27 October 2011

Poster versus talk, listening edition

Many informal surveys have asked whether people like to give talks or posters, and talks are clear winner. I wanted to know, though, if the proportions for listening to a presentation were any different. So back in May, I started a poll on this (now removed). These are the results (click to enlarge):

Because this is a poster blog, you might think that posters would be favoured more here than in other polls, but no! Even the readers of this blog tend to prefer giving talks by almost a 2 to 1 margin. I don't know why, but I sort of expected posters might do better when people were on the receiving end of the information, because of the chance to talk to the presenter personally, ask more questions, have more interaction.

Nope. The proportion of people favouring posters actually dropped from about a third to about a quarter.

It’s sad that this form of communication is so common in academia when most people would rather give a talk. Perhaps this is more evidence that conference organizers need to be bolder and more daring in structuring their meetings, and not just following the format that other conferences do.

20 October 2011

Critique: Stellar populations

It’s a great thing to get an email like this one:

I am sending you the last poster I did, which I am finally proud of.

That was from Natalia Asari, who was kind enough to share her poster with us. I am particularly pleased to get this one, not just because of her pride in it, but because I know full well that many scientific disciplines are not well represented on this blog (yet!). An astronomy poster is such a nice change of pace.

Even before you click to enlarge, you’ll notice that it’s in “portrait” orientation (taller than wide). I personally find such posters to be very tricky to lay out, because my first response is to create a grid of vertical columns, and tall posters result in very skinny columns. Natalia beats that problem by putting everything in one column, with clear horizontal divisions to mark the different sections of evidence. The data are consistently on the left, and explanatory text is consistently on the right, and they have the same width throughout the poster, reinforcing a secondary grid.

The poster gets high marks for using so many colours without being distracting or jarring. I think part of the reason that this works is that the bright colours are confined to thin lines on a white background, so they are not competing for attention with the main body of the poster. The larger blocks of colour are subdued, neutral tones.

There is not a heck of a lot to critique in this poster, but I will highlight a few things in the next picture.

The use of the icons adds a light, almost humourous touch to the piece. The potential downside is that they can be too memorable. I always thought of this poster as having a dinosaur on it, which might be a trifle misleading, because there are no dinosaur data in the paper!

The icons are responsible for what I would see as the one “error” on the poster: on the bottom three, the brown banner behind the poster bleeds into the transparent white space within the icons. The icons would be stronger if the white space inside was opaque, so the brown behind was not visible within the icon.

Natalia made this poster in Papers Pages, which is not software I am familiar with. Has anyone else made posters with this software?

She described the reaction to this poster thus:

I did it for one of the Symposia in the last IAU General Assembly, in 2009, when I was finishing my Ph.D. It raised some eyebrows and I felt some people had a hard time taking it seriously. Once I started explaining the science to them however, they got over the shock of seeing such a different poster.

This is a great reminder that there can be pressure – perhaps subtle – to make the same old poster that everyone else has. One of the great things about posters is that there are so few rules. There main one is, “Make it fit on the posterboard.” Beyond that, don’t let people stop you from trying something better.

Thanks to Natalia for her generosity in sharing this stellar poster!

13 October 2011

Link roundup, October 2011

If you’re the sort of person who likes futzing around with posters, maybe you should consider a career as a scientific illustrator or animator. This article has a look at this little known, but growing, field.

Looking for inspiration for how to make a graphic for your poster? Try the Nice Figure gallery of beautiful pictures from scientific papers.

A post from last year by Pascal Wallisch discusses the use of new technologies to bring posters to life, describing what he calls the “padster.” Also, don’t miss his link round-up of advice on how to attend a conference.

Because I love alternative placeholder texts, here’s one that you can use if you want your poster to have a bit of edge, Samuel L. Jackson style. Perhaps not best used if you are in a conservative workplace.

The floggings of scientists using Comic Sans on posters and presentations will continue until the practice is abandoned.

06 October 2011

Mostly right

There are a lot of elements to creating a scientific poster. What happens if you only miss one element?

Click to enlarge:

Inspired by the viral linkbait guide.