Apr 20 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Standing on the corner, all alone with that look of desperation in their eyes. If you make eye contact they see the opportunity to start talking and it can be awkward to just keep walking. "No, thanks. I'm not interested. Really, I'm on my way to a meeting." If you look over your shoulder as you walk away you can see that disappointment and it's easy to think, "Man, they are just so young." I hate poster sessions.

I know that they are an important part of a conference to allow people who were not selected to give a talk the opportunity to share their work, but is really worth the amount of time spent making the poster to stand in front of it for a couple of hours in a busy room and have a couple of people actually read it and interact with you? I say no. I have had the good fortune to have been given the opportunity to talk at all of the meetings I have attended (many of the early ones were small meetings) and have only made a single poster, in a year in which I wanted to present on two separate topics at the same meeting. From that point I vowed to avoid the poster in the future. I would rather give a talk with six people in the audience - which I have done at a giant meeting in which my session was a bit outside the main theme - than stand alone in a crowded room.

On the flip side, I don't enjoy going to poster sessions either. If it's a small meeting and under 100 posters it can be done, but larger meetings with hundreds of posters just make it a game of finding a needle in a haystack. Do I want to browse 400 abstracts to find a couple I might be interested in? Hmmmm, no. The alternative is going to each section (if the meeting is well organized) you might be interested in and browsing through the crowded maze of audience members and poster presenters who are over-eager to spill their spiel all over you. Maybe there are one or two posters that are exciting and you have the opportunity to talk with the students and see what direction their work is going, but more likely you end up hearing a dozen stories that you do not want to, simply because you get trapped near a poster and your eyes linger too long on the title. I still go to the poster sessions in the hopes that I'll find it to be worthwhile one day, but invariable end up walking out covered in regurgitated information all over my good conference jeans.

10 responses so far

  • qaz says:

    For meetings where the work in posters is as good as in the talks, I much prefer posters to talks. [Society for Neuroscience is one of those meetings. For most meetings, posters are the "not-as-good" data relative to talks.] Posters allow direct interaction between the presenter and the reader. Listening to a talk is rarely better than reading the paper (and usually a lot worse - since I can read a paper non-linearly, but a talk I have to sit through.) Also since I read really fast [I suspect most scientists do], I can usually get the information I need from the paper wasting a fraction of the time it took to sit through the talk. But a poster - a poster can take under a minute or several hours depending on the depth you want to take it. The trick is not to let the presenter give you their 20-minute spiel. Rather, as the visitor, ask questions, take the lead, and you'll find (I think) that a poster will only take as long as you need. Given my druthers, I definitely prefer posters.

  • tideliar says:

    I think Qaz has a point. Especially at SfN (my major conference too). The short talks are an absolute waste of time. Although, the longer 45-60min ones can be good. I avoid the talks and spend time with the posters.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I tend to frequent conferences where the talks are where the good stories are and the posters are what's left - often preliminary work or that deemd "less interesting" by the organizers. The interaction is nice, but if I want to talk to a speaker I can find them after the session. I'm sure it is different at the medically-related conferences, but the bang for my conference buck is at the talks.

  • chall says:

    PLS: Some posters are waste of time but I find that posters might have the more data collections and sometimes a whole paper. although not published yet. Plus the fact the posters are usually presented by post docs and other people doing the actual research at the bench and not PIs.... whom, as far as the conferences I go to, are the ones who give presentations. They are good for overviews and future things and other things, but it is nice to be able to talk to the people preformin the experiments.Then again, I agree that it is difficult to find all the good posters at the larger meetings since the abstract book is so huge.

  • Dr. No says:

    Yeah, same in my field where the posters are generally "whats's left"...and after the conference they end up in our buildings hallways and labs to bore people for eternity.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Chall - Yes, I know that at some conferences the posters are where the data is actually being collected, but in my field students regularly give talks. It is rare that a student with a reasonable amount of interesting data is denied the opportunity to present a talk so I think my situation s closer to Dr. No's.

  • Professor Anonymous says:

    I hate posters. Hate making them, hate displaying them, hate standing there, hate going to visit them. The reasons are legion. I have never seen a poster session that delivered more info than a talk.

  • DamnGoodTechnician says:

    I have a teeny bit of experience with both talks & posters, and I will say categorically that I do not like posters AT ALL. This may be related to the fact that I like to tinker with presentations until the last possible moment, and at the MassivePharma conferences where I have had to present a poster I was required to submit the fully-formed poster THREE MONTHS ahead of the conference. Seriously! WTF! I considered leaving gaping white spaces in my poster so that I could print out 8.5x11" pages with new data and tape them to my poster.I have also heard that some conferences have booze available at poster sessions, but I have not experienced this wonderful mingling of data & intoxicant. I estimate that it would greatly alter my enjoyment of posters.

  • Anonymous says:

    Booze. Yes, but usually at excessive prices. I have been to few glorious meetings that gave a few free drink tickets and if you used the tickets of few non-consuming friends the poster session became interesting event.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Booze helps keep people around, but it still means you have to mill about the posters trying not to make eye contact with the presenters. Alcohol also helps when making a poster, but not enough to make it worth the effort. DGT - I have never heard of having to finish a poster three months before a conference, what's the point? I get pissed when an abstract is due three months before a conference.

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