24 June 2023

Penny pinching poster printing

Cianna Piercey tweeted:

Has anyone ever printed a conference poster 24×36 (inches, I presume - ZF)? Is that way too small?

Just trying to save a little $$ on something that will only be used for 1 hour. 🙃

 My reaction to the initial question:

Pokemon with "It's tiny" written above it

That seems small to me. 

Most conferences give you space at least 4 feet of space, either in width or in length. Some conferences give you much more. Unused space on the poster board makes you look like you’re not even trying.

But is it too small? It depends. At a large conference like Neuroscience or the American Geophysical Union, I would say definitely yes, that would be too small. The aisles are wide, people are far away, and it seems unlikely that you can make everything visible to someone walking by at a distance.

At big conferences, you can sometimes be presenting to four, five, or six people at a time. Having that many people circling the poster so they can see could make for uncomfortably close quarters.

But I’m also interested – and maybe a little concerned – by the reason to print the poster small: just to say some money.

Cianna’s Twitter bio indicates she is a doctoral student at Colorado State University. That university has an in house print shop called Fastprint. A resource page shows that many colleges have ways that allow many students to print research posters for free. I’m not sure if that covers Cianna’s particular case, but to be clear, that’s how it should be.

If you are a student, you should not be paying printing costs out of pocket in most cases. Your institution should pick up that cost.

It may not be obvious to you, a student, how to go about that. Research students should have a supervisor to advise them of how to get a poster printed, but sometimes that doesn’t always happen for one reason or another. 

Before you pay out of your own pocket, talk to your supervisor, department chair, or even college dean. These different offices often have little pots of money to support students and support student research, and asking for money to print a conference presentation should absolutely 💯 within the realm of what departments can pay for.

I also want to speak to the poster only being used for an hour. If that’s the length of the poster session, then someone needs to talk to the conference organizers. An hour is far too short for a poster session. An hour presentation slow might be okay, but the poster should up be and visible for people to view for several hours at least.

And there are many ways to re-use a poster! You should be proud enough of your work to display it in your department after the conference at the very least. Students like to read them while waiting.

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