14 November 2019

Critique: Cells grow after fly sex

This week’s poster comes fro Josephine Hellberg. This work was recently published (Leiblich et al. 2019), so Josephine was able to set her poster free for others to see! Click to enlarge!

Josephine wrote:

I wanted to keep the poster to-the-point and only highlight the one, key result that came out of my PhD work, and keeping it as simple as possible. I was quite pleased with the poster at the time, but now, when I look over it with fresh eyes, I realise that I probably didn’t go far enough in making the poster self-explanatory. But I like how little information I managed to put onto it and still tell a story: I’m more interested in the stories than the background when looking at posters myself, and I wanted to reflect this. (In case of interest, people can always go to the research paper(s) themselves.)

Josephine put lots of good principles in play here. You have a big graphic up at the top left, where people look first. That it’s circular helps make it stand out more.

Following the circle, the boxes have rounded corners. The fortunately, the corners are rounded by about the same amount, so there is consistency across the entire page. Likewise, the colour scheme seems to draw from the microscope images and is consistent throughout.

There is a very high proportion of visuals to text. The images within individual boxes are generally aligned well.

The bottom right has a clearly labelled conclusion, and the logos and fine print are also down at the bottom, not competing for space in the title bar.

And this biology pedant gives 1,000 points for listing the name of the fly as with it specific epithet, not just “Drosophila.” Though I’d have given 5,000 points if the genus name was spelled out in full, and 10,000 points if the title included a plain English name like “fruit flies.” (But don’t worry, the points don’t matter, as they always said on Whose Line is is Anyway?)

Drew Carey saying, "That's right. The points don't matter."

There aren’t too many things I would try to do differently.

The title of the poster is a little under emphasized, for two reasons. First, the image right next to it draws the eye more effectively than text. Second, the type for the title and headings is Century Gothic (or a close relative). As I’ve mentioned before, this typeface has some issues for posters: the strokes are thin and the shapes of different letters are very similar.

At the very least, using a bold weight might have been worth a try. Bold weight would have probably required some finessing for the section headings, given that the heading isn’t much narrower than the box it is in.

Related posts

Critique: Cubic slip-systems


Leiblich A, Hellberg JEEU, Sekar A, Gandy C, Mendes CC, Redhai S, Mason J, Wainwright M, Marie P, Goberdhan DCI, Hamdy FC, Wilson C. 2019. Mating induces switch from hormone-dependent to hormone-independent steroid receptor–mediated growth in Drosophila secondary cells. PLOS Biology 17(10): e3000145. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000145.

07 November 2019

Critique: Crayfish cell culture

“Here’s one we did earlier,” as they say on the cooking shows. This was a poster I did in 2018 for the International Crustacean Congress in Washington, DC, and the paper is now out as a preprint. Click to enlarge!

I had seen lots of posters that used white text on black effectively. I decided this was my turn to try it. The background is not a “pure” black, however. It’s more a very dark brown. I used the eyedropper tool to pick a dark colour from the central picture of the crayfish. Likewise, the large text is not pure white, but a slightly off-white picked up from some of the gravel. The consistence of colour helps tie the poster together.

The amount of text on the poster is higher than I would like. But because the point of this poster is to describe a method, it’s either a set of instructions written in sentences, or a flowchart. I took the coward’s way out and wrote it out.

The combination of a lot of text with the square format necessitated some tough choices in typography. I either needed a small point size or a narrow width font, and I chose the latter (Noto Sans Condensed Light). I think the white text on the dark background “pops” enough to make the ext readable.

The typeface for the title and headings is Bernhard Modern, which has been the logo for the Marmorkrebs.org website for many years. Since Marmorkrebs is the species featured on the poster, might as well have consistency.

You might wonder why there is a figure in the right column above the “Results” heading. The figure is a result, so shouldn’t it be under the heading? Logically, yes. Visually, I much preferred aligning the pictures. Here’s an earlier draft with the more traditional heading placement (and a more traditional “dark on light” colour scheme.

The final version looked more solid, because the tops of the pictures now align and the “Cell culture method” and “Results” headings align. The introduction, central picture, and left picture create a section running across the poster horizontally that doesn’t disrupt the column flow.

Having more than a year since I’ve worked on this poster, there are a few things I might do differently now.

The title is too ambiguous. One of the lessons I have recently learned about headlines is that they should always make sense out of context. “A new method for cell culture from a cloning crayfish” would be longer, but would stand alone more effectively.

In retrospect, I probably should have made the text ragged right instead of fully justified. And I’m sure that if I kept editing, I could have fit the text in using a regular weight font instead of light.


DeLeon H III, Garcia J Jr., Silva DC, Quintanilla O, Faulkes Z, Thomas JM III. Culturing embryonic cells from the parthenogenetic clonal marble crayfish Marmorkrebs Procambarus virginalis Lyko, 2017 (Decapoda: Astacidea: Cambaridae). Journal of Crustacean Biology: in press. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcbiol/ruz063

01 November 2019

The manuscript is done

As part of this blog’s tenth blogiversary, I mentioned that I was working on a poster design book. Yesterday, I submitted the manuscript of that book to my editor at Pelagic Publishing.

The book is mostly about design, but it expanded to be about more than just design. It became about the larger poster experience and how you can learn a lot about academia by understanding posters.

If all goes well, you will be able to buy Better Posters: The Poster Presentation Book sometime in the first three months of 2020. I’ll keep you updated here.

31 October 2019

Link round-up for October 2019

Since this link round-up happens to fall exactly on Halloween, I must start with a font for the season. Hellvetica. Courtesy of Zack’s Bad Jokes.

This isn’t just a mock-up, this is a real TrueType font you can download. If you dare.

(But seriously, download it now in case there’s some copyright violation case that’s launched at this is taken down.)

Hat tip to Mike Nitabach.

• • • • •

Hey! Established researchers! Give your own poster presentations!

Seeing super-famous PIs presenting posters at Biology of Genomes was a formative moment for me.

That reminder of the importance of being “down in the trenches” from Michael Hoffman.

• • • • •

Coincidentally, a recent meeting at Cold Spring Harbor made senior researchers give posters. Dan Tracey gave this poster:

Dan wrote

A policy to promote early career scientists meant nearly every talk at #cshlDros was by a grad student, postdoc or new PI. This made for a fantastic meeting, with the people DOING the actual exciting new work telling us about it. This “senior person” gave a poster!

• • • • •

If people don’t come to the poster, the poster must come to the people.

Spotted by Joe Parker. Hat tip to Heidi Smith Parker.

• • • • •

Marilia is keeping track of her favourite scientific posters by threading them together on Twitter.

Over twenty examples to inspire! Here’s just one:

• • • • •

The journal Nature has been given a redesign, all the way from the logo to an entirely new custom typeface. Kelly Krause does a fantastic job of explaining the process here. SHe also has a Twitter thread that includes a few more details that aren’t in the main article.

Hat tip to Martin Krzywinski.

• • • • •

Speaking of logos, Megan Clement starts describes this logo thus:

The French Olympic logo tumbles out of bed on a Parisian morning. She tousles her messy bob, dons breton stripes and ballet flats and whisks down the stairs from her fifth-floor apartment to grab a baguette before enigmatically texting two men who are pursuing her romantically.

The thread continues from there.

• • • • •

A networking tip to avoid embarrassment on your part and annoyance of the person you’re talking to:

Don’t try to guess someone’s job/career stage by what you guess their age to be! Just ask them, “Hey, what organization do you work for? What kind of work do you do? What are you most excited about in your job?”

These are great ways to get to know them. Without any assumptions about their career stage (since age and career stage are not the same thing, we all move through those stages differently.)

And you’ll probably hear cool stuff that they are excited to talk about!

From Auriel Fournier.

• • • • •

The Netflix series on design, Abstract, just dropped its second season. The episode so far that seems most relevant to poster design is an episode featuring Jonathan Hoefler. There is some cool stuff on how type has to be designed to take visual illusions into account. It’s a nice reminder that design isn’t math.

Jonathan Hoefler

One of the threads in the episode is the creation of a new typeface based on watchfaces, which was just released as Decimal.

Number "4" from many vintage watchfaces

The process of creating Decimal is also described at Heofler’s own website, Typography.com.

The Abstract episode about Instagram also looks like it may have a few gems.

• • • • •

Sam wondered if people want conference memorabilia.

For every person who liked the swag, five people said the organizers should put the money elsewhere. There were over 7,500 votes in the poll, so this seems a solid answer.

• • • • •

This graphical abstract would work great as a poster:

Created by Rafeal Missagia. Hat tip to Milton Tan.

(Searching for this abstract led me to this one. Which is... I don’t know.)

• • • • •

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) has a Clear Print Guide (direct link to PDF here) that covers some basics about designing for people with visual impairments of various sorts.

It contains at least one tip I had not thought of before. The choice of paper affects accessibility. Glossy paper looks sharper, but creates glare that could obscure the printed content for people who have difficulty seeing.

Hat tip to S. Lewis Simpson.

• • • • •

Lincoln Michel tweeted a taxonomy of type:

Brings a whole new meaning to alignment. Hat tip to Melissa Vaught.

• • • • •

We have nominees for worst poster ever and worst poster presenter ever. These two things are connected, not surprisingly. At the Geological Society of American 2019 meeting, Jane Willenbring wrote:

A man who presented an entire poster at a meeting about me being unethical for reporting sexual harassment is now at a conference with me.

In response to a query, Jane shared the abstract of the poster in question. Many people expressed sympathy and disbelief that such a poster actually happened.

Unsolicited advice that I should not have to give: A poster session is not a place to air your personal grudges, grievances, or vendettas.

Conference organizers: Review the damn abstracts. Too often, conferences have exercised a light in reviewing presentation abstracts. This is why there should be a little more effort put into reviewing abstracts.

24 October 2019

Psychology teaching poster conference on Twitter

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology is the latest organization to hold a poster session on Twitter.

It will run 1-2 November, using the hashtags #stp19poster and #stp19thread.

You can pre-register, but it isn’t required to present. (I mean, you can tweet whatever you want.)

I have previously written about making posters just for Twitter here.

Related posts

Top tips for Twitter posters

External links

STP’s International Twitter Poster Conference (ITPC)

17 October 2019

Critique: The Amazing Spider-Poster!

A few weeks back, I introduced Charles Cong Xu in a post about wearing distinctive clothing as a networking tool. You may recall Charles presented his poster kind of like this:

While the last post was about Charles’s cosplay, I wanted to talk more about the poster and what led up to it. Click to enlarge the poster!

Charles wrote (lightly edited):

The inspiration for the poster probably started when I participated in ComSciCon 2018 in Boston last year. I met Matteo Farinella who draws comics about neuroscience and was there as an expert panelist about creative storytelling. He talked about the importance of engaging the public through alternative forms of media and the utility of using comics to communicate science.

So when I was brainstorming ways to showcase my spider web DNA research for the CSEE/ESC/AES meeting this year, I thought, “What better way than to use Spider-Man?”

We all know that at least half the battle is simply drawing people to your poster when there are countless others to stop by. Seeing a bunch of Spider-Men on a poster is as good of a reason to stop than any other. Even if you have no idea what molecular ecology is or even if you don’t care about science at all, you have probably heard of Spider-Man and are probably curious enough look over. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Science can be very intimidating, even for people who go to conferences. This was my attempt to try and break down barriers and communicate my science in a fun and inclusive way.

I have shared quite a few posters inspired by comics on the blog (see list at end), but this one is different. It looks like a comic, but doesn’t read like a comic. That is to say: it uses the visual aesthetic in terms of the fonts, colours, and art. But unlike previous examples, this one doesn’t use panels in sequence. Spider-Man is used more for decoration than a character.

Charles continues on how he made the poster.

I made the whole thing on PowerPoint. A lot of people were surprised by that. All of the images came from Google and there is a disclaimer about copyright at the bottom. Like the rest of the poster, I tried to match the typefaces to original Spider-Man comics and used custom fonts, which are attributed at the bottom as well.

When I was making the poster, I did receive some significant pushback in the early stages that could have made me ditch the whole idea. For example, “There is nothing of any substance here,” or “This would be fine at a elementary or high school science fair or public outreach event, but I don’t think it works for a professional ecology and evolution conference,” or “I think the yellow boxes look a bit ugly.” Admittedly, some of the suggestions I received were useful and did, in the end, help improve the poster to its final version.

But I think when doing something like this, it is important to believe in yourself and know your purpose attempting something new. Pushback is expected especially given the traditional nature of academia but try not to let it defeat you.

During the conference, Charles got many requests for selfies.

Surprisingly, it was not just students either. Multiple professors who taught science communication courses asked if they could use it as teaching material. Even after the poster session was over, random conference goers would tell me, “Great job on the poster!” on the streets of Fredericton, so it seems like it made an impact.

As I said, I commend this poster’s commitment to its theme. I could pick at some stylistic things that I personally might have done differently. A little more of this, a little less of that. But a detailed critique of a poster that so obviously achieved its goals seems kind of crass. So I will just leave it here.

Related posts

Networking flair: Reasons to wear something ridiculous at a conference

Comics-inspired posters

Critique: Hansard
Critique: Protein biosynthesis
Critique: The eyes have it – as inspired by xkcd
Critique: Beach plastics

10 October 2019

How to make a 3-D poster

I love when media that are normally flat reach into the third dimension!

Poster for House of Wax (1953) movie in 3-D

This week, I have a guest post from Kayla Hall, who created this poster. Click to enlarge!

Poster for "Diverse morhology in the forewings of flapping rays"

I reached out to Kayla because all of her central images are in 3-D!

These images can be viewed in 3-D using the red-green glasses, which is the same technique that was used by filmmakers in the 1950s for movies like House of Wax and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Even Alfred Hitchock made a 3-D movie: Dial “M” for Murder. Interest in 3-D movies was high for a few years, then petered out.

This red/green 3-D image is technically called an anaglyph. I’ve seen this technique used rarely, but consistently, at poster sessions through the years, but never had reason to make one myself. I wanted to know how it was done.

First of all, why? Kayla wrote (lightly edited):

I had a few reasons for choosing to display these specimens in 3-D:

Firstly, our previous publication characterized a skeletal structure in the fins of one family of stingrays, but that project solely used 2-D radiography. This was the first time we’ve been able to see this morphology in 3-D space and quantify all of the other aspects, such as thickness and curvature depth (for muscle attachment) of the primary cartilages across families.

Second, most of my work has used specimens from museum collections. Computerized tomography (CT) scanning allows us to gather all of the anatomical and morphological information without destructively sampling rare specimens. In fact, two of the stingrays displayed on the poster are actually new species to us, not previously included in our publication, so this was a first for visualizing and characterizing their anatomy. Scanning and viewing the Myliobatis specimen (#1) in 3-D space allowed us to add this new species to the list of individuals that lack the pectoral fin framework, as this is the only genus to exhibit variation in the presence/absence of this trait across species.

So that’s the why, but what about the how?

We used the Bruker micro-CT scanner, reconstructed the CT images using the program NRecon, and finally visualized the reconstruction in CTVox. CTVox is also the program I used to generate the 3-D images. They have a “Stereo viewing” button that converts the reconstruction into a 3-D image viewable with standard red-blue glasses.

You are not able to tweak the red-blue hues, but you can always toggle with the original histogram settings that produce the 3-D reconstruction to alter the color contrast.

I bought a multi-pack of basic red and blue glasses from an online retailer. (Search “anaglyph 3-D glasses” or just “3-D glasses.”- ZF)

Printing on matte paper works best for visualizing the 3-D work.

Easy once you know how!

And here Kayla shows off her results to Kelsi Rutledge and Jules Chabain.

Kayla Hall showing her poster to Kelsi Rutledge and Jules Chabain, all wearing 3-D glasses

You can produce the 3-D effect with just a high-quality graphic editor. In brief:

  1. Get two images. You either need to take or find two pictures from slightly different viewpoints, or you need to edit an image to mimic the effect.
  2. Merge the photos.
  3. Remove the red from one image.
  4. Remove green and/or blue from one image.
  5. Crop the edges where they don’t overlap.

If you do this to a single image, however, you are creating an illusion. It isn’t “real data” in the sense that am image generated using a CT scan or two actual photographs. Be sure to label images with appropriate disclaimers!

External links

Diverse morphology in the forewings of flapping rays
How To Create Anaglyph 3D Images That Really Work!
How To Make Classic Red/Cyan 3D Photos Out of Any Image

03 October 2019

Critique: Agricultural landscapes

Aleksandra Dolezal will testify that Neil Gaiman’s law of typos, originally applied to books, also applies to conference posters. It doesn’t matter how closely you check, you will find a mistake as soon as the thing is printed and you can’t fix it.

Double, triple checked my poster PDF before printing and after it was done I found a small alignment mistake. Damn you brain for not seeing it earlier ๐Ÿง !! Oh well what’s done is done. I like the colours so still happy ๐Ÿค—

Click to enlarge!

Before it went up, Hannah Brazeau said,

This very well may be the most beautifully designed poster I’ve seen. Amazing.

Hannah was not alone in her opinion. This poster won the award at the joint meeting of The Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution, the Entomological Society of Canada, and the Acadian Entomological Society (or EcoEvoEnto2019 for short)! And the competition was fierce.

Aleksandra collaborated with her sister to achieve the distinct look of the poster (lightly edited from email).

Me and my sister, Amelia Dolezal, came up with this idea together. She helped make the flowers and icons. She was more of the fancy design guru whereas I was the logical researcher fitting in the blanks.

I’m pleased to give Amelia more visibility for her work on this poster, since her name was not on the original poster. Amelia has some graphic skills that she is putting into work as a tattoo artist.

This poster is a legitimate work of art.

The whole poster was drawn by using a tablet with Photoshop cs6, using a several different brushes. And all that text? That isn’t a font. The entire thing is hand lettered by Aleksandra. She wrote:

This was done with hand lettering in my own handwriting. I wanted it to be as personal as possible. I wanted it to look like my field notes and lab bench.

My only comment on the graphics is that I might like a tiny bit more contrast and/or brightness in some colours. When shrunk down (like for the preview on this blog), some of the text and images fade away. But when expanded to full size (three feet wide by four feet tall), I could see everything fine, so this is a very minor problem.

On her own blog, Aleksandra describes some of the creation of the poster, focusing more on the conceptual side of things rather than the nitty-gritty details. I particularly like this:

I have around 6 analyses in my these project that all have awesome, cool results but for this poster I decided on focusing on 3 that I think really put out the message I wanted.

It’s easy to look at the tasty visuals and conclude that’s why it’s successful, but Aleksandra clearly did the hard editorial work deciding what to include and what to cut.

External links

My advice for creating an academic poster on Aleksandra’s blog

26 September 2019

Link round-up for September 2019

Cody Christopherson asked students on Twitter:

Which is the worst outcome when you present a poster at a research conference?

The sample size was 944 votes, but Cody included a “Show me results!” option which I have removed in the table below.

Not being told about serious problems21.8% 142
Criticized to my face 14.4% 94

I am surprised that being ignored won students’ “worst outcome.” I wonder if this is because it may be the most common bad outcome, since many people have reported having no visitors to their poster at least once.

I was also surprised that getting criticized directly was the last choice. The only time I have gotten in trouble on the blog was from PIs who didn’t want their students to be criticized, because they thought it would be too soul-crushing to students. Hey, PIs: maybe your students are tougher than you think.

Hat tip to Dorothy Bishop.

• • • • •

Drew Steen has an entire Twitter thread of “bad on purpose” charts and graphs produced by his students. This one was voted the worst:

Hat tip to Holly Bik.

• • • • •

Now compare the “bad on purpose” plots in the thread above to the sincerely intentioned graphs collected by Jessica Tierney. Jessice has a great thread on the horrors of data visualization, using International Panel on Climate Change graphics. It introduced me to a term I hadn’t heard before: the “carpet plot.” An example is below. It almost has a Christmas-y feel.

I feel like we need a community conversation about visual communication. ... Ask yourself: 1) Do you need all that stuff? 2) Is this cognitively accessible? 3) Is this colorblind friendly? 4) #endrainbow 5) #endneon. If you wouldn’t decorate your living room with that color - why would you use it in a scientific plot (?)

Hat tip to Jarrett Byrnes.

• • • • •

Morgan Simon’s article is titled, “How to be a young woman (or anything other than a grey-haired white man) at a business conference and still get shit done,” but you could probably strike out “business” and replace it with “academic” and a lot of the advice would still apply.

  1. Have an objective.
  2. Your title doesn’t define you.
  3. Watch out for references that make people focus on your age, instead of your abilities.
  4. You already look different — so just be different.
  5. Learn how to make friends — not just network.
  6. Know when to hold them… and when to fold them.
  7. Build new centers of gravity.
My favourite, by a long way, is #5. I think section #4, which includes thoughts on dressing for conferences, may interest many women readers, who often struggle to find a conference wardrobe they are happy with. Hat tip to Nina Simon.

• • • • •

I forgot to add this 3-D poster from a couple of months back.

Pictures by Nicole Ackermans. A “how to” post is waiting in the wings!

• • • • •

I think this is a first on the link round-up: an Instagram thread on posters! This come courtesy of Keighley Reisenauer. Here’s the first pic to get you started:

• • • • •

Kelsi Rutledge shows the benefits of working with professionals. To publicize her description of a new guitarfish species, she had a professional photographer get some fantastic images:

Kelsi Rutledge on beach with guitarfish

Not a poster, but I don’t care.

• • • • •

Back-to-back bookend podcasts! The BOOM (Biomechanics On Our Minds) podcast starts with navigating the conference experience.

The conference conversation continues on the Doctor You podcast, including best and worst conference experiences.

Hat tip to David Shiffman.

• • • • •

A reminder from Laura Bergalls:
“Don’t center long blocks of text.”

I’ve had to address this twice last week - with 2 different clients.

I might write a 500-1000 word article, and they’ll center justify the whole thing, making it extremely difficult to read.

PS - I hope this isn't some kind of new and kooky design trend. If so, it needs to fade, fast.

If you want to center a title or a caption, fine. But there’s a reason your newspaper left-justifies articles.

Readability. Accessibility.

Let’s nip this wannabe trend in the bud.

• • • • •

What do you do with all your conference lanyards? Anne Carpenter wants to know.

What’s the most fun reuse you’ve found for conference lanyards?

My daughters use them as leashes for their stuffed animals.

Hat tip to Justin Kiggins.

• • • • •

Pineapples and Whales have created A scientist’s guide to making presentations. Some of the advice applies to posters, too!

• • • • •

Roberto Keller has a nice Twitter thread showing how scientific figures used to be made.

Lines are inked using a ruling pen. Text is machine-printed, cut out, and glued. The curved dash line is glued into shape from a thin straight strip previously inked. This job was usually done by a professional who was a staff illustrator at the university.

Aren’t you glad you live in the future, where you don’t have to go through this rigamarole? Hat tip to Milton Tan.

• • • • •

And let’s end the month on a positive note from Melody Waring:

I’ve witnessed a beautiful academic moment. A senior academic asked my neighbor if she’s presenting. A grad student, she glanced down and said, “No, I just have a poster.” He leaned forward, warmly, sharing how critical posters have been to his work. Not “Just,” he says.

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 joint meeting of The Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution, the Entomological Society of Canada, and the Acadian Entomological Society (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.


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.

Related posts

01 August 2019

Critique: Beach plastics

I promised this as the end of May, and I finally delivered! Today’s poster comes to us via Fabian Roger on Twitter. Fabian called this poster by Therese Karlsson “absolutely brilliant.” Click to enlarge!

This was presented at the 2019 European meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). Therese said, “Never had as much fun making a poster as this one!”

Comic-inspired posters get good responses from viewers. I think this is because they are:

  • Different. It is difficult to break out of the mold with posters. They usually have the same kind of text structure (following the IMRAD format of journals) and standard presentations of data. Comics break that monotony.
  • Visual. Many posters are, in their heart of hearts, text-based documents. They may be cut back to a minimum, but I think most posters are verbal instead of pictoral. Comics put images first, and text second.
  • Short. Because more of the poster is used for pictures, you have to cut back on the words, and it becomes a more attractive thing to stand and scan for a few moments.

25 July 2019

Link roundup for July 2019

Sarah Knowles wins our completely informal “Best poster of the month” award.

From here and here. Hat tip to Colin Purrington and Elaine Williams.

• • • • •

Speaking of awards, Hannah Isotalus (whose work was featured here) was screwed out of her poster award by the British Association for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Ages ago I tweeted about how I got rewarded a poster prize last September at a conference and how they said at the time the prize and a certificate would be sent over later on. Following multiple emails they stopped replying to me and never sent me a thing. ...

It’s also somewhat important to note that two years in a row I have loud and proud outed them on twitter for never in their history having given mid or early career prizes to women. I don’t want to wear a foil hat here... but you know...

For shame. If you are a member of this society, you might want to ask those in charge what is going on. The person behind their Twitter account has promised to look into this. BUt as far as I know, this hasn’t been resolved.

• • • • •

From 2017 but new to this blog is a post by Veronika Ch on recycling her poster into a skirt.

What makes her skirt an epic win? Simple. It. Has. Pockets.

• • • • •

“Oh, you have a skirt made from an old conference poster?” asks Rajika Kuruwita. “Hold my beer.”

More about Rajika’s dress is a longer poster later!

Hat tip to Needhi Bhalla on these last two entries.

• • • • •

Conference service provider Morressier has an article about how to create a great digital posters. (Warning: Contains me.) Digital posters have a few tricks that paper posters don’t.

While many of the design tips that are useful for traditional posters also hold for digital posters, there are several features that an ePoster provider can offer that deserve to be looked at in depth. One of these is the ability to zoom in and out of the poster’s content. ...

One of the features that is most revolutionary when it comes to digital posters is the ability to embed audio and video files directly into the body of your poster.

Video is probably the “killer app” of digital posters.

• • • • •

Edgar Bering has a request.

Dear colleagues,

Please stop wearing backpacks to poster sessions. Your innate kinesthetic sense has not adapted to your appendage, which means you bash into people… a lot.

Hat tip to Rachel French.

• • • • •

The University of Cambridge shows how not to run a poster session:

Zig-zagging poster boards mean viewers and presenters of one poster have to look across the other. One end of the poster boards appears to be next to a wall, which causes congestion at the entrance to a lane.

Hat tip to Ewan St. John-Smith.

• • • • •

You like infographics, but don’t have time to create every image from scratch? And you need things to scale? You will love Dimensions Guide. It has scale drawings of all kinds of things. Want to make a point about accessibility? They can help.

Need to compare a bunch of breeds of dog? How about a basset hound for a start?

The site is chock-a-block with useful diagrams. Plus a few figures that are a little less practical.

• • • • •

What if you like pie charts but hate circles? This website has you covered. (Oh god, I’m an enabler...)

But in the immortal words of Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park:

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Weird pie chart shapes might prompt you to stop to think if you should.

Hat tip to Alberto Cairo and Justin Kiggins.

• • • • •

Perhaps the people behind the “all the shapes” pie charts should look at Helena Jambor’s blog post about making figures.

• • • • •

I would love to read more on getting more out of academic conferences in Times Higher Ed. But it’s paywalled.

But maybe you have a subscription, even if I don’t.

• • • • •

Over on Instagram, a poster meme that starts, “Trying to present a poster at a conference like:

• • • • •

Scientist Suzanne Eaton died horribly while attending at a conference. I am sorry for everyone who knew her, and hope they are getting all the support they need during this tragedy.

Three threads emerged from this about conferences generally.

  • Leslie Vosshall has a thread reflecting on how this event (plus others) are making her reconsider conferences entirely.
  • Needhi Bhalla shares these concerns, but argues the cohort opportunities still make conferences a potentially good thing.
  • ItatiVCS’s thread discusses the conference experience for minorities, again focusing on the cohort experience.