Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poster Sessions

A graduate student asked me for advice about presenting a poster at a conference. My answer can be summarized as:

1) Put only a few theorem/results/definitions in big font on your poster.

2) Technical background/details should go in pictures or be described with an eye towards the BIG PICTURE (TM). If someone wants more detail, hand them a copy of a preprint.

3) Prepare 3 talks for the potential viewers, one lasting 30 seconds, one lasting 2 minutes, and one where you talk your heart out to the one person (if you are lucky) who really is excited about your research.

4) The 30 second talk should be the most polished as that will be the one most people will get. This gives an important first impression for people who you may encounter in future conferences.

I'm not an expert at poster sessions. I've presented 1 poster, and attended a few more, and have a good idea of what was or was not an enriching experience for me. I don't like the people who try to keep talking to me after I've decided that the material on the poster is not as relevant to me as the title suggested. I want the presenters to give me samples of their work, not be sales people.

I actually find attending poster sessions (and presenting at the same) very enjoyable. I get to see a lot of research without having to commit (usually) to an hour long talk. I get to have a lot of people come by to see my work, and I get a lot of different perspectives on what may or may not be interesting. And it's often much less painful experience than trying to give a short (10-15 min) talk.

It bothers me that poster sessions are much less prestigious as CV line items than giving talks, even the short variety. Posters are often given to people who's work was not deemed good enough for a talk. The presenters are overwhelmingly graduate student/post doc. As a result, the poster session is seen as a lemons' market, and it is hard to get good people to stop by.

Yet there are projects, undertaken by people in all stages of their career, that I feel are better suited for the poster format than for a 55 minute talk format. And yet, and yet.

So in spite of my preference for this format, I no longer choose to participate in it. It is unfortunate.

I'm curious if this is the same across all STEM fields. If there are fields where posters don't have a second tier status, what is done differently there to change this perspective. And, as an individual, what can I do to attract good people to my poster if I think a project fits this format better than a slide show?

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