Stay within your allotted time limit

If questions continue and the moderator doesn't end them, do so yourself. Make a final summarizing statement if possible, and thank the audience one more time. You're finished, and you survived!


A drug is a substance that when injected into a white rat produces a scientific poster.

- Graffito

Poster presentations were almost unknown before being introduced into scientific meetings in the United States in the mid-1970s. Since then, however, they have rapidly become a major format for scientific communication at conferences and other scientific meetings. In general, a given poster will be displayed (as one of a dozen to hundreds) during a given time frame; for at least part of this time, the author will be on hand to discuss the subject with a relatively small number of interested viewers who stop wandering among the poster displays long enough to listen and converse.

Conference organizers tend to love poster sessions, because posters offer advantages both for meeting arrangements and for communication efficiency. Compared to oral presentations, more posters can be scheduled in less space, and more research can be presented in the same amount of time. In addition, posters do not require numerous meeting rooms and visual projection equipment.

Presenters find posters appealing, too. They are generally less stressful than a standard scientific presentation. Instead of imparting information to a room full of strangers, one generally converses more informally with a small group of truly interested people. Both the presenter and the audience derive mutual benefit from the discussion, and following up on ideas is easier because contact information can easily be exchanged.

Exercise 4.2. Answering questions

Discuss how you would handle these imaginary scenarios. More than one correct answer is, of course, possible.

1. You've just finished a talk in which you presented evidence that bacteria can break down a commonly used flame retardant into more toxic forms. An industry representative in the audience challenges your findings, on the basis that no one has found massive amounts of the breakdown products in the environment. How might you respond?

2. The same industry representative gains the floor again, and launches into a long speech on the lives saved by these chemicals. How might you respond?

3. You've presented research showing that children with bipolar disorder are more likely than other children to read hostility in bland facial expressions. A teacher in the audience interrupts during your talk to note that she sees classroom evidence that these children miss facial cues altogether. She wonders if your work could be developed into a test to help therapists better diagnose and treat bipolar disorder. How do you handle this interruption?

4. Scrub jays will steal food from one another. You've done some clever experiments to show that these birds get sneakier about hiding food if they know another jay is watching them. A questioner in the audience asks whether parrots might show the same behavior. You don't know. How might you respond?

5. In a stunning presentation, you've revealed the isolation of a protein from white blood cells that could offer a new way to repair damaged nerve cells. A graduate student excitedly asks how long it will be until you can completely regenerate injured nerves and restore full function to paraplegics. How do you handle his question?

Preparing a poster

Perhaps more than any other form of scientific communication, a successful poster combines visual, oral, and written elements. Because poster sessions have evolved so rapidly, their format is still more flexible than better-established forms of scientific communication. Despite this leeway, posters still require paying attention to elements of text, type size and style, color and texture, shape and arrangement, and the ways in which data are presented and illustrated. If you feel

© Mark Anderson. Reprinted with permission.

you need guidance beyond the points briefly mentioned here, good information is available from Woolsey (1989), Briscoe (1996), and Davis (2005).

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