19 September 2019

Networking flair: Reasons to wear something ridiculous at a conference

Jessica “Rocky” Rohde presents a great networking tip from her Instagram account (lightly edited).

Three reasons you should wear a ridiculous hat like this at your next conference.⁣⁣⁣⁣


This is my cruising hat. Originally, it was for a Halloween costume (Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ๐Ÿ˜œ).


But I wore it every single day of a conference on a cruise ship.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Wearing this “piece of flair” is actually a strategy for meeting people and networking.⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣
It makes you recognizable

After taking the stage to speak about my work helping scientists become better public speakers, I ended my talk with, “If anybody wants to nerd out about science, tech and engineering, just look for the green hat.” Then I flipped it Justin Timberlake style onto my noggin. ⁣⁣⁣Throughout the rest of the cruise, people would come up to me and say “Oh, you’re the green hat girl!”

⁣⁣It makes you approachable

At a conference when you meet a new person every few minutes, you become exhausted of explaining where you are from and what you do over and over. Wearing something unusual gives us something unexpected to talk about.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣
Them: “What’s with the hat?” ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
Me: “This is part of the uniform. I’m a cruise marshal. Don’t tell anyone, though!”⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣
It tells people something about you

I’m a little bit silly (understatement of the year ๐Ÿ™ƒ) and people know before I even open my mouth that I’m, well, a little different.⁣⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣
Your “flair” doesn't have to be a hat. Space pants work great, too. ๐Ÿ˜ If you want to be a little more subtle, it can be an interesting shirt, tie, jewelry, or a pin. A colleague of mine wears his conference badge on Mardi Gras bead necklaces!⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣

I have done similar things to Rocky. I’ve worn a kilt at conferences. I’ve had blue hair at conferences. And it works as a conversation starter. A distinctive piece of clothing, just like a poster, can act as a social object.

But Charles Cong Xu went next level when he presented a poster about spider web DNA at the recent EcoEvoEnto2019 meeting.


This, my friends, is committing to your theme. And you better believe there were a lot of pictures of Charles if you were following the conference hashtag. I reached out to Charles and asked about the experience.

Go big or go home was why I decided to dress up and have some fun with it. The socks and compression shirt worked well, but the mask was stuffy. I ended up just putting it on every once in a while when people wanted to take photos.

I did not get any pushback about the costume, at least none that I’m aware of. On the contrary, the poster and costume drew a lot of positive attention at the conference as Twitter would testify. ... I think it’s a good sign when people want to take selfies with you and your poster.

(I will have another post focusing on Charles’s poster soon!)

This clearly worked for Charles, but not everyone will have the nerve for full blown cosplay.

Even if you want do something this full on, you have to know the conference and know the crowd to figure out if you can pull it off without damaging yourself professionally. Navigating a conference as a professional means blending in to some degree. And while many academics claim not to care what a poster presenter looks like, they can be judgey about it.

Do you wear something that people always comment on?

External links

Rocky Rohde

Related posts

Conversation piece 

EcoEvoEnto photo by Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution twitter account 

12 September 2019

Freedom to change from your abstract


Jennifer Rohn asked:

Academic STEM Twitter: how far have you ever strayed from your submitted abstract when it comes time to write the talk or create the poster? Or turn it around: if you went to a talk/poster and the presenter included extra information/some tangents, would this bother you?

For me, the real question is not whether people can or should change or add content, but why it happens so rarely.

In the world of academic conferences, abstracts are usually written months in advance. 

  • The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology abstract deadline was 4 September, and the meeting will be held 3 January, which is four months away.
  • The Society for Neuroscience abstract deadline was 3 May, and the meeting starts 19 October. That’s five months out.
  • The American Geophysical Union abstract deadline was 31 July for a 9 December meeting. Also five months out.

With that much time between when the abstract is submitted, it should be no surprise that you may have learned a few things since the abstract was submitted. You may have collected new data. You may have completed an analysis. You may have changed your mind.

Because there are no poster police, there is no reason to limit yourself to what was on the abstract. 

The only thing that I can see a small reason for keeping the same is the title. People who are looking for a poster with a particular title might be confused if the title bore no resemblance to the original. But if the deep structure of the topic is the same, reworking the title should be okay.

Change whatever you need.

05 September 2019

Citing posters

Kevin polled his Twitter followers with the burning question, ¨Are poster session presentations citable in manuscripts?”

Poll results to, "Are poster session presentations citable in manuscripts?" 50% Yes, 50% No, 107 votes

The audience was spectacularly unhelpful, splitting straight down the middle. 50% said yes, 50% said no.

The way the question was posed was a bit vague. It’s not clear if Kevin was asking whether it is possible to cite posters or whether it is ever a good idea to do so.

If the question was whether it is possible to cite a poster: Yes, it is, and half the survey respondents were wrong. 

Google Scholar entry for Weathers et al. 1993, showing "Total citations: Cited by 4830"

A 1993 poster by Frank Weathers and colleagues has been cited over 4,000 times, according to Google Scholar. (Hat tip to Steve Lancaster.) This is a strong candidate for the most cited poster of all time

Proof positive that posters can be cited... if editors allow it. Some journals are fussy about what they will allow in their reference lists and only allow peer reviewed papers.

Whether posters should be cited depends on whether posters are ephemera or part of the scientific record.

The argument for “No citing posters” assume that posters are ephemeral and center on whether a claim is verifiable. This seems to be an extension of a “Raw data or it didn’t happen” position of some open science advocates. Since it’s usually an abstract that is published, not the actual poster, the record may not be as good as a complete paper. But even published papers vary in quality, so saying “no posters” is an arbitrary cut-off line. There are poster abstracts I would trust over some published papers.

Some posters don’t even have a published abstract. But some journals permit “personal communications,” and the poster could cited that way rather than a presentation.

Foster and colleagues (2019) argue that conference posters are part of the scientific record. Some conferences publish conference abstracts in journals, so the abstract is as findable as any journal article. People can self-archive posters one their own websites, institutional repositories, Figshare, and more.

I’ve sometimes cited posters that presented earlier versions of work in final manuscript I submitted to a journal, saying, “This work has been published in abstract.” Why do this? Just to pump my citation count? No. Because you cite prior work. That’s the point of citations. I want people to be able to track the progress of the work. If the conference abstract is findable, citing the abstract provides a way for someone who stumbles across the abstract to find the final version of the work in a journal.

There is a lot being said these days in biology about how preprints are speeding up work. And a recent conversation on twitter about a trainee whose boss was blocking publication of research led to a lot of people bemoaning wasted resources.

You want to talk about speeding things up and reducing wasted effort? Let’s talk posters.

A systematic Cochrane review found less than half of conference presentations are published, and posters are less likely to be published (Scherer et al. 2018). This means that conference posters may be the only record of some experiment or finding.




If speed is that big a concern to you:

  1. Archive your posters. Make the findable somehow.
  2. Publish work presented on posters. Do not let your ego get in the way. It the research was competent, find a home for it, regardless of whether it’s an “interesting” result or not.
  3. Cite posters. Don’t wait until someone publishes a peer reviewed paper, because it may never come. And push back on editors who don’t want to cite posters.

Posters are part of the scientific record, and we need to start treating them as such.

References

Foster C, Wager E, Marchington J, Patel M, Banner S, Kennard NC, Panayi A, Stacey R, The GPCAP Working Group. 2019. Good practice for conference abstracts and presentations: GPCAP. Research Integrity and Peer Review 4(1): 11. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-019-0070-x

Scherer RW, Meerpohl JJ, Pfeifer N, Schmucker C, Schwarzer G, von Elm, E. 2018. Full publication of results initially presented in abstracts. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, MR000005. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.MR000005.pub4

Weathers, F.W., Litz, B.T., Herman, D.S., Huska, J.A. & Keane, T.M. 1993. The PTSD Checklist (PCL): Reliability, validity, and diagnostic utility. San Antonio, Texas, USA.over 

29 August 2019

Link round-up for August, 2019

Sigma Chi has compiled a few short pieces of advice for poster presentations. And by “presentation,” the point where you are talking to other people during the meeting. There is not much on poster design here.

• • • • •

Today in the intersection of typography and psychology, an airline napkin that is much too easy to misread:

Delta Air napkin reading, "The world is better with you out in it."

“The world is better with you out in it.”

  • We parse text expecting to see common phrases. Who says, “you out in it”? Nobody. People says, “with you in it.”
  • We group things by proximity. The break between the second and third lines puts “with” close to “out” than the next word, “you.”

Both of which means that “with you out” is easy to misread as “without you.” Damn.

Move the “you” to the second line, or removed the word “out,” and I think it would be fine.

Hat tip to Natalie Walker and Drugmonkeyblog.

• • • • •

In interesting new fonts, we have Gerry. It’s ugly.

Better Posters in Gerry font

But it’s ugly on purpose. Because it has a political point to make. Each letter is a map of an American congressional district, gerrymandered into a weird shape. The font is ugly because gerrymandering is ugly.

• • • • •

I’m still collecting responses to Mike Morrison’s billboard poster style. These comments come from Neil Cohn. The integration of text and graphics is kind of Neil’s thing: he does research on comics.

What I find the worst about this #betterposters design is that it shows how poorly trained scientists are in visual communication skills that the "solution" is text alone, abandoning what should be an effective visual and multimodal medium.

• • • • •

A short thread by Josh Martin on the billboard style:

YES: limit text, and focus on takeaway. BUT: Give me details we can talk about!

• • • • •

Never let it be said that this blog shies away from controversy. Darren Dahly wrote:

Unpopular opinion: Posters are just a way to get you to pay to attend the conference. I know some people get something out of it, but its 2019 and if you are getting on an airplane to stand next to a poster for 1 hour...

That’s the start of a thread and discussion. Darren’s not just pissing on poster sessions, but pretty much academic conferences as a whole. He just picked posters to make the point.

• • • • •

On a related note, an article about conference swag.

We could get rid of cheap swag altogether. What if you left your next conference or trade show without heaps of notepads, pens, and USB drives stuffed in a cheap tote bag, all of which will eventually end up in the trash?

Hat tip to Shaena Montanari and Kristina Killgrove.

22 August 2019

Infographic imposters

I went looking for examples of infographics recently. This page boasted of having some of the best infographics of the last year. Their choices left me confused.


This is a bar graph. It’s a bar graph that’s been contorted in a circle, but it’s a bar graph.


This is a pie chart. It’s a pie chart with gun symbols, but it’s a pie chart.

It’s weird to me that standard graphs get very slight changes to their skin, and are suddenly “infographics.” And not only that, but acclaimed ones. And in neither case is either a significant improvement on the standard design. I think in some ways, they are more harder to read and more difficult to interpret.

External links

[Infographics Roundup] – Best Infographics Designs Till 2019

15 August 2019

Critique: Nucleus versus cytoplasm

Today’s contributions (we have two!) come to us courtesy of Colin Cheng. Click to enlarge!


I always like to see how people refine their presentation from one version of a poster to the next. Colin says of the first poster, above:

This was for a cross-faculty PhD student seminar within my school, and is meant to propose my long-term project for the next few years. I wanted to give a more general introduction for the non-virologists, so my intro was both ‘verbal’ and ‘pictorial’.

Because my project is about nuclear versus cytoplasmic NS5, I thought the yin and yang analogy was cool.

I like the use of the yin / yang symbol. I might have maybe tried to push it even further. If you're going to run with that, run all the way. I might have placed the inside "dots" closer to their traditional position in the curve -- they look too close to the edge. And I might have considered centering the text exactly on the curve dividing line.


Yes, the readability drops a little because of the letters changing colour. But I think with the right text size and weight, this would not be a huge drop. It makes the graphic element more conspicuous and deliberate. You never want your design choices to look accidental or timid.

Here’s round two of this topic:


After looking at his first poster, Colin made changes:

I realised it didn’t make sense to detach the words from the diagram (keep related things together…); indeed, it was redundant to even have most of the words. So I was happy dispensing the verbal intro for the second poster.

I think that was a good choice, and poster 2 is stronger for it.

The yin and yang symbol, while cool, was reincarnated in another form:

I realised after presenting to a few people that it was more helpful to have a cartoon to remind people where the various NS5s are localised. Having placed it in the top right corner, I’m still not sure that people are aware of it enough to refer to it as they go through the data below.

My solution would be to flip the positions of the diagram and logo. Put the diagram on the left, where it gets more attention. Upper left is where we look first.

Colin asked me about using the photo of contributors in the second poster. My question is: is there value in that photo for the viewer? People do like to look at faces, and it’s easier to look at a picture than read words. So that helps, though the difference is not huge.

Colin is a reader of the blog and read some of my posts on boxes. Colin wrote that boxes helped him to organise ideas, which is great. But the question I asked before remains: even if the boxes help you, do they help the reader? Colin wasn’t convinced boxes hurt the reader’s experience, and here, I agree.

The boxes here are done fairly well. I like “signposting” the reading order with the numbers in orange circle. (And it’s not escaped notice that the poster is making nice use of blue and orange as complementary colours.)

In box 2, I would remove the blue lines around the orange boxes entirely. The contrast between the orange and white is so great the box will still clearly read as a box.

For the major numbered boxes, I would keep the blue lines, but make them thinner – perhaps shrinking them almost to hairline width. The contrast between white and the background is not as big as the orange and white, so having a line help make box be visible, but it doesn't need much help.

I like the orange line under the title bar, but wish there was a little more room between it and the top of boxes 1 and 2. I wish the vertical space between the boxes was about the width of the horizontal space between them.

While the main boxes are well aligned, I would like to see more alignment and organization within those boxes. For example, the fine print word “Unpublished” in box 4 seems to align with bullets above it. It would be better aligned with the words above it. In box 3, “Unpublished” doesn’t align with anything else in the box.

Colin wrote:

I wish I could encapsulate my project in a single photo the way lobsters or anther flowers do.

These posters come closer than many! The cell illustrations here are very good. That’s the kind of visual that you want to include when possible.

08 August 2019

Poster vandalism

In part of a discussion about authorship and ownership of projects, Keira Lucas mentioned this anecdote:

I had a previous disgruntled employee crumble up one of my biologist’s poster at a conference because he felt entitled to the data.

Coincidentally enough, this was one day after I heard a story about a presenter who had a poster that was stolen during the conference.

I was gobsmacked. Stealing a poster? Why? I mean, a conference poster isn’t exactly a Monet.

And the morals of the story are:

Conference organizers should have some sort of security plan in case people behave badly.

Conference organizers should have some plan to help people recover from disasters. This can be as simple as asking if there is a large format printer at the conference site or nearby.

Third, conference presenters should have a digital version of their poster that is accessible to them. This might be on a flash drive, on a tablet, laptop, emailing a copy to themselves, a cloud storage service like OneDrive or Dropbox, and many other ideas.

Update, 19 August 2019: A poster was defaced at the 2019 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. A PDF of the report provides some details. I’ve removed the name of the faculty member from this post because it’s irrelevant to the point.

There were rumors... that [a faculty member] had bullied a postdoc (originally reported as a student) into changing his poster. After reviewing the discussion with the poster presenter and a witness, this was determined to not be the case. In fact, the presenter was upset to find out that these false rumors had begun and has sought to bring the facts to the Ombud. The postdoc’s poster was indeed later defaced by others, but [the faculty member] had nothing to do with this incident, and was not even present when it happened.

While this statement is intended to “clear the air”, it could be improved. There is no way to know from the PDF which meeting this is about (by which I mean the year), or when the PDF was created. So someone who stumbles across it would have no way of knowing if this was last week or years ago.

Hat tip to David Shiffman.

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