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Stand By Your Poster

A lot of scientists hate presenting posters. Because more often than not, you stand near your carefully designed, full of great results placard, all alone, while there is a crowd gathered two posters down.

There are some conclusions you could come to:

  • You might think that the popular poster author’s work is brilliant – unlike yours.
  • It may be that the author hit the jackpot – his/her poster is on the “hot topic of the day”, which come and go.
  • Perhaps somebody from her group effectively advertised the poster in his talk.
  • Or his/her poster is strategically placed next to the queue for the drinks table.

My own case study

In the last two years I presented two posters at two conferences, roughly equivalent in size. My second poster was much better than the first one – a complete story – but I had a lot more people taking interest in Poster N1 at the earlier conference. Some people even came more than once and I had a brilliant suggestion for an additional experiment.

Exactly the opposite happened with Poster N2:   I had just a couple of people looking at it: one of them interested in possible vacancies in our group, the other was only interested in a minute detail of the protocol, and they didn’t even say “thank you”.

What to do if your poster is not in the top 10

First of all, skipping your poster session or cutting it very short is not an option. You never know when your future collaborator, prospective boss or just somebody with an ingenious suggestion might turn up. So you can work on making your poster time as pleasant as possible.

Some suggestions:

Occupy yourself

Have a drink in your hand. A non-alcoholic drink will do as well, it will keep you occupied.

Have a wingman

I find – but you can make your own independent field study – that scientists have a herd instinct. If somebody (better two people) is looking at a poster, others will come out of sheer curiosity. So you need to find a “wingman” – someone to talk to you. This can be a person from your group or your roommate, if you are sharing a hotel room with somebody also attending the conference. And the herd will follow.

Play “Show me yours, I’ll show you mine”

Pick a person who looks equally (un)popular and ask about their poster, then offer to show them yours. The simplest way is to take interest in a poster next to or opposite yours, however different the topic. If your poster presentation does not fall on the first day, you are in luck: looking at other people’s posters will generate interest in yours even if out of sheer politeness.

If everything fails, remember:

One of the first pieces of advice given to newbies by experienced writers is: Do not take rejection personally. There are a lot of reasons why your blog post/article/poem/novel was rejected, which have nothing to do with quality of your work.

I think this advice is fully applicable to posters.

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