Conferences are an important way to share new research findings and connect with other researchers. The ‘poster session’ is now a mainstay of the conference circuit, but producing an effective scientific poster is actually quite an art.
Colin Purrington of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania has written an entertaining and useful guide to making better posters. (Microsoft has even adapted his guide for their forum site – by editing out all the personality…)
In addition to including a lot of basic good sense and practical guidance that you will find useful next time you make a poster, there are even tips for the procrastinators who left it until the last minute:
If your poster is really bad, you might consider attaching a bag of sweets or crisps to the easel to lure visitors. If you situate yourself a few posters away, you can then pounce on people as they help themselves. If they have taken your food offering, they will feel obliged to stay and talk to you.
One tip suggests attaching mini-recorders to the poster where appropriate. That would be great if your poster was about music or birdsong for instance, but could also include comments from other researchers in your team, or end-users comments in their own words and voice.
He also encourages poster-makers to think about some important but unexpected issues. When you are choosing your colours, for example, do you keep in mind that a significant portion of your viewers (roughly 8% of men and 0.5% of women) are colour blind?
Purrington reminds people to use patterns as well as colours on graphics to ensure that colourblind people can follow your graphs and charts, but if you work in an office you might also wander the halls until you find someone who thinks the Ishihara circle below contains the number 70 and ask them to review your poster for you.
Given the competing demands on everyone’s time at a conference, and the fact that the poster session is often scheduled at the same time as, erm, refreshments, why not make a mini-poster on a sticky label and wear it in the bar next to your nametag? One of Purrington’s readers did just that and posted it on Slideshare. It must have been a great conversation starter. (*See below for an explanation of what she was researching if you can’t work it out!)
Have you found poster sessions to be a useful way to share your research?
If you put your posters on your website after the conference, do they get hits?
What’s your best tip for making a better scientific poster?
*I am looking at how different bacteria in wastewater treatment processes degrade estrogens. Hopefully if we discover removal mechanisms we could enhance removal of estrogens in wastewater treatment, reducing environmental impacts (can feminise male fish at 1 ng/L).