07 May 2020

You’d miss serendipty if poster sessions went away

I miss the art of record flipping. When music was released on vinyl, flipping through albums in bins was part meditative in its rhythm combined with occasional rushes of pure joy when you found something you were looking for, or, better yet, didn’t even know existed. That new album by a favourite artist.

(Even shopping for CDs wasn’t as good as albums. The CDs were clunkier and noisier than albums.)

I was reminded of this almost lost art when I recently stumbled across an album released seven years ago that I would have bought seven years ago – if only I knew it existed.

I love the portability of digital media, but digital media is often kind of terrible at those lucky discoveries. The things you see and instantly want in your life.

We are in the middle of a year of most academic conferences being postponed or cancelled. This preprint argues that it’s probably a good thing: they advocate moving most conferences online because of the carbon costs of traveling. (See also here.).

A couple of weeks ago, I pondered whether the poster format was right for online meetings. This prompted the question of whether posters are right for regular meetings. After all, lots of people don’t like the poster format, so it’s a fair question of what we’d miss if you took the poster session away.

What poster sessions do better than multiple tracks of slide talks or other formats is create serendipitous opportunities to learn and meet new people.

In my experience, abstract books or online collections (like the one #TAGC20 has on Figshare) do not facilitate browsing. You tend to perform very targeted searches instead for specific people you know or topics that are relevant to you.

I wondered if this was just me, so I asked this question on Twitter.

Do you discover new people and projects at poster sessions in conferences that you probably wouldn’t have encountered otherwise (searching abstracts, etc.)?

Well over 80% of respondents (71 votes) said this happened to them.


So before we rush to get rid of poster sessions for live conferences, or as we develop alternatives for poster sessions in online settings, it’s worth asking: how can we facilitate the lucky accidents that happen in convention center hallways and hotel event rooms all the time?

Related posts

Are posters right for online meetings? Thoughts from The Allied Genetic Conference virtual poster session #TAGC20

External links

Evaluating features of scientific conferences: A call for improvements

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