don’t want anyone breaching the perimeter of my personal space.

Blogosphere, are you as prickly as me? Pricklier or cuddlier? How do you feel about (non-creepy and contextually appropriate, such as greetings or congratulations) hugs within a professional context?

A biennial conference in my field was to be held in Asia in 2021 in a picturesque but very remote and expensive touristy location. Amid Covid concerns, we discussed moving it to a cheaper and more accessible location that provides the organizers with added flexibility in terms of moving dates or going virtual, if need be. Yet, some members of the advisory board brought up the alternative location’s lack of picturesqueness as an issue. 

Even in the best of times (and we won’t have the best of times back for a long while), I hate HATE complicated conference travel. I don’t have the time or the energy to spend two days traveling inland via numerous transportation mechanisms to someplace pretty, only to be jetlagged in the conference hotel the whole time. I know the older (and richer) members of the community fly out several days early, bring their spouses, get over jetleg and relax, all before the conference starts. I don’t have the time, money, or will to do that. I have never wanted to attach vacations to my work. I want my work travel to be to places that are easily accessible; I want the hotel close to the venue; I want the presentation rooms to have comfortable temperature and seating, as well as enough outlets and Wi-Fi bandwidth; I also want the technical program to be enticing. These are the things I want; I am not going on vacation, so I don’t need or want the surroundings to be pretty. I want my vacations to be decoupled from my professional life, but I may be in the minority.

Blogosphere, how much do you care about location when you travel for work? Do you append vacations to conferences? 


  1. I am very much not a hugger. I tolerate hugs from family. I hate hugging friends and colleagues.

    So I’m very much opposed to hugging in academic contexts, unless my nephew is graduating from college or something.

    Strangely, I would say that the colleagues who are most likely to hug students are also the ones who are most vocally concerned about inappropriate conduct. I’ve certainly seen my share of bad stuff go down, but I don’t estimate it to be this omnipresent thing that should have everyone on high alert. OTOH, certain colleagues are vocal about their high estimates of the prevalence of bad stuff going down, and they want all of us to know how they are attuned to the needs of students in this bad environment.

    And then they go around hugging. And I’m like, yeah, not going there. No physical contact beyond a pre-COVID handshake.

  2. Oh, and you forgot the single most important attribute of a conference venue:

    Abundant caffeine.

  3. X – someone alerted me to this a few years ago, and really, it explains so much. For young people, conferences are for partying and hooking up. For old people (like us) they are for having a nice vacation with your family. They are peripherally about the science as well, but mostly about having fun. Oh, and also about padding your cv. The thing is, I don’t see why the conference can’t be somewhere easy to get to that is also fun: eg. Chicago, Miami, San Diego, etc. I had to attend a conference in the Bahamas recently and it was so annoying to get to, and resorts are just not my cup of tea.

  4. Hugging: I’m mostly a go-with-the-flow type… I don’t often initiate hugs, but I reciprocate with a modicum of enthusiasm. My undergrad advisor is huggy, and I appreciate her hugs when we meet at conferences. Never hugged my PhD advisor, don’t plan to. The older I get, the more I appreciate how professional he kept our relationship — I never had to worry. With my undergrads now… I’m at a liberal arts college, which I think tends to be a bit more touchy-feely than a typical R1. Sometimes if there’s a student I’m particularly close to at graduation, a hug might happen, or more often when a student comes back for a visit after a long time away, but I do try pretty hard to read the room — I generally don’t initiate a first hug, but if a student has previously initiated, I will sometimes initiate future hugs. I do think it makes a difference that I’m female, and therefore hugging fits within my assigned stereotype and tends to be found intrinsically less potentially creepy than it might be if I were male.

    Conferences: Definitely #1 priority is easy accessibility. Especially with young kids at home — I keep trips as short and efficient as possible, always, and it bugs me if I have to spend an extra day just getting to a meeting. That said, there have been a few conferences whose neat locations I’ve appreciated, that generally haven’t been too remote — Biosphere 2 was super-cool, for example (not far out of Tucson), and I particularly appreciated the opportunities for international travel that came my way as a student and postdoc (I haven’t traveled off the continent in the last five years — my first European trip since my older son was born was supposed to be, um, next week, in fact, but obviously that’s not happening). I don’t appreciate resorts as resorts, but I do appreciate how simple it is to book travel there — no need to worry about picking a hotel, finding restaurants, multiple instances of ground transportation, etc. Simple is good.

  5. I grew up in the Midwest with European (British and German) parents, so I am not a hugger—I will accept a hug if someone wants to initiate one, but generally only initiate with my wife, my son, my siblings, and my dad.

    One of my former students (raised in California) is a hugger—another, raised in several places in Europe and north Africa (child of a diplomat), is also.

  6. It was a relief to work in the US vs Spain on the greeting chapter. In Spain it’s a kiss on each cheek. I hated it and I hand shaked, which got pushback, mostly from men. But this greeting protocol was only when seeing people you don’t see daily. It could be worse: French and Latinamericans do it very single day!!! I was in France for several months for a project and with only 2 women in the dept a couple of creeps were super happy thinking I would be added to the kissing round they did every morning, seeking out were the women were to get their 2 kisses. Alas, I had to tell him I wasn’t joining this particular custom. He went to the lab to find me b/c I wasn’t in my office.
    We had a lot of Latin Americans in Spain and they thought we Spanish were cold fish for not liking the constant kissing, hugging, caressing your back while speaking, aaaarrrrhhhhggg hated it and ending being quite blunt about it. It was wonderful to go and shake hands at work in the US. Re-entry in Spain hasn’t been easy on this front.
    I am like you, I am a hugger with my family and I am happy to hug a good friend, but not the whole freaking planet.
    I have never added vacations to conferences, I’m under 40. Reason is I am always stressed about the work piling up, so it’s not vacation. I plan vacations separately.

  7. I had a long comment that seems to have been eaten. Long story short: I hate hugging, except with husband and friends from childhood, tolerate it from my dad and small children. Raised in western US. Agree that conferences should be easy to get to and comfortable; if venues are relevant to research interests of attendees, then it makes sense to be there, but I would never go to a resort-type place for a conference.

  8. I have been poor my entire adult life. Being able to use my research funds to go to conferences in areas of the country I’ve never been has been amazing. I sometimes extend by a couple days and stay in a cheap airbnb so I can explore a bit – and that has been a really good experience. I was supposed to travel internationally to a conference this summer and my mom was going to pay for us to travel a bit after as it is in the country her family is from. I’m really sad that conference was canceled.

  9. Interesting. I’ve always felt akward about hugging colleagues who are either older (advisers) or younger than myself (students) though I’m OK with hugging peers – so a power dynamic thing maybe? I feel less weird about it after the professional relationship is over (graduation) so I think that tracks. I think hugging my actual family seems more special because I don’t really hug other people that much.

  10. I am a fellow anti-hugger, outside the immediate family. A couple of my students have hugged me recently, and I just freeze and endure it, probably with a grimace, lol. Most sane people figure out right away if you are not a hugger and respect your boundaries. But as for colleagues: my experience is the opposite of Alex’s. The only colleagues who have hugged me are the old guys who have a long history of abusive and inappropriate behavior in our university. People that I loathe with the heat of a thousand suns. But sure, LET’S HUG.

  11. Anon,

    I work in a hotbed of virtue-signaling hypocrites. I’m told that the rest of the world is a bit more old-school in its problems, but I’m stuck around people who enjoy doing reenactments of Matthew 6:5-6. Which means simultaneously going on and on about how they’re convinced that everyone else is doing terrible things, and also hugging at graduation because they need everyone to know that they are warm and fuzzy.

  12. I’ve occasionally been hugged by students but I’ve never gone for it first. The occasional pat on the back if there’s weeping… Colleagues are a hard no unless they’re close personal friends or someone just died.

  13. I hate travel as a general rule, but I will admit that I have had some really fantastic day or weekend-after trips surrounding a few conferences. I also have a group of colleague/friends who have been willing to take a day or two to explore with me, and that makes a huge difference. By myself, I’ll spend the whole time alone in my hotel room.

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