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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I work in a STEM association (healthcare related, if it matters) that offers hundreds of posters each year at our annual meeting. Like many associations, we select abstracts a few months before the event and then have authors present on site. Please consider the situation from our side: we recruit several scientists to screen your abstract and select it (in our case, screeners use a score card with specific criteria, and we reject hundreds of proposals a year that don't meet their standards). The association then releases the abstracts to attract attendees. Roughly half of our attendees search our website and mobile app by keyword, and choose the abstracts they'll visit (instead of going to a session in some cases) based on what they read. When you appear on our floor and deliver a poster that is wildly different from the abstract you submitted, it upsets our attendees (we now require abstracts to include data because of this, and no one is allowed to change a title or abstract after acceptance). You also waste the time of screeners, who in some cases were your best connection to a new job or publication. I don't think anyone minds when you expand on your topic or share a surprising realization. Just keep in mind that your poster is part of a program an association has promised to other professionals your field. They're making choices based on what you said you'd present. Try not to disappoint them! (Good luck with your posters, everybody!)