Academic travels with baby for “career dream” appointment with UNSW support

14 Feb 2024
Woman holds child before United Nations building

Alexandra Hogan travelled to Switzerland with help from the UNSW Carers' Support Fund.

Dr Hogan works on mathematical modelling for infectious diseases, estimating the public health impact of vaccines. Just weeks after her son was born, the research fellow in the School of Population Health was appointed to the World Health Organization (WHO) Immunization and Vaccines Related Implementation Research Advisory Committee.

The committee – 15 global experts appointed for a three-year term – provides the WHO with an independent review of vaccine research, focusing on quantitative modelling. The appointment was a “career dream realised” for Dr Hogan, following years of hard work contributing to global vaccine modelling. 

However, the first committee meeting – a three-day event in Geneva – was a far cry from her everyday reality. 

Woman and child sitting in pram on a bridge before rows of flags
     Alexandra and son Wilfred outside the United
     Nations building, Geneva

“At the time, I was on maternity leave... My life revolved around breastfeeding and round-the-clock parenting,” she says. “I wasn’t interested in being apart from my son overnight, let alone while I travelled to the other side of the world.”

While the thought of travelling internationally with a seven-month-old was daunting, Dr Hogan says she “would have felt gutted to turn the opportunity down, so I decided to try to make it work”. She spoke with her manager, Head of School and Human Resources, as well as the UNSW Insurance team to discuss her options. 

Dr Hogan received funding from the UNSW Carers' Support Fund. It assists with extraordinary caring costs of up to $2000 to help academic and professional staff as well as Higher Degree Research (HDR) students advance their careers by participating in conferences, workshops, symposiums and fieldwork.

The Support Fund paid for a nanny to care for her son while she worked. The nanny booked through the hotel cost around $600 a day, standard for hotels in Geneva. 

“Those funds made all the difference to me. I had a supportive boss and people around me who said, go for it,” she says. “The funding and support – emotional and practical – the encouragement meant I could make the right decision for me and my family.” 

Woman and child stand before Imperial College London building
Alexandra and Wilfred outside Imperial College London

Dr Hogan also used her Keeping in Touch days, 10 paid days staff can access during their maternity leave, to attend the meeting. 

While there were some “challenging times”, Dr Hogan says the trip was a “big success”. 

She breastfed him between sessions in the hotel lobby and received updates of his adventures while she worked. He even attended the welcome drinks with her.

The duo also headed to England for some collaborative research meetings as part of her visiting appointment at Imperial College London.

Dr Hogan understands that travelling for work with a young child is not for everyone. 

“Not everyone would feel comfortable or would want to do that, and that’s fine. It's different for everyone,” she says. “I think being a bit more creative about how people can parent and have careers is a good thing.”

Dr Hogan wrote about her experience travelling for an international meeting with her baby in Science journal.

*Hero image: Alexandra and Wilfred outside the United Nations building.