Posters? Do I include bubble letters too?
March 31, 2010 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Poster presentation outside of elementary school: help me be professional! Bonus question inside.

So I'm a student in my last year at undergrad and had (foolishly) taken on a quasi directed studies research-y thing for this term. I was assigned work in the second term and another person did the first term.

For the end of the term, we are to submit a full term report on what we've done, as well as do a 'poster presentation'. The requirements are that I'm supposed to make a poster as follows:
designed to fit within an area approximately 83 cm (33”) wide by 109 cm (43”) high. This should allow for a poster composed of 12-15 letter-size pages.
And then, along with it, have a 10 minute verbal presentation explaining the poster and a 10 minute Q&A period.

Okay, I've done internships before, but all my presentations were PowerPoint. I'm a chemistry student, and I think PowerPoint makes much more sense in terms of looking professional, drawing chemical structures, highlighting this and that, as well as making everything look visible because tables and such are blown up by a projector and projected nicely onto a wall. Posters, to me, are reminiscent of 7th grade science fair.

MeFites, help! How does one make this look nice and professional? (I have asked, and sadly, I am stuck with said poster.) Colours? No colours? Fancy fonts? Argh!

Bonus questions:

Without going into too much boring detail, my project was basically "previous person will make tons of precursor X for you, use X to make novel species Y and then test out how robust this thing is to see if you can use the procedure you used to make Y to make Z and etc."

The person before me made X, not to great amounts, and did not store it properly; much of it spoiled by the time I got there. I tried making Y a few times; met with little success, and the rest of the term has been spend trying to replicate her procedure (with moderate to low success) to make more X so I can do Y. Or try to.

To reiterate, because X took the last person her entire term, it's taken most of mine too even with her instructions (things just don't work sometimes). This does mean I have yet to have the chance to really test out how to make Y, or Z, or whatever.

How do I write a report and make a presentation when the majority of my lab time was spent trying to copy someone else's work? I could say I ran into more difficulties at this and that point, but that does not a full report make. (To boot, I had one less month or so of lab time than my predecessor, for various reasons I won't go into.)

Deadline for the report is April 15, the presentation, April 30. I am slightly panicking and I just got the email a few hours ago. Yes, I will speak to the prof, but I'd like the Hive Mind's opinion on 1) designing said poster and 2) what the heck to WRITE.
posted by Hakaisha to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Posters, to me, are reminiscent of 7th grade science fair.

And pretty much every scientific conference. Making posters is serious business, it's actually pretty cool that you get a chance to have a go early in your career. Googling for scientific poster making tips bring up lots of sites and most University webpages will have information and advice about how to do it. Asking your professor is definitely a good idea, they'll be used to fielding queries about posters. I quite liked this and this link for getting started.
posted by shelleycat at 9:13 PM on March 31, 2010

Oh, I also forgot to add. The most important thing with a poster is that you can't put much on there, pretty much just one key method or finding, so you need to decide your main point first. Figuring out what bits must go on there and what you can cut out is a really good way to focus your project in general, and this will then flow over into the report writing too.

So I think that putting together a basic outline for the poster will help you with the report since right now you're having a bit of trouble working out what to put in there. Then it kind of goes round in circles, make a poster outline then use that to make a report outline. Start fleshing out the report then use what you learn doing that to tweak the focus/detail of the poster. Etc. Plus your key graphs and conclusions etc can be used for both.
posted by shelleycat at 9:24 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Shelleycat gives you god advice. I am not sure about alternatives to PP, but I do know that you can use PP to construct a layout of 83 x 109 cm. And yes, most academic conferences regardless of discipline include poster presentations that count nearly as much professionally as presenting a paper--so try to get over the "stuck in 7th grade science fair" feeling.

Fancy fonts? Never. The Swarthmore site link (2nd one above) is the better of the two, but I couldn't help but notice that although it was written-or posted--in 2009, the advice is sooo last century. I could not believe the number of references--including that from Swarthmore--that would have you pasting individual pages onto a posterboard.

No--here: Genigraphics provides free poster templates so that you can compose the entire poster as a coherent piece. I use these templates to make presentations to both technical and nontechnical audiences. Printing it out in black & white costs about $8 - $10 at the office printing empire formerly known as Kinkos, and color in that size runs up to 3 or 4 times that depending on number of colors (hint: keep it simple). Genigraphics will also print & ship. When I was in business and graphics were not as easy to create & produce as they are now, Genigraphics was a reliable resource & I have no reason to doubt that they are not still.

Have it printed at your choice of sources and mount it to foamcore. You can do this yourself (google: mount on foam core) or some places that print can also mount. I include this link not as a suggested vendor, but to give you an idea of who does this sort of thing. This company mounts nearly any size print that my wife creates, and, given that our budget is always shoestring, the price is reasonable. There's got to be a similar one near you.

Good luck. With two weeks deadline--get on it.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:24 PM on March 31, 2010

N-ting the advice above to no put too much information on there. PP is my program of choice to make this kind of poster, but other people seem to like Word more....

One good way to check if your poster is not too crowded, fonts are too small, etc.: Print the whole poster on A4 format. When this is easy to read, the big one will also be readable from the bigger distances people have to read that one from.
posted by PaulZ at 11:41 PM on March 31, 2010

Shelleycat gives you god advice.

This typo made me smile. Also apparently I like the word pretty.

I've been thinking more about the actual work you've done Hakaisha. For a start you weren't just copying someone, you were carrying out method validation. Science needs to be reproducible so this is often the first step of any new project, and is a reasonable project for an undergrad (although I realise no where near as much fun as moving on to the novel science). In your case someone else did a pilot and got the method mostly running then you refined and validated it. So focus on presenting your work in that way.

You have a couple of main findings I think. Firstly that correct storage of x is really important, you proved that when you tried unsuccessfully to make y with the old x. Secondly that the method for making x was reproducible, hopefully with some refinements etc along the way. Refinements might even just be writing a better protocol so hopefully the previous person left some room for improvement. The storage thing is probably the main issue with the first method so you should also be able to talk about how you fixed that problem, i.e. how you've stored your x correctly so it doesn't spoil and how that step has now been added to the protocol so no one will make that mistake again (correct storage conditions is a totally valid concern in chemistry).

The real clincher would be if you had time to have another go at making y and got even some glimmer of a result to show it's going to work better with your x than with the spoiled x but student projects are always finite and always leave more to do, so no one should penalise you for not getting to that stage. You can have a sentence or two about future work like this in your conclusions even on your poster.

As an aside my entire MSc thesis, about 18 months of work, was validating a supposedly already working method. I was able to extend it a little by showing it worked with more than one compound but it was effectively just the same thing over and over. Boring to do, boring to write, even worse when I managed to invalidate the method and all my previous results at the last minute, but I got the degree out of it (which let me do a PhD) and it was good experience in hindsight. So your undergrad project probably feels kind of crap right now but from here it looks decent and you've definitely got enough for a conference-level scientific poster.
posted by shelleycat at 12:10 AM on April 1, 2010

PowerPoint: Does make more sense for a presentation, except at 20 minutes per presentation including Q&A, the amount of time eaten up by "let me set up my computer, oh wait, doesn't work.." would be hideous. Also, usually your poster sits in a room (with or without you) so people who didn't want to devote the whole 20 minutes to listening to you can have a glance at it. You'll usually get a chance to walk around and look at other posters, as well, which can be fun.

Have you used LaTeX before? It is pretty awesome for poster making, but two weeks may be too short to "learn LaTeX while making a poster" if you've never used it before.

Here are some example posters for you.
posted by anaelith at 4:56 AM on April 1, 2010

anaelith, just an aside--we suggested PP not as a presentation program but as a method for hakaisha to print up the poster. The final product is the poster, not a computer presentation. And yes, LaTeX is awesome, but I stayed with recommending the templates for PP for the reason you mention--with everything else to do, hakaisha probably shouldn't tackle a new piece of software.

shelleycat, I thought about asking the mods for an edit of the typo, but I thought--nah, the advice is god worthy (insert emoticon).
posted by beelzbubba at 5:05 AM on April 1, 2010

beelzbubba: Sorry to derail, I fell into the trap of using PowerPoint as a generic noun for "computer presentation". I was replying more to
Okay, I've done internships before, but all my presentations were PowerPoint. I'm a chemistry student, and I think PowerPoint makes much more sense in terms of looking professional, drawing chemical structures, highlighting this and that, as well as making everything look visible because tables and such are blown up by a projector and projected nicely onto a wall. Posters, to me, are reminiscent of 7th grade science fair.
The PowerPoint-created poster is an entirely different beast, obviously.
posted by anaelith at 5:15 AM on April 1, 2010

Thank you, everybody. Great tips, and I feel a lot better about the situation. And I revoke my previous statement and consider myself educated on posters vs. professionalism. =)

And seconding god-worthy! Thanks, all.
posted by Hakaisha at 7:11 AM on April 1, 2010

Talk about what went wrong and why. People can learn just as much from mistakes as good results. Talk about what you've learned, what you'd do differently next time, what the person who comes after you should study, what you would anticipate next time. In other words, the fact that things did not go as planned does not mean that this is not worthy of sharing with other researchers. (and, on preview, seconding Shelleycat).

As to what it should look like....from what I've seen; no crazy fonts, lots of white space, some pictures, with your headlines carrying a lot of the weight. And your handouts. (On preview, this is seconding what other people have said here. And templates are good!)
posted by eleanna at 8:13 AM on April 1, 2010

A few more points on representing your data on the poster - use of images, charts and diagrams as roughly half the content on your poster is about right, looks more appealing. Remember to adjust the graphics so that you can easily see everything from about eight feet away - larger sized fonts for the title, labels and axes. You may use text on the images to highlight significant points - i.e. actually writing the values for a maximum or minimum on the chart, labeling parts of an apparatus directly on the image. And if there is a legend, make sure that's placed in an area of free space within the chart rather than on the side, to make sure the chart itself is maximized in size. Visibility and obviousness are key considerations.

And in general, with a poster Less Is More. Only the most important aspects of your research go onto the poster, i.e. the main conclusions, and the data results that goes towards supporting those conclusions. Plus of course a tiny intro, the objectives, the procedure (not too detailed mind you), a picture or diagram of the apparatus if you had one. Like an ultra-condensed research report. The text should be in balance with the images, in terms of layout and visual presence - remember to size and space well, look to the example posters for guidance. For your presentation you'll just talk through the poster, and in the Q&A people might have further questions. Your report will of course cover everything you have done.

In general I wouldn't put anything on the poster that points out your lack of progress, aside from a "future work" section after the conclusions. I would possibly go as far as to NOT put the objectives of work you hadn't achieved on the poster, but discuss this with your prof or TA or whomever... in real research, just don't. Also avoid pointing this out while giving your presentation. Making a bunch of excuses isn't professional (and it's annoying to hear), simply don't mention it unless specifically asked. And you don't have to elaborate, just say that there were complications and you were unable to reach the next stages of the project within the given time frame. Be a bit more descriptive in your report, but again don't place blame blatantly or cite whiny excuses. The people grading you know what research is like, sometimes stuff just doesn't work. Don't sweat it :)
posted by lizbunny at 8:31 AM on April 1, 2010

My advice is the amount of text on your poster should only be as long as an abstract, so like 250 words. Lots of figures with captions that completely explain them (samples sizes, abbreviations, short description of results).

Maybe play around with the layout a bit. I like to read posters (and therefore make mine to reflect this) from the top middle, bottom middle, then left side from top to bottom and right side from top to bottom. This means that I'll put my hypotheses/predictions in the middle and results right underneath in a three column layout. More detailed information (introduction, materials and methods, future directions), I put in the outside columns.

Big pictures can make really interesting backgrounds for posters but make sure it's not too busy, tone down the contrast and even put all your text in text boxes so they have a plain background.

Most important - make sure your text is big enough to read. I read from about 5 feet away and I don't bother to chat with the presenter if I can't read the poster from there.

But don't worry about your poster not presenting really exciting results. At a lot of conferences in my field, posters tend to present more preliminary results and sometimes even just potential projects that someone has been thinking about and wants to discuss.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:45 AM on April 1, 2010

I'd like to reiterate that you should talk with your professor or others in your lab. They might be able to tell you where you should get your poster printed and that might determine what program to use. My university has a poster-printing center, which prints 3 foot tall (if I'm remembering correctly) posters at $15 per linear foot. Your university might have something similar. Ours likes Adobe Illustrator, but they also accept posters made in Powerpoint, however the colors sometimes turn out wrong with Powerpoint. Your professor might pay the printing fee. I've never attached any poster to foam core, in fact that would make it harder to transport. You might bring a stack of tiny reproductions on regular paper to hand out, if that is normal in your field. It never hurts to have a stash of extra push pins and tape in case the meeting organizers run out.

When I first read your heading, I was surprised that there would be a poster session held on the front lawn of the local elementary school...
posted by SandiBeech at 3:06 PM on April 1, 2010

Here's a couple things I've learned:

- Print graphics on glossy paper. They will "pop"
- If you are using any border/background paper, go to an art store and buy some lightweight matting paper. It looks professional and won't fade in light.
- If you don't have access to a paper cutter, buy something like this.
- For adhering paper to poster, use monotape (also called mono adhesive). It will change your life, seriously. It's like the lovechild of a glue stick and double-stick tape!
posted by radioamy at 9:15 AM on April 2, 2010

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