Room sharing at a science conference
February 25, 2012 2:36 PM   Subscribe

grad students and former grad students/postdocs/academics (or pretty much anyone who has experience going to conferences): trying to figure out if I'm making an unreasonable request about room sharing at a conference, or if colleagues are.

I (male) and two female co-lab-members got 3 separate abstracts accepted to a medium sized conference. The other day I emailed them about what we should do for hotel arrangements. So they emailed me back saying they had already booked a room for themselves and said they wouldn't be comfortable sharing a room with a guy. While that is totally understandable, I will end up having to pay around $700 to book my own room for the 3 days of the conference (its downtown in a somewhat-pricey north american city).

I have worked closely with both of them for 2-3 years, and have slept on one of their couches on more than one occasion. This makes me think (and hope) that their concern is not for their safety, since I'm pretty sure we've established a good amount of trust between us. So from my perspective their concern is more for comfort. I've been to several conferences in the past and have had mostly coed room sharing arrangements. Obviously this is not ideal comfort-wise, but its usually done out of financial consideration/necessity since grad students are generally low on funds (myself included). So I was actually a bit taken aback that they had already made arrangements and refused to consider sharing a room with me, a fellow grad student and friend.

What are your experiences with coed room sharing (or non-sharing, as the case may be)? My question is mainly, am I being unreasonable by expecting them to allow to me to share the room? Are they being unreasonable given our shared economic situation? I'm probably not going to try to argue about it, since it seems they've made up their minds and I'll respect that. I just want to know if I need to snap out of it or if I should feel at least justified in being upset about this.
posted by captain cosine to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Although most of my fellow grad students were other women, I still never did co-ed room sharing with my classmates. Moreover, even if it is just for comfort rather than safety, they are allowed to bunk with whomever they choose. Just because you are lab-mates, doesn't obligate them to share a room with you (even if you were of the same sex). For moderate to large conferences, there's usually a cadre of students looking for hotel room shares. Try to find those people.
posted by picklebird at 2:42 PM on February 25, 2012 [10 favorites]

I can understand feeling ticked that they went ahead and made arreangements without talking to you---it makes you feel excluded---but I think it's absolutely unreasonable for you to expect to share a room with them. For one thing, three people in a hotel room might be somewhat cramped. For another, crashing on a couch is very different from sharing a hotel room!

Do you know anyone else who is going totes conference? Do they have a "find a roommate" service on t conference website? (some big conferences do). Can you get any money from your advisor/PI or department or the conference itself to help defray costs?
posted by leahwrenn at 2:45 PM on February 25, 2012

am I being unreasonable by expecting them to allow to me to share the room?

Well, no, but they are being totally reasonable in saying they do not want to do that. A hotel room is a thousand degrees removed from a couch in their own home on their own territory with a door between you. A hotel room also has virtually no privacy. A hotel room involves sleeping a maximum of 8 feet from other people. It is by definition an intimate venue.

I think picklebird's idea is a good one and that you will be able to find other people looking to share in order to cut your bills. Some may be comfortable sharing mixed gender; your particular conference partners are not.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:45 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

It is at their discretion, I would not strain the relationship by pressing the issue. Follow picklebeard's advice and see if the conference organizers have a room-share board for grad students. I am also assuming that you have gone to your department seeking travel support, it is worth asking again maybe asking for half since you have nobody from the lab with whom you can share a room.
posted by cgk at 2:47 PM on February 25, 2012

I understand why you might be frustrated in these circumstances. Your labmates' decision is, in some respects, inconsiderate.

Does the society that organizes the conference have an associated graduate student organization? A big role these organizations play is finding hotel room buddies for individual attendees.
posted by Nomyte at 2:47 PM on February 25, 2012

You're being unreasonable. First and foremost, their choice of who to share a room with is theirs alone, regardless of other concerns, and it's not right for you to express upset that they didn't choose to be with you. Second, it's quite common for people to feel uncomfortable sharing a hotel room with a member of the opposite sex. Third, sharing a hotel room has different cultural connotations than crashing on someone's coach while they sleep in their bed.

If you really think they made the decision just for their own comfort, well that is totally justified too. I don't want to share a hotel room with two other people if I can avoid it.
posted by grouse at 2:47 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see "anyone need a roommate for X conference?" posts pretty often on academic listservs. That could be a place to find a conference roommate.

But yeah, I agree with everyone else that they're being reasonable.
posted by craichead at 2:48 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would second trying to find a hotel room share through the other conference attendees. There can be benefits to this - I once ended up sharing a hotel room with another conference attendee, who got a corporate rate which was much lower than the conference rate. Also, sometimes professors in one's department may be willing to share a room with a graduate student.

There may be a school or department culture aspect to coed room sharing, as this never happened in any of the departments I was part of. So to me it was very surprising that you even expected this. I do think you are being unreasonable, as your labmates have no obligation to share a hotel room with you, gender aspects aside.
posted by needled at 2:52 PM on February 25, 2012

am I being unreasonable by expecting them to allow to me to share the room?

Yup. The loud victim blaming social message is still, "ladies, keep yourselves out of situations that might lead to sexual assault." They are (consciously or not) respecting that message.

Sure, they know you. They probably think they can trust you. You know you, and are sure that you would never take advantage of the conveniences of shared hotel rooms in that way. But they can't be absolutely sure. As a survivor of several kinds of sexual assaults, I need to point out that you don't seem to be taking into account that one (or both) of them may have previously been victimized. And the amount of blaming and scrutiny that a survivor is subjected to makes it just not worth the risk.

Because there is so much information we can't know about this exact situation, I think your inclination to not make this a thing is a good one.

Also, outside of safety, there are other concerns. Maybe they're having a secret romantic affair with each other? None of your business. Maybe one of them has a boyfriend who is super jealous and would not countenance her sharing a hotel room, however platonically, with a male colleague. Maybe one of them has a major deformity that they couldn't bear for you to become aware of. Maybe one of them snores but the other one doesn't care. .... see? Any number of possible factors here that are...none of anyone's business.
posted by bilabial at 2:52 PM on February 25, 2012 [12 favorites]

ps: while officially frowned upon because the organization is obliged to try to meet room block occupation targets, you could consider looking for a place to stay that is not the official hotel. In my more hungry days I found a cheap place on priceline and hiked a few blocks or, when I was young and hungry, found hostel space.

A conference I helped organize just had to pay a penalty for falling short of room targets (low attendance, not people going elsewhere), so if you have the means then do not go off-conference for lodging...but you would not be asking this question if you had the means.
posted by cgk at 2:57 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think that this specific situation is driven by their concern about safety. I'd imagine it's about comfort and the intimacy of sharing a small room. There's not much of an opportunity for privacy in a hotel room.

Myself, I'd resist sharing a hotel room with 3 colleagues no matter what the gender happens to be. A standard room has 2 Queen beds. Unless they're getting a suite, I don't know where you were expecting to sleep. On the floor? A roll-away? In one of the beds while they're both in the other bed?

Find a conference roommate through organizers/message boards and don't take this decision by your colleagues personally.
posted by quince at 2:58 PM on February 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

You're being unreasonable. Though shouldn't the lab be picking up the tab for the rooms, here?

My advice: find a male colleague in another lab/university you know also going to the conference and split the room with him. Other possibility: find a less expensive hotel in the same city and "commute" every day to the conference hotel.
posted by deanc at 2:58 PM on February 25, 2012

There is a HUGE difference between crashing on someone's sofa and sleeping in what is essentially her bedroom. I would not take this personally -- I doubt they feel unsafe with you -- but many women (myself included) would not want a male co-worker (even one of whom I was very fond!) hanging around my hotel room while I was in various stages of dressing, nudity, or sleeping three feet from me. Also, if you share with them, they pretty much have to share a bed. And probably don't want to. Three people in one hotel room is a lot.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:59 PM on February 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers, you raise a lot of good points. There is indeed a gigantic differences between couchsurfing and sharing a room, and I'm kind of laughing at myself for not thinking about that before. I was definitely leaning toward the idea that they are the reasonable party, and it was just my own frustration at doing extra work/paying extra money that was telling me otherwise. The conference did have a travel award, but for some reason I forgot to apply when I submitted the abstract. I'll definitely check out other roommate sharing options and cheaper nearby hotels though.
posted by captain cosine at 3:02 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wherever you are going you can certainly do better than $700 for three nights. Check these guys out and the various hotel price aggregating sites.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:05 PM on February 25, 2012

Here's just one small thing to keep in mind: most women don't like to sleep with a bra on. But it can also be extremely awkward and uncomfortable to be around a guy (who isn't your romantic partner) when you're wearing a nightshirt with no bra.

This really has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the basic standards our society has for decency and privacy in relation to gender.
posted by meese at 3:09 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree, you don't have to pay to stay in the conference hotel. Look on Priceline, Expedia, Air BnB.

Also, most conferences I go to offer a room sharing service - that is, they'll find you a roommate. If you don't see that listed you could always email the organizers and say "hey, do you know anyone looking for a roommate? I'm on my own but would rather share to save travel costs."

When I was in my early and even mid 20s, I wouldn't have minded piling into one room to save money. But at some point that changed. Now, no way.
posted by Miko at 3:10 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm confused about the premise, though. You should not be paying out of your pocket to attend a science conference at all, your research group should be covering it out of the grants that fund you, which will generally include allocations for travel and publication to disseminate the results of the project. (Unless this an unfunded side project or something?), while I understand reining in costs, that $700 isn't a hit to you anyway.
posted by Upton O'Good at 3:12 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

What are your experiences with coed room sharing

In the library world there are basically a chunk of people who do it all the time [where all the library students just sort of crash in anyone's rooms] and then a bunch of other people who don't even share rooms with their same gender coworkers if they don't have to. I think for some people being away from home and just getting used to a new bedroom and bathroom are big deals and having to add someone who you may not know so well, or not well enough to have seen them in their pajamas, might be weird.

Additionally, some people may be okay with this sort of thing themselves but may have partners or relatives who are less okay with it. I know when I went on a road trip with a friend of mine, I checked with my boyfriend to make sure he was okay with me sharing a hotel room with my male friend. I didn't care, but there was a chance he might [he didn't]. And last, some people just basically will not share bathrooms with strangers or would be happy to pay a lot of money to not have to do that. That is not my outlook personally, but I've met enough people for whom that is the truth. Adding a third person to a one bathroom situation, for people who have bathroom concerns, could be a problem.

Honestly if you had worked this out beforehand it might have been possible for you all to get a suite where you could have had separate bedrooms in a more couchsurfing type situation, but that's water under the bridge for this one but might be worth mentioning to them if this should happen again. I agree that you should be able to find MUCH cheaper digs if you're so inclined. I've had a lot of luck with airbnb in those sorts of areas.
posted by jessamyn at 3:29 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

While I totally agree that the two women sharing a room but not inviting you to join them is completely reasonable, what about getting a suite with a separate living room? Something where you could crash on a couch while they share the bedroom, and each of the three of you could have at least some privacy. Would splitting the cost of such a suite be feasible?
posted by easily confused at 4:07 PM on February 25, 2012

meese has it on the nose, in my opinion. As a grad student, I'd have shared a hotel room with nearly any female grad student I knew, but only with very close male friends that I was already super comfortable with. Plus, conferences are axhausting, and you really want your hotel room to be a place where you can relax/decompress in the evenings, not a likely source of awkwardness. (As a "grownup" with adequate travel funding, I now only share rooms with colleagues when I am pretty sure it will add to the fun of my trip, so essentially only good friends.)

Also, I am glad you realized all along not to argue about this. Asking once about sharing a room is fine, but if I guy (actually, anybody) were to argue with me if I said no, I would find that an extremely uncomfortable situation.
posted by ktkt at 4:17 PM on February 25, 2012

You are being totally 100% unreasonable. They are not obligated to share a room with you, period, and frankly it's none of your business why not. People are entitled to make whatever arrangements they want and it's creepy of you to feel entitled to share a hotel room with anyone against their will, regardless of gender.

If you really care about saving money, use or similar to find a place to stay for free or cheap. Even if you book a hotel, I absolutely cannot imagine it costing anything like $700 for a 3-day stay if you shop around. Try priceline.
posted by parrot_person at 4:35 PM on February 25, 2012

3 people in a hotel room is way too many... book a hotel room through hotwire or do one of the even cheaper options suggested here.
posted by deadweightloss at 5:25 PM on February 25, 2012

I am a female grad student. 3 issues here:

1) It would never be expected for us to bunk with a male labmate. I personally would do it if it were more convenient for everyone (i.e. if it saves paying for a room) but it would not be my preference if a female roommate were available, and it's unreasonable to force someone into that situation if they are uncomfortable. It has nothing to do with them thinking you're a rapist, btw...

2) 3 people in a room with 2 beds?? so either a bed to yourself or sharing a bed with one of your labmates? you're surprised that they don't want to cuddle up to their coworker at night?

3) there is no way 700$ is the best you can do, even if you won't accept a hotel further than walking distance. You can get a really nice hotel for 150$/night pretty much any city, and an acceptable one for much much less. Look on the discount sites, never pay full price. Also it should be reimbursed by someone - travel grant, university, supervisor, etc. If it's not, and you can't afford it, why are you going?
posted by randomnity at 5:51 PM on February 25, 2012

Hotel room != house/flat/apartment. A hotel room is often just one room with the beds, and one bathroom, and little privacy. I have shared co-ed style at conferences with other students, but we deliberately booked a suite in a boutique hotel a little off-site.
posted by carter at 5:54 PM on February 25, 2012

Myself, I'd resist sharing a hotel room with 3 colleagues no matter what the gender happens to be.

3 people in a hotel room is way too many

Heh, I had to laugh here because I've actually gone 3 to a room for academic conferences more than once (maybe even 4 to a room once, if I'm remembering correctly?!). At least within the particular academic culture I'm familiar with, it was a little tight but very much on the table as a cost-reducing measure: conferences are in big expensive places and graduate students don't get paid very much. To relate this back to the OP's question, though, all of these arrangements were single-sex.

That aside, I wouldn't at all feel compelled to stay at the "official" conference hotel. To the chorus of suggestions I would add to check Craigslist as well as AirBnB for short-term sublet/vacation rental types of things. Also, if you have any contacts at universities in the area, they may know about local but affordable places to stay. Finally, if a local university is co-sponsoring the conference, there may even be dorm-style accommodations you might be able to snag, esp. if the conference is in the summer (an example in Toronto), so you might want to check out their housing websites.

Good luck, and congrats on getting the poster accepted!
posted by en forme de poire at 6:17 PM on February 25, 2012

Response by poster: So it turns out there is a good amount of travel funds in our grant as well. I didn't even think of that at first because I've gotten used to asking "hey is there money in the grant for X?" and the answer being no. So hooray for that and hooray for getting good advice about respecting people's entirely reasonable requests!
posted by captain cosine at 8:38 PM on February 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

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