20 September 2018

Critique: Enemy myna

Today’s poster comes from Jennifer Pannell. Click to enlarge!


Before I get into some details, Jennifer noted that this poster isn’t exactly the way she wanted it to look:

I had some problems with the font, though. Scribus won’t embed them and so they look terrible unless you zoom in 100%, so it might look terrible as a png.

I don’t know if the export problem might explain a few little issues, like dumb quotes instead of curly quotes. Or that there are lines after paragraphs on the left, but not the bottom right. “Fig” should probably have a period after it throughout.

Jennifer’s poster has a clear two column format, with some attractive graphics to bring the casual browsers on board.

There are some positioning choices I find odd, though. There is more open space on this poster than many I see, which is good, yet somehow items still seem to end up feeling crammed together. For example, here’s a close up on the upper right corner:


There is open space around the images of the bird, and that’s good. But there are at least three points of things touching or almost touching that makes it uncomfortable to look at. Two of those could be fixed by making the birds about 90-95% of the size they are now.

  1. The “g” in “findings” in the title is almost touching the “J” below it.
  2. The upper wingtip is almost touching the institutional address. Why the address is split over two lines I cannot say. It seems like there is enough space to put it on one line.
  3. Most seriously, the beak of the lower bird is overlapping with a data table and partially obscuring a number. (A statistically significant one, no less!)


Speaking of the table, I have mixed feelings about having the table and figures on white backgrounds. If you’re going to use a gray background, I’d be tempted to use that gray throughout. Instead of white, I might have tried either a transparent background or a very light gray (maybe 10%) to make the figure edges less obvious.

The gray background is an interesting choice. It means that you can use either back or white as text and it will still be readable, which makes it more visually interesting and open up some options. But the contrast is half what it would be if the background was solid white or solid black.

Figure 3 is missing some information needed to interpret it. There are no standards for what box plots show. Is the line dividing the box the mean or the median? What does the box show? 50% of data? Do the whiskers show a calculation of variation (like standard deviation) or a representation of actual data (95% of data)?

I do like the big circle acting as a way in to the poster, and the little decorative touches like the branches in the left column.

14 September 2018

Critique: Keep the home fire burning

Today’s contribution is a prize-winning poster from Alexandra Lai! This was presented at the International Aerosol Conference. Click to enlarge!

Poster: Chamical composition of cookstove emissions

The title bar is particularly well done. It’s an excellent example of a clear visual hierarchy: the title is biggest and in bold. A subtitle is big, but not bold. The authors are smaller, and the affiliations are smaller yet. And the type is fits the space, so there isn’t a lot of empty space on the right corner.

The colour scheme is a little busy, but generally works. The main oranges in the title and callout boxes and blue in the background are contrast colours. The colurs in the graphs might benefit from being a little more harmonized with the two main colours. Some of the greens and pinks don’t seem to fit that well.

Alexnadra has done a good job with the typography here. The font is clean, the emphasis is clear, and the table is not a mess of lines. In the Methods, I might like to see fewer words, but the words are set out in a very readable way.

The main body of the poster has a generally good foundation, but creating a grid and aligning objects would have improved the poster dramatically.

Poster: Commented version of "Chamical composition of cookstove emissions"

The graphs in the upper right need the most reworking. A reader has to do too much zigzagging in that section to read everything. There are two problems.

First, the graphs are not arranged in any sensible way. There are six graphs there. Either laying them out as two rows of three, or three rows of two graphs would have helped.

Second, and possibly worse, is that the figure legends to the graphs are pretty much in every place they could possibly be. Sometimes, there is a big description on top and a legend underneath. Sometimes both are on the left of the graph. Sometimes both are on the right of the graph. Pick one and commit to it!

Of course, another solution would be to cut down the number of graphs. Alexandra wrote:

I realized as I was presenting it that I only had time to discuss about half the plots, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

As Alexandra should be!

06 September 2018

Posters are like muffins

Posters are like muffins.

The top is so much better than the bottom.

In muffins, the top is better because of the wonders of caramelization, and because that’s where it’s the easiest to put on ingredients like chocolate chips, glaze, fruit peeling, cream cheese, or what have you.

The bottom of muffins are just okay in comparison.

It’s not surprising that there are many products that are designed to give people only the delicious muffin tops and not the less appetizing muffin stumps.

In posters, the top half is better because it’s sitting at or above eye level. The title is above eye level, which is important because it moves the title above most people’s heads so it can be seen from a long way away. The space underneath the title sits right around typical eye levels, and that’s where people look the most.

Put as much of the good stuff on your poster in that top half. Your big, important question, hypothesis, or prediction. Your sexist, biggest result. Your bold interpretation or conclusion.

05 September 2018

#SICB2019 poster class plan

Wordmark for Society for Intengrative and Comparative Biology
Besides writing this blog, I am currently the chair of the Student and Postdoctoral Affairs Committee (SPDAC) for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB).

Today was the abstract deadline for the next meeting in January 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Did you put in a poster abstract?

If you did, I want to help! I am planning on doing a short online class to have SICB students and post-docs make posters that rock.

If you are interested in taking a short online class to improve your poster for the Tampa meeting, click here to go to a form! I need to judge interest so I can plan on the best way of making the class happen.

Please reply by 1 November 2019!

External links

Information form for SICB poster class planning

30 August 2018

Link roundup for August 2018

Mike Pacchione at Duarte Design talks about how my wife created a powerful professional poster. Mike writes:

Let’s summarize so you can apply this to your work, whether it’s a poster, slides or something else:

  1. Figure out the story you’re trying to tell. You need to be able to do that in a short sentence, two at most. (The ABT template is helpful here. - ZF)
  2. Write down everything you know about the topic, then remove anything that does not directly help tell the story you’re trying to tell. (Writing down everything could take a while. Maybe just continually ask, “Do I need this?” - ZF)
  3. Group your content together.
  4. Use visuals to express those groups.
  5. Make sure there’s enough white space.

And here’s the makeover! Click to enlarge.


Duarte Design doesn’t date their blog posts, so I’m not sure how late I am to the game on this one.

• • • • •

A big guide to tools to help you use colour effectively in data visualization. An update of an older post. Hat tip to Lisa Roust and Janet Stemwedel.

I also liked this link out to this page praising grey for visualization.

• • • • •

Don’t be a ghost. Craig Maclean reminds everyone that if you’re not going to show up at a conference, inform the organizers.

So for someone to ‘waste’ a presentation slot by simply not turning up, you are being unthinking towards colleagues as well as the meeting organizers.

• • • • •

Are conferences worth is? This paper suggests yes:

he results of our study suggest that the annual symposium encouraged interactions among disparate scientists and increased research productivity, exemplifying the positive effect of scientific meetings on both collaboration and progress.

23 August 2018

Poster sessions are not singles bars

Today in, “Things I should not have to say.”

A poster session is a place for exchange of scientific and technical information between professional adults. It is not a place for you to hit on people for a hook up or booty call.

Beth Ann McLaughlin asked:


Women of STEM,
Quick question
At any given science poster presentation, what percent of the time do you have a man at your poster who just won't go away and makes you uncomfortable?

Results? 16% of women said every conference, 14% said 50-99% of them, 19% said 25-49% of them, and 51% of respondents said less than 25% of them.

Now, sure I could niggle about the poll is structured might inflate perceptions of how common this is (there’s an option for 100%, but not 0%, so the most common situation could be women not getting bothered), but even if every one of that 51% was really never, that still means that half of women poster presenters had a bad experience. And that’s unacceptable.

And reading the replies to that poll is not fun. (Some tweets lightly edited.)

Bryony Hockin describes:

(A) PhD student who comes to my poster at every single local conference for 30+ minutes, putting off everyone else and freaking me out. Some of his highlights include, “I like your dress.” I now get male friends to look out for him and warn me.

Kimberly Harrison says:

My fav was the time the fella didn’t ask any questions about my work, but did let me know he saw me swimming at the hotel pool earlier.

kss wrote:

I have been hit on at my poster, asked on countless dates, and even followed after a session when I went to a bar to meet up with friend.

Sarah MacNamee wrote:

(A) guy spent 10+ min at poster, complimented work, asked if he could call me. My reply: “Uhh, email is the preferred method of contact.” Looked down and was alarmed to see my number going into his phone - he lifted it from my poster tube’s “If found call” info.

Meaghan Creed wrote:

First SfN had a significantly older guy spend half an hour at my poster, no background in my field (i.e., asked what the words in the title meant, and what the differences between flies and rodents are). Kept touching my back/shoulder and would not move on until he took a photo with me. Still... bleh.

Sarah Sheffield wrote:

Yeesh. Happened to me once, long time ago. Called me sweetheart, while trying to show me he knew more about stats than me. Leered for an excessive amount of time. Blegh.

The thread exposes other problems besides people trying to get a date, too. Tara Levin wrote:

More common poster-related sexism for me: I go to someone's poster and ask a question, but am 1) ignored or 2) the presenter directs the answer to my question to the man standing next to me

Angela Tringali was not alone in this sentiment:

I gave a poster presentation once as a new grad student 10 years ago and haven’t done one since. Never again.

Florentina Tofoleanu wrote:

It happened enough times that I chose what conferences to go to depending on whether I got a talk, presenting a poster was not an option.

This makes me sad and angry. I love poster sessions. As I’ve written before, I think they are the true beating heart of a scientific conference. It’s frustrating that something that has been so rewarding for me personally is an experience that has driven others away.

Finally:

Men in Science,

Over 1100 women in STEM reported that they have been made to feel uncomfortable by a man who won't leave their poster 25%-100% of the time they present.

16% of women say this happens to them at every conference.

What are you going to do about it?

Conference organizers: Make sure you have a code of conduct. I’ve seen the adoption and refinement process of this first hand in the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. I know it’s a lot for a small conference to do, but templates exist out there.

I am seriously wondering if conference organizers should have poster session bouncers.


I think I have only seen visible security at the biggest meetings I have been at. Maybe conference organizers need to put more thought into asking what venue security there is, and advertising that fact more widely to conference attendees.

Faculty supervisors: You are responsible for the well bring and professional experience of your students. Don’t send new students to a poster session without a plan. Make sure the poster presenter has a contact number of people they can text if they want someone to come support them. There might be posters you want to see or people you want to talk to or grants you want to write back in your room, but make sure that you are in the poster hall when your student is and check in on them occasionally.

Check in with your students and walk by their poster regularly if you are not co-presenting it with your students. Ask your students if they want you to take over presenting the poster. Beth Ann McLaughlin recommends having a code for trouble, like asking the poster presenter if they need a red Sharpie. If they say yes, they want help.

If you are not able to go to the conference, at least talk to your students who are going. Make sure they are aware before they head to the conference. You, as supervisor, might know someone else going to the conference who can act as a “conference buddy.”

Be willing to call this crappy behaviour out for what it is, as McLaughlin does:

Physically get between the woman and the man, get his name off his badge and say, “Hey . I see you’re at UW. You’ve been here awhile. What do you need?” Smile. If he says they are “just chatting,” I’ll next level it. “Let’s not creep on my student. She’s working.”

Fellow post session attendees: Two things. First, look out for other presenters. Suzy Styles wrote:

If you see a presenter looking blocked or trapped, join the conversation to give them an ‘out.’

Second.


Don’t be that guy.

Nobody likes that guy.

Additional, 24 August 2018: Perhaps because I chose the “singles bar” metaphor in the title, several people on Twitter suggested that having alcohol during poster sessions contributed to harassment. I’m not a drinker myself, and have commented to some of the societies I belong to about boasting about alcohol consumption, but I think it makes about as much sense to blame alcohol for harassment as as it does to blame Ambien for racism.

I suspect conferences are problematic partially because people are outside their normal social spheres. They can convince themselves that, “What happens at the conference, stays at the conference.” They are away from people who might normally see their bad behaviour, and think they can act without repercussions.

McLaughlin’s poll was directed at women who had bad experiences with men, which are undoubtedly the most common problem. But it’s important to talk about these issues with everyone. Men and women. Presenters and attendees. This shouldn’t be a situation where men and women get different advice (i.e., women are told how to protect themselves and men are told to keep their hands to themselves). Discomfort isn’t just caused by someone doing something sexual or creepy. It can be someone who just won’t shut up or go away. Presenters who are men can be made uncomfortable by people who are trying to intimidate or bully them. Every poster presenter should feel someone has their back if they need it.

Similarly, supervisors should talk to all their students about being a good audience member at poster and how to avoid making someone feel uncomfortable. For example, at international conferences, people from different cultures may well have different expectations and habits about professional interactions and personal space. Some cultures are more comfortable with a handshake or “air kiss” than others.

09 August 2018

Critique and makeover: Bird timing

Today’s poster comes courtesy of contributor Carolyn Bauer. Her work has been featured before, and I’m pleased she liked the experience enough to come back for seconds! Click to enlarge this poster that was recently presented at the International Congress of Neuroendocrinology!


I like this. The illustration on the right is an approachable entry point. I also like the columns, one for each hypothesis.

What I wasn’t as crazy about was the title area. Two lines for the title and three for the authors was chewing up a lot of space than it needed. I changed the all capital names to regular letters, and dropped a lot of department affiliations and cities that I honestly think nobody cares about.

Some of my other revisions were my most common ones: to open up the margins, both around the border and between elements. In the revision below, there’s at least an inch around the edge.


I continued along with a few other changes. One of the things that bugged me was the birds are all facing to the right in the infographic... except one. So that bird got flipped! There were some other minor little movements to get the birds more in alignment in a column, too.

I also made a few little edits to the text to make the capitalization of the labels consistent. I tried a more condensed font and some light editing to make some of the labels fit the space a little better.


After those changes on the top and left, I still think the right side could use some improvement, but I’m not sure how. The “Hypothalamus / Pituitary / Gonads” labels essentially stick out into a margin between columns where nothing else is, and the look terribly intrusive. I’m not sure how to fix that. I might try rotating the words 90°.

Here are the changes in animated form:



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