21 November 2019

Why established academics should make their own posters

Stay in the game. Women fottballer getting tackled.

This one is for the people who are now full time academics, scholars, scientists, and “PIs.”

Keep making your own posters.

For many people, a poster is their first presentation. But sometimes there is a tendency to think of posters like the kiddie table. As people “grow up” (academically), there’s an expectation that you’ll progress to slide talks and oral presentations. The senior people sometimes give very few talks, unless of course they’re invited to give a keynote.

This pattern contributes to why so many conference posters are so awful.

My first poster presentation was in 1991, and I made them regularly since then. When I look back to some of the posters from the 2000s – posters I made with the benefit of more than fifteen years of experience but before I started this blog – some of them posters are pretty shocking.

This poster, for instance, was the twenty-eighth poster listed in my CV:

Poster abou crayfish with lots of text.

All that experience, and my posters were still intimidating blocks of text that looked like a journal vomited on a page. And I started this blog in part because I had some confidence that I maybe had a slightly better handle on design than average, had something useful to say, and could help others. But my skill level wasn’t that high.

And the moral of the story is: Design takes practice.

If you stop making posters after grad school, you are missing the opportunity to keep improving your posters and skills.

It stops posters from getting more polished and sophisticated, and makes everyone unhappy when they go to a poster session and see a bunch of poorly thought out posters that nobody wants to look at.

That’s not only a disservice to yourself, but a disservice to the research community and particularly a disservice to your students.

The poster format can become better, but only if the most experienced practitioners stay in the game and don’t foist the job off to students.

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