Medicine Science

A field guide to biomedical meeting creatures, part 2: Poster time!

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgOrac is currently away at the ASCO meeting in Chicago. Shockingly, he was so busy that he didn’t bother to write anything last night. Fortunately, he found something from the archives that’s perfect for this occasion. Although it’s not about ASCO specifically, ASCO is an even bigger meeting. This was originally written in 2005 on the “old’ Respectful Insolence blog and then reposted in 2006. That’ means if you haven’t been reading at least three and a half years, it’s new to you. It’s also related to scientific meetings. Hmmm. This reminds me. I really should update this or do more installations in the saga, even if five years late. If you have any ideas, leave ’em in the comments.


Since I’ve started blogging, I notice things that I probably wouldn’t have noticed before. I suspect it’s because blogs are a voracious sink for writing and require feeding with a regular infusion of new ideas. Fortunately, the AACR Meeting provided a veritable cornucopia of ideas, and I even had the foresight to jot many of them down.

So it was at the session at which I was presenting a poster.

For those who don’t know how poster sessions are run at such meetings, I’ll give a little primer. First, you must understand the hierarchy of presentations at these meetings. The best abstracts get chosen for plenary session talks. Plenary sessions are often the only session going on at the time they occur, but even if other stuff is going on they are always the biggest sessions. The second best abstracts are chosen for smaller talks in smaller, parallel sessions. The third best are chosen to present posters. The fourth best are deposited in the circular file after a rejection letter is sent to the authors. Oh, there are variations, depending upon the size of the meeting. Because AACR is so big, there are in essence three different levels of parallel sessions called Symposia (bigger guns–but not Plenary Session big guns–giving talks), Mini-Symposia (usually graduate students, fellows, and junior faculty), and Poster Discussion sessions (basically a poster session in which the presenters are allowed to give a five minute talk). But they all break down into specific levels of prominence, a veritable pecking order, if you will.

My abstract happened to be chosen only for a poster session. (Ah, well, win a few, lose a few, I guess, given that I was just one notch above rejection.) Unlike some other meetings, that’s not so bad a thing at AACR, for the simple reason that, at the AACR Meeting, it’s quite rare for any but the heaviest of heavy hitters to be invited to give plenary talks. Heck, this year even Judah Folkman (my angiogenesis hero, whose work I’ll write about sometime in the near future) and Max Wicha (I plan on writing about his work on breast cancer stem cells in a future post, along with a bit about of my skepticism about the concept) were giving talks at Symposia, rather than Plenary Sessions (although the organizers badly miscalculated how many people would want to see Max Wicha, even at 8 AM, leaving those of us who didn’t get there 10 minutes early either standing along the walls or sitting on the floors straining to see the slides, much to the annoyance of many).

Poster sessions come in many shapes and sizes. At the core of all of them is the presentation of your data in a concise (an hopefully attractive) form on a poster, and during the session the presenters are expected to hang out by their posters for some period of time, in case attendees want to ask questions. At their best, poster sessions are a chance to schmooze with more prominent scientists, many of whom actually like to wander around and check out various posters. At their worst, they are a chance to stand or sit forlornly by your poster as sparse attendees wander by, briefly glancing blankly at it. In that aspect, they are not at all unlike high school dances. (Indeed, I’ve decided that I will never present a poster at one meeting in particular again because the sessions were so poorly attended and there was so little interest in anything of a basic science nature, like much of my work.) The AACR is amazing in that the poster sessions are absolutely enormous (just check out the pictures I posted along with this piece), and there are seven of them, each lasting four hours, one in the morning and one in the afternoon of every day of the conference except the last. There are easily several hundred posters per session in the biggest hall in the convention center, for a total of over 5,000 posters presented over the course of the meeting. Presenters are expected to stand by their posters for the first three hours of the session, which can get really boring really fast if you don’t have a lot of traffic by your poster.

One of the potentially biggest bummers about taking part in a poster session occurs if you happen to be unlucky enough to be stationed next to a high traffic poster. I’ve had this happen to me a couple of times at AACR. You stand there, with no one looking at your poster, while an overflow crowd of 20+ people is milling around the poster next to you, bumping into you, giving you annoyed looks because you have the audacity to stand next to your own poster, blocking the spot that they wanted to use to look at the poster next to you! Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me this year, but unfortunately the traffic by my poster was only moderate. It probably didn’t help that I happened to have drawn a spot just north and east of Siberia, as far as the convention floor goes.

Like the types of questioners at scientific talks, there are different styles of poster presenters, which you will come to recognize rather quickly if you ever get the opportunity to present a poster. They include (but, of course, are not limited to):

  1. The Schmoozer. This guy (or gal) wants nothing more than to make as many contacts as possible and will do whatever it takes to achieve that aim. If you show the least bit of interest in his or her poster, the Schmoozer will sidle up to you and try to chat you up. (Characteristic quote: “Can I have your card? Here, please take mine.”) Of course, once the schmoozer finds out that you’re merely junior faculty or a fellow, his or her reaction to you will be similar to what you would experience if you showed up with skin lesions characteristic of the bubonic plague or, if you’re a guy, the reaction you got the last time you tried to hit on that gorgeous model-quality beautiful chick at a bar. How do I know this one, you ask? Don’t ask.
  2. The Ghost. This presenter doesn’t like the whole poster thing. The Ghost will disappear shortly after the poster is put up and will be nowhere to be found at any point, until the end, when the poster has to come down. (Sometimes the Ghost will not even show up then and will let the cleaning staff throw the poster away.) Too bad for the Ghost if a heavy hitter or a department head looking for faculty happens to wander by and likes the ghost’s poster. The Ghost will have just blown his or her chance at that job at Harvard or M.D. Anderson Cancer Center that he or she craves.
  3. The Carnival Barker. Perhaps the most annoying presenter of all, even more so than the schmoozer, the Carnival Barker will stand in front of his or her poster, beckoning people to “come on in” and check out the poster. Worse, you’re not safe even if you’re in the middle (or even on the other side) of the aisle, because the Carnival Barker will come out and get you. His or her behavior is not unlike that of a carnival barker or of the people strip clubs in the French Quarter in New Orleans hire to try to get people to “come on in.” How do I know about that, you ask? Don’t. (A less racy example comes to mind. If you’ve ever been to Mulberry Street in Little Italy in New York, you know that there are so many restaurants in such a small area there that the restaurants have people who stand in the streets and try to lure passers-by in.)
  4. Impervious. Impervious doesn’t like the poster thing any more than Ghost, but feels obligated to follow instructions and stay by the poster until the bitter end. That doesn’t mean impervious has to talk to anyone or acknowledge anyone’s existence. Impervious may be pissed off that his abstract didn’t get accepted for a talk or may believe that sitting by a poster is below him. Whatever the reason, the key characteristic of Impervious is his ability to study closely the meeting program, never making eye contact with anyone who looks at his poster, and/or to carry on multi-hour-long conversations on the cell phone while sitting by his poster. (Impervious sometimes even brings along an extra charged cell phone battery, just for this purpose.)
  5. The Pointer. This presenter comes complete with a pointer (either the old-fashioned kind or a laser pointer). And he knows how to use it–much to the annoyance of anyone who happens by his poster.
  6. The Poser. The Poser will be dressed to the hilt (a very stylish suit if a man or a very attractive dress–with just a tasteful bit of cleavage showing or a hemline that’s just slightly shorter than one might consider appropriate–if a woman) and will look as though he or she is literally striking a pose by the poster. It almost makes you want to get out a camera. snapping pictures, and start yelling, “Oh, yeah! The camera loves you, baby!”
  7. Lost Little Boy (or Girl). This is the saddest poster presenter of all. Lost happens to have a poster that not very many people are interested in. Consequently, during the time no one is looking at the poster, Lost will sit around and look, well…lost. When the rare meeting attendee shows the slightest bit of interest in Lost’s poster, he or she will focus a gaze on the attendee not unlike that of a puppy who wants to go out and play. How do I know about this one, you ask? Don’t. Really. Don’t.

Of course, the people wandering by and checking out the posters are an equally eclectic bunch. There is considerably overlap between these people and the people I previously describedwho come up to ask questions after a scientific talk. Indeed, you can encounter almost any of them, with the exception of the Moderator, because there is no Moderator. It’s also unusual to encounter Pontificator, Show-off, or Me-Too. (Mainly because there is no real audience for them to try to impress, so what’s the point?) However, in the poster session, there’s a huge difference inherent in it because of its structure. In the poster session setting, certain of these creatures can be much more of a threat that they normally are at any scientific talk you might give, because there is in essence unlimited time for them to torment you and no way for you to escape. There’s no Moderator to keep Conniver or Rival from pumping you for as much information as he can about how far along you are compared to him; to keep Clueless Wonder from wasting huge swaths of your time with idiotic questions; or to keep Nonsequitur from asking interesting but largely irrelevant questions. But worst of all, there is no time limit and no escape from Oh Shit!, who can spend as much time as he or she wishes tearing at the flaw he or she’s discovered in your work and convincing you what a careless scientist you are. It is a true poster warrior indeed who can disarm these fierce foes, who are but annoyances in most scientific talks but can be determined destroyers of your sanity in the very different setting of a poster session. Your only hope (and only escape) is for your poster to be so popular that you can quite correctly tell any of them that you have to be fair to the others there and talk to them too. If your poster is not sufficiently popular and you’re stuck one-on-one with any of them, you’re royally screwed.

There are, however, a few questioners who are more or less unique to poster sessions. They include:

  1. Don’t Talk to Me (a.k.a. “I Vant to Be Left Alone”). This variety of poster browser is the counterpart of Impervious. He will stand in front of your poster for many minutes, apparently drinking in every word of your brilliant prose and studying every figure with great interest, sometimes even making little “uh-huh” noises, but will ignore you completely. If you try to ask him if he has any questions, it’s no different that talking to a rock.
  2. James Bond. Usually affiliated with a pharmaceutical or biotech company, James Bond walks around with his digital camera and takes pictures of the posters, sometimes blatantly, but sometimes in a rather furtive manner. Of course, he could be afraid of getting caught, given that the rules against photography or audio recording of posters and talks are posted everywhere, but they are rules that don’t ever seem to be enforced, in my experience. Sadly, the stereotype is not entirely incorrect here, as most James Bonds I’ve seen are Asian.
  3. The Clueless Wonder. OK, he’s not unique to posters, but no one (and I mean no one) can waste more of your time or make your poster presentation experience more miserable than a clueless wonder cornering you. Pray that he doesn’t find your poster early in the poster session.
  4. Tell Me All About It. Perhaps the most annoying (and unfortunately probably the most common) of the unique poster warriors, Tell me’s characteristic opening line is, “Please, take me through your poster,” or “Please, tell me the story.” It’s not as if you didn’t spend hour upon hour carefully crafting your figures and text and arranging them carefully on a poster to, oh, tell your story in a succinct and interesting (and hopefully visually attractive) way, but this clown wants it all spoon-fed to him or her! After about the tenth time leading someone through my poster, I’ve been know to swear that the next person who comes up to me and asks me to “tell me all about it” will die a horrible, slow, painful death. Unfortunately, I don’t have the courage of my convictions, and they never do. I suppose that it helps to remember that they are actually showing an interest in your work, even if they’re too lazy to actually read your poster.

And there you have it, the poster warriors. As you can see, as is the case for giving scientific talks, there is more to presenting a poster than just standing there. However, forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and if you know what kinds of curveballs might be thrown your way, you have a much better chance of hitting them out of the park (or at least not striking out). You might even have fun.

Unless you happen to be Lost Little Boy (or Girl).

I wonder how many of my colleagues will recognize these creatures and whether they can suggest more. The floor is once again open!


By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

32 replies on “A field guide to biomedical meeting creatures, part 2: Poster time!”

I like the visitors that ask me to tell them the story. It’s much less awkward than trying not to stare at people while they read an entire poster. It tends to lead more easily into conversation, as well.

Having a low-traffic poster is the WORST. Usually wander around the poster area, and pop in on my poster every 10 minutes or so to see if anyone is there, then ask if they have any questions.

That said, this year I finally got picked for a talk (woot!). Hopefully that will generate more traffic at my poster (the meeting I go to, you have to do both). 🙂

Just got back from the ASM general meeting in San Diego a week ago and have a couple to add:

The Co-Conspirator. Any time spent with a poster presenter where the topic proves interesting to this species of questioner will swiftly result in an offer of collaboration on future work. May be a good thing if said questioner’s offer of collaboration involves significant resource contribution from said questioner’s lab.

The Clueless Technician. As far as presenters go, this species knows very little about the details of his/her work (or the theory behind the techniques used) and is generally presenting “Betty Crocker Science”. For example:
Presenter – We had a lot of issues getting the qPCR to work at first.
Me – How long were your target amplicons?
Presenter – about 50 bases.
Me – Way to short… your primers and probes would be overlapping.
Presenter – Yeah, we figured that out and went with longer chunks and then everything worked.
Me – Good thinking. You’ll save yourself a lot of headache if you go for ~150 bases.
Presenter – What program do you use to design your primers and probes?
Me – What do you mean? We do them by hand…
Presenter – You can do that??? You mean that’s possible???!!! Without a computer???

The Frat Boy. This species of questioner (I went with “boy” because I’ve never seen the behavior from women) is more interested in scoring a date than having a meaningful discussion with the presenter. Candidate presenters are chosen on the basis of looks rather than topic. May continue to hover long after the presenter has ended the conversation in favor of talking to a questioner who’s actually interested in their work.


I will fess up to being a ‘frat boy’ at the last conference I was at. Nothing in my professional or personal life is particularly concerned with nursing staffing levels, but if you saw the woman who presented the poster, you’d understand.

Frat-boying also got me a job offer at a different conference. I guess it’s a more “hands-on” version of the Schmoozer, with a very different goal in mind.

Orac (and/or anyone who feels like responding), how do you feel about typos in posters? For example:

– an investigator’s name spelled three different ways
– a reference with the wrong page numbers, authors, or journal title
– misspelled words
– numbers that don’t add up but should
– misnumbered figures

For myself, I don’t mind a couple of misspellings or misnumbered figures (I don’t mind having mistakes pointed out to me either… always room for improvement), providing it isn’t more than a couple in the whole poster… shit happens (especially when you’re damn sure everything is perfect before the poster goes to print). That being said, an investigator’s name being misspelled should carry a penalty of flogging.

That reminds me… one more species of questioner:

The Printing Tech. This species of questioner, rather than picking on the content of a poster, focuses more on the style. Comes in two strains: the helpful one (if you have one in your lab, make use of him/her whenever possible) and the vicious one (woe unto anyone who mislabels a figure or misspells a word… or, for that matter, uses two different fonts or is off by a millimeter on a column alignment).

I once saw a poster that was printed out in panel format on plain, white paper with no poster board backing. The worst part was that the presenter felt the need to trim the white edges of each panel with scissors, by hand, without any type of ruler so each panel was all hacked up and mis-shapen. The title was two pieces of paper taped together and hacked in a similar manner. LOL

Heh. My poster presenting style runs to 1 with a bit of 7 when no one’s interested in the presentation that day. I must admit to being guilty of playing the clueless wonder at times when looking at posters…what else can you do when a little lost boy/girl looks at you with puppy eyes and shows you around his/her poster…and it’s so far out of your field that you don’t even understand the title?

I admit to being something of a mix between 2 and 7. At most of the conferences I’ve presented posters at, my work has been so far away from what everyone else is doing (that’s the problem with being a theorist in a country full of radioastronomers) that most people who look at my poster pause quizzically to parse the title and then move on to the next thing with pretty pictures. After a few disappointing sessions I learned that it was better for my mental health to hover at the end of the row with a cup of coffee and a mate, and then come forward hopefully to talk about the poster with anyone who actually stood there long enough to make it to the results section.

Ah, yes, the fun of presenting posters at conferences. Nothing more soul-destroying than putting an effort into your poster then having 20 people casually flick a glance at it while walking straight past….

A couple of other pet hates of mine include:

(1) Conferences who treat posters like second-class citizens. Yes we know that posters aren’t as “important” as talks, but there’s no need to rub it in. One smallish meeting I went to had posters literally hidden away…. at the back of the room, up the stairs, and behind a closed door. Nobody viewed them because hardly anyone even knew where they were.

(2) Conferences who cram all the posters into a tight space, so people spend all their time pushing their way through crowds and trying not to fall over each other. Can be a by-product of (1) if they’re buried in a poky room somewhere, but I’ve seen it in big rooms and open foyers that were just badly set out. I’ve had one poster remain unviewed simply because no-one could muscle their way through to it.

The Lord/Lady – Usually senior figure with a full court following in their wake, strutting across the floor. If they deign to glance at your board, the gaggle will all stare intently at your board, when the lord turns away, so will the gaggle. If the lord snorts or expresses disdain the gaggle will mimic the action. The lord will never ask questions or speak – that is the gaggles function. Regretably the gaggle is often comprised of “Clueless Wonders” and “Tell Me About Its”.

Poster Panic Man – In appearance a very disheveled character, but this is not uncommon in academic circles. Positive identification is made by observing its frantic running in circles and hair tearing. Its call is also quite distinctive – “Oh crap…where’s the thumbtacks..I know I packed them, Ahhh…page three has the wrong graph…oh wait…its okay…oh man the laminating looks crap, maybe I can get it fixed before it opens and…oh no, here they come now!”

Tick Tock – A hybrid of Ghost and Impervious. Standing by their poster like a British Palace Guard and unresponsive to external stimuli, their only movement is either staring at the clock on the wall or glancing at their watch. If one gets close enough without being spotted you can hear its distinct call “Only two hours to go…Only 1 hour 55 minutes to go…”

One type seen very often among students and recent graduates is Hey There’s My Old Mates:

These are the ones who stand next to their poster but spend all their time catching up with old friends/colleagues/supervisors and completely ignoring anyone who is actually interested in their poster and wants to ask questions.

Mr/Ms Nerves: Perhaps this is their first time on the floor, or possible a caffeine overdose. This poster species twitches spasmodically, bounces from foot to foot and speaks reallyreallreallyfast. If one crept up behind them and shouted “boo”, the conference organizers would be most displeased with the Wile-E-coyote style hole in the wall. If they can be calmed down and one makes no threatning moves, they are actually refreshing and enthusiastic about their field, not yet having built up a cynical shell for defence.

Toxic Hazard: Maybe they are sweating because the hall AC gave out, maybe they got a bit over enthusiastic about el-cheapo brand perfume/aftershave, or perhaps its just old fashioned halitosis. Detection of this poster hall species is painfully obvious for everyone. They may have the greatest and most interesting poster board in the place, but only the bravest risk approaching as the telltale nasal assault is eye watering, and holding ones breath prevents questions.

Feng Shui: Possibly an interior designer in their past life, they drive both neighboring positions and organizers mad. Everything must be laid out juuuuust so, and even daring to pollute their floor space with your presence is a grave crime.
“He’s taking up 5cm of _my_ space! I’m telling the organizers!”
“What! I’m up the back? No! I must be in centre position!”

I presented a poster at the Ottawa Conference on Clinical Skills in 2008. The conference was held in Melbourne, so there were many attendees from Asian countries. I became a Ghost for my own poster when I began to look around the room and realized that several of the Asian posters were printed on fabric. I was so impressed by the artistry and innovation demonstrated by these lovely fabric posters that I spent more time at them than at my own.

AussieMarcus – I think you are mistaken about the Hey There’s My Old Mates presenter. It may be recently graduate students, but it is definitely not current grad students, who tend to take the process very seriously. More often, I think it is younger faculty who spend their time chatting with old friends.

Like me!

(although I won’t ignore someone I don’t know if I am there – unfortunately, I might also be off chatting with someone else)

I was going to call them The Socializer

That’s what poster sessions are about for me.

On another topic

– an investigator’s name spelled three different ways
– a reference with the wrong page numbers, authors, or journal title
– misspelled words
– numbers that don’t add up but should
– misnumbered figures

I don’t care about typos all that much, and the only one that might catch my attention here is the numbers that don’t add up. In that case, it doesn’t really annoy me, but I will get clarification.

OTOH, I DO have a very big pet peeve for posters and talks: when the acknowledgments thanks a co-author. Yes, I realize you are a grad student and you made the poster and your adviser helped you a lot, but remember that co-author means, “also an author.” It is not appropriate for an author to thank themself. You are presenting on behalf of all of the authors, so remember your poster is speaking for THEM, not just you.

My pet peeve category of poster presenter I call “TOLSTOY”.

This is the person that doesn’t understand that each section of a poster is supposed to be a bite-sized summary of the research. Instead, they take their entire doctoral dissertation, cut and paste it in 12 point font onto their poster; complete with exhaustive literature review and 235 references.

If, by chance, you are actually interested in the research, it takes the entire poster session to get through the prose.

wholly father – I guess that doesn’t bother me much, because life is WAY too short to spend on something like that. I don’t care if I have any interests in the research or not.

I must shamefully admit I’m an Impervious Don’t Talk to Me, mostly because of shyness. I could be terribly interested in a poster, but I would rather eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation about it than ask questions myself.

Also, at my first poster as an undergrad I had a big-name guy who I referenced glance over my poster, snort derisively and tell me it was bs (not in those words). He was also rude and dismissive of another student who tried to introduce herself to him. Makes me hate standing in front of posters.

haha I don’t know why but just seeing wholly father name a category “TOLSTOY” made me laugh.

I really hate poster sessions as I routinely have fewer than 5 people stop by mine in a 2 hour session. The joys of microbiology….


In these last 2 posts, you have categorized poster presenters, poster questioners, and questioners at podium presentations. You have let one group “off the hook”, the podium presenters themselves.

Here are a couple suggested categories:

TAKE MY RESEARCH, PLEASE. A little levity is a good thing, but these people can’t decide if they want to be a respected researcher or a game show host.

TRY TO READ THIS! Turquise letters on a fuchsia background are not fun for the audience. This is not as big a problem as it used to be in the early days when speakers were infatuated with Powerpoint.

TOSTOY. Despite the fact that the length of talks is communicated well in advance of the meeting, these speakers always have twice as much material as possible to present in the allotted time.

TAKE MY RESEARCH, PLEASE. A little levity is a good thing, but these people can’t decide if they want to be a respected researcher or a game show host.

I have a little of this in me, but that is what makes it more fun. There’s no reason why a talk has to be stuffy. I prefer that to the USED CAR SALESMAN, who is trying to smooth talk you into a lemon.

However, I can certainly perform in a presentation.

I would totally be a USED CAR SALESMAN if people ever came to my poster. But since I’m pathologically averse to being THE CARNIVAL BARKER I’m stuck as THE LOST LITTLE BOY.

More questioner categories…

The Posse: They ride up all hell bent on shooting down every little thing in your poster. Typically consist of multiple researchers from a competing group.

The Cock Blocker: Tries to explain your poster to everyone else looking at your poster.

The Veil: Stands unacceptably close to your poster, blocking all other’s view of it.

The Chris Farley: Trying to elbow his way in for a good look knocks down a row of posters like dominoes.

The Crop Duster: This repugnant individual takes advantage of the group anonymity to relieve the building pressure from filling up on bad poster session hors d’ouvres.

LOL at “Crop Duster.”

I just thought of another category: the Space Invader. This person makes his/her poster 5x the size of the space allotted. Usually, it’s one of those big, one-sheet printed posters, so there really is no where for the poster to go except to flap over-top of yours or bump you into a smaller space (if you happen to share a board). I’ve seen some people fold up the over-hang and then un-fold their poster as they go through it. Reminds me of those flap-books that my daughter has (Where is baby’s belly button? Under her shirt! LOL).

I’m not a scientist and have never made a poster, so I’m curious: how much time typically goes into creating a poster? Is the info and data contained typically worked on till the last-minute or is it finished in advance? Is graphical design/ease of use relevant in attracting readers?


Depends on the project, really.

If you’re new to or mid-way through a project, you might leave it until the last minute so you can get as many results on there as possible. Whereas if you’ve concluded a project and it has a nice “answer”, you probably already have all the data you need.

Some people put alot of effort into posters and some don’t. Again, if the project is new, you might have to spend some time constructing your poster from scratch. But if it’s an ongoing project, you or a co-worker will probably have done a poster on it before. So you can just use that earlier poster as a template and cut-and-paste your new results and updates.

Most posters try to achieve a balance between “information” and “readability”. Dot points and a few clear, simple, easily understandable figures is generally the way to go. Don’t write an essay on there, but don’t waste hours on pointless fancy graphics either.

Another thing to note about scientific posters is that there are often different approaches to them. You can see that on the picture at the top. Notice the first poster on the left side looks like a single sheet, and I’d guess it is a 3.5 ft by 5 ft sheet. Some people like to use these types of posters, mainly because they are easy to put up and take down.

On the first one on the right, however, you see a second style, which is a modular poster made up of maybe 15 – 20 individual 8.5 x 11 sheets. Personally, I prefer this style, even though it is a pain in the ass to put up (you need lots of thumbtacks) because it can easily be expanded or contracted depending on the size of the poster board. For example, my students just went to a conference and presented posters on a 4 x 8 board, which can easily accomodate 20 slides. However, I am going to bring that to a conference where the poster board might be 3 x 6 or even smaller, and in that case, I have to cull out some of the extras, and only present the most important points. Because it is modular, I don’t have to remake the whole poster to fit a different size board, and only have to decide which part of the poster to show. That way, I don’t have to spend any time preparing it. Moreover, it easily fits into a folder in my carry-on luggage. We tend to just print out what we want and laminate the individual pieces.

However, each person has their own preferences, as you can see in the picture. In the six that you can see (4 on the left, two on the right) three are single sheets, three are in pieces.

Pablo, I’m a big fan of the modular poster too. In the international meeting my lab goes to every year, you see less and less of these types of posters. One other thing I like about the modular posters, is that because you print them out in the lab (and don’t have them done at a print shop) you can work on them up until the last minute. 🙂 Oh, and if you find a mistake, it’s an easy fix of just printing out a replacement page!

Thank you for the helpful answers. I have been looking for a (non-paid) way to assist grad students in areas of interest to me. Presenting data clearly, honestly and with the reader’s needs in mind makes me happy (I’ll need a therapist to tell me why), so this post caught my eye. Off to the local grad school to see if I can help. Again, thanks.

4 x 8!? we were always given size limits for posters at most major conferences (MRS, ACS, AIChE), but smaller ones like Gordon conferences usually accomodated larger posters.

I hated doing poster sessions. Presenting at a symposium is much more enjoyable!

In physics, posters are A0. Always. Or at least near enough to always as makes no matter. So that dispenses with the need for modular posters.

The rules of thumb for a good physics poster is that (a) it should tell a complete story, or as near as you can make it, and (b) you should be able to read it without too much difficulty if you print it out on A4 rather than A0.

I personally found this introduction very helpful when I designed my first poster.

– Jake

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