27 July 2023

Link roundup for July 2023

Margaret Hinkle is this month’s “poster reuse” winner:

Baby in the office and you don’t have a blanket for tummy time? Turns out a poster is the perfect fix! Also doubles as a changing pad! Academic parenting win for the day.

She goes on:

(Don’t worry, students who made this poster - this one had some typos so it never made it to prime time!)

Hat tip to Zanethia Barnett.

• • • • •

Creative, right? Matthias Rillig outlines techniques for using poster session viewing as a tool for creativity. Excerpt:

How can we maximize this sort of connection? One has to more actively consume the material on the posters and turn them over in one’s mind, trying to directly connect them to other problems. I think this would require maybe two passes through a poster session, one to try to absorb the information per se, the ‘normal poster session mode’, and another pass, the ‘creativity mode’ to actively try to make such connections.

Hat tip to Paperpile.

• • • • •

It is summer and thus peak conference season!

The title says “presentations” but the abstract is mostly about posters.

Willis LD. 2023. How to present your research findings at a scientific meeting. Respiratory Care: respcare.11226. https://doi.org/

21 July 2023

How to win a poster competition on Hello PhD

The hosts of Hello PhD were generous enough to ask me back for a second kick at the can 🥫!  This time, the topic was poster competitions.

Have a listen to Episode 196 wherever you get your postcasts, or at the main Hello PhD site:


13 July 2023

This Barbie is an astrophysicist: Humour on conference posters

You know, Twitter has many problems now, but it is still the best place for me to find posters like this. Click to enlarge!

Pink poster title "Bayesian Analysis for Remote Biosignature Identification on exoEarths" (BARBIE)

It in pink. And unabashedly so!

This poster is by Natasha Latouf and I just had to get the inside scoop on  the story behind this. Natasha generously replied. (Lightly edited.)

The design was in part inspired by the new Barbie movie by Greta Gerwig! I had been looking forward to the movie since it was announced, and decided to run with the theme when I was starting to write my paper draft. I wanted something fun decided to roll with having all my figures in pink and purple.

The title actually didn’t come about until later, until the first draft was nearly completed. This project ended up becoming a multi-paper effort, and thus I was able to use an overarching acronym that will describe the entirety of the project. I’ll be the first to tell you that I started with the acronym BARBIE and worked backwards to fill it in!

This has a long and proud tradition in science. I’ve heard of funding agencies like the NSF spend a lot of time figuring out what their grant titles mean, because they developed the name first.

As for the actual making of the poster:

The lead up to the design is what took the most time – determining a colour palette, making sure the colours within my paper match the colours in the design, etc. Once that was decided, it went faster! I will note, the background image has to be remade per different poster sizes, but I enjoy the process of design and making the science I do visually appealing.

I used Canva to design the background of the poster (including where the text would go, the title, the specialty logo), saved that as an image, and then used PowerPoint to finish the poster using the previously designed image as the background!

The tone of most conference posters is the exact opposite of this one. This poster is emphatically playful, feminine, and funny. And these are characteristics that a lot of academics do not want used to describe their work. The inevitable question is, “Were you scared to do this?”

I wasn’t concerned about using humour! I find that humour helps in technical presentations on multiple axes. It allows audiences to get engaged, especially in the middle of a full slate of presentations; it makes the science more accessible especially to early career researchers; and it helps you and your project remain memorable! It is much more likely that your audience will remember the BARBIE project, than the entirety of the project name. Simultaneously, a well-designed poster can accomplish all of the above as well! Bright colours, an interesting design, and careful selection of text.

So far the reactions have been very positive! I have presented a talk internally at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center with the design scheme, and my PhD advisor presented my poster at the Science with the Habitable Worlds Observatory and Beyond conference. Each time, the audience has greatly enjoyed the design, the humour, and the pop culture reference. In fact, that can be seen currently on Twitter!

A few people who saw my retweet of this poster said this reminded them of a story told by Raven the Science Maven on the “Ologies” podcast. Let me entice you with a snippet:

I’m at the craft store, my cart is overflowing with feathers 🪶, glitter ✨, stickers, stamps. Gosh, different types of scrapbook paper, glue, ribbons 🎀, everything. Everything. And I was so proud. I lugged all of that stuff into my dorm room and I go to town making my poster.

And my advisor gave me a poster tube because he told me, “Put your poster in it. Roll your poster up, put it in the tube so it stays nice for your symposium.” So, I finished making my poster, with literally all of the things I just described that were in my cart at the craft store, and he says, “I want to check your poster before the symposium tomorrow.”

I come to my advisor’s office, and he’s like, “Okay, let’s see your poster,” excited for tomorrow. I take my poster out of the tube and you know how when you glue glitter onto stuff it doesn’t really stay on, it kinda falls off? So, I’m unrolling the poster and there’s, like, chunks of glitter ✨ falling out and, like, feathers collapsing to the floor, and it’s all crinkly and stuff. He’s like, “Oh… my god. Oh my god.” ... I’ve never seen anybody so disappointed in my entire life.

But that is not the end of this story! you should listen to the podcast (or search the transcript for “poster”) to see how the whole thing went down. Trust me. It’s worth your time.

Maggie Swift wrote a Twitter thread about how Raven’s story resonated with her.

I HAVE THIS EXACT SAME STORY. ... I had never been to a poster session. My advisor asked me if I needed help. I was like, nah girl, I know how to make a poster!

I’ll give Natasha final word on this:

I strongly encourage any scientist, but especially early career researchers, not to shy away from humour and adding personality to your presentations. You are the one doing the science in the first place! Humanity does not have to separated from science, and it makes for more interesting, engaging, and memorable presentations when you, the presenter, are imbuing your personality into it!

Hat tip to Emily Rickman for the tweet that started this.

External links

Molecular Biology (PROTEINS + SCIENCE COMMUNICATION) with Raven “The Science Maven” Baxter (Transcript in PDF)

Raven the Science Maven homepage

06 July 2023

The “No words” test: What does your poster say after you take away the words?

Posters are a visual medium.

You check if you’re using the visual aspect of the poster format effectively by taking away all the words.

Picture of conference poster with all text removed, leaving only graphs.

Without text, this poster by Recovery Health has nothing on it that tells you it has anything to do with health. It could be a biology poster, a political science poster, an archaeology poster, maybe even a chemistry or humanities poster.

Here are a few more examples of posters that I spotted on Twitter that, if you removed the words, could be about anything.

Two people standing by a green conference poster with text and graphs.

Poster tweeted by University of North Carolina Medicine.

One person standing by a green conference poster with text and graphs.

Poster tweeted by Rachel Cooper.

Once I started getting sensitized to this, it was surprising to me how many posters had no visual indications of what their topic was about. 

Look for a photograph. Look for an icon. Look for an illustration. Look for something that doesn't have to be read that cues in a viewer what the broad topic of your poster is.

“But my work is abstract and conceptual!” Look, Andy Pizza just published a book of illustrations of things that are literally invisible

Illustrations of invisible things: guts, hope, grief, dream, dark matter, vibe.

And David McCandless created an illustration of philosophical theories of mind. (Hat tip to Steve Stewart-Williams.)

Series of twelve heads, with different depictions of a theory of consciousness (e.g., substance dualism, epiphenomenalism, behaviourism, etc.)

There are more ways to give visual indications of the topic of your work than you might think at first.

04 July 2023

Five myths of poster design: The Hello PhD interview!

I’m on Episode 195 of the Hello PhD podcast! The subject, of course, is posters. We hooked the conversation around five “myths” of poster design, according to me.

We got a lot of mileage out of just five talking points, so head over and have a listen!