Prepare your first scientific poster
Are you going to attend your first scientific conference soon? Perhaps you are in the process of signing up for one? Either way, you should know that attending a scientific conference is a great way to gain exposure and early feedback for your research idea before you do a deep dive. As for presenting your scientific contributions at a conference, you can do so in one of two ways:- either as an oral presentation or as a scientific poster. While we have already looked at how you can prepare well for your first academic conference presentation, in this article, we will understand how to do the same in case of a scientific poster.
What is a scientific poster?
A scientific poster is cross between a slide deck and a scientific manuscript. Basically, it is a one page pamphlet (A0-A2) to succinctly and quickly present a research idea aided by brief sentences and visuals.
Tips to prepare your first scientific poster
Getting your key contributions and novelty across quickly and easily gets a lot more challenging as the space gets limited. While a scientific paper may allow you up to six or so pages with two column format, a poster essentially is a single pager and you need to make the most of the real estate given. Here are some tips to help you prepare the ultimate poster and ace your poster session.
- Keep it concise. A poster is essentially a concise representation and a visual abstract of your idea not an exhaustive presentation in itself. During a poster session, people glance at a lot of posters so you need to be able to pique their curiosity to have them stop by. The aim here is to kick start a conversation for which you need to attract people to your poster.
- Avoid clutter. Think of your poster as a visual abstract. Do away with as much text as possible and rely more on graphics.
- Use intuitive flow. When arranging the elements of your poster, it should be intuitive whether the reader is supposed to read it left-to-right or top-to-bottom etc. They should have to rack their brains to figure out how to scan through your poster.
- Be consistent with formatting. Inconsistency shows lack of seriousness of the presenter and may put off visitors. So, when it comes to color scheme, fonts, padding, and the overall layout, be very consistent for a neat and legible design.
- Be patient with the visitors. Normally at a poster session, the visitors scan through a lot of posters spread across the hall. With limited time, they try to skim through as much as possible and then stop by certain posters as it piques their interest. So, be patient with the visitors. Let them come to you and don’t get disheartened if it takes a while to get your first visitor.
- It’s ok for people to jump through sections. On a similar note of patience, know that sometimes people just want specific answers for which you won’t need to present your whole poster to them. They might already know bits of your work and are looking for certain clarifications. In such cases, just give them the answers they need by referring to the relevant bits of the poster.
- Always have your contact information visible on a poster. With limited time during a poster session, it is likely that some people might want to have a follow up conversation with you at a later time. For this, make your contact information easily accessible on the poster.
- Use a QR code for supplemental material. Got any supplemental material such as a work in progress manuscript, published articles, blogs, videos etc., to complement your poster? Use a QR code to point the visitors to such material to help ease their understanding of the concept and novel contributions.
- Acknowledge the peers and funding agencies. While the space maybe limited, don’t forget to acknowledge the key stakeholders- peers and funding agencies that have made your research possible. A brief acknowledgement is better than none.
- Don’t fixate on the template. Your university and/or conference organizers might have given you a poster template to use. This template is meant to get you started and is often not binding. Most templates are lacking in core features especially accessibility, so feel free to do away with the bits that seem restrictive and adapt the format to your needs.
- Don’t throw in screenshots. Remember that a poster size is often much larger than your manuscript and the paper it is printed on is also quite different than a regular A4 sheet. So, be very mindful of the graphics you use. Stick to vector graphics to ensure they scale well with the size of the poster or risk having smudged illegible images when it is printed.
- Don’t print and carry your poster to the conference venue. Often times, you would be attending an international conference and carrying your poster together with a carry on baggage in a flight can become a hassle. As opposed to this, ask your organizers if they could recommend a print shop or try find one in the neighborhood of the venue. Negotiate with them to have the poster printed and delivered to you at the conference thereby simplifying the logistics for you.
What software do you need to make a scientific research poster?
At this point you might be wondering, what software could you use to prepare your scientific poster. Here are some pointers for the tools you could use to prepare and typeset the poster:
- Typesetting: To typeset your poster, you could a tool like Microsoft PowerPoint, Figma, Adobe Illustrator or even LaTex. When selecting your tool, be sure to pick one that you are either already familiar with or are comfortable with learning. Typesetting and optimizing the poster format will take significant time and effort so you should try and minimize the efforts it would take to learn a whole new tool.
- Graphics: While the typesetting tool will help you prepare the overall format and select the fonts but you would also need supplemental tools to help you with graphic design. Don’t worry, this doesn’t need to be a super fancy tool. You can easily use any of these- Inkscape, Gimp, or for simple tasks like background removal you could use online tools like removebg. For some advanced graphics design, you may want to get your hands dirty with Adobe Suite such as Photoshop but the aforementioned tools should be more than enough for the poster.
If you have made up your mind to do a PhD, and have found an ideal PhD supervisor to work with, it’s time for you to focus on dissemination of your research findings. For this, you need to have identified the key research questions you will address as a part of your PhD and understand the harsh realities that you need to publish high quality research contributions consistently.
When it comes to publishing your findings, one potential avenue of gaining exposure and early feedback is via scientific posters. The aim here is to present your research succinctly aided with a poster consisting of some text and visuals to connect with peers and gather feedback. This article covers some tips to prepare your first scientific poster including the dos and don’ts.
If this is your first time creating your scientific poster, this article also discusses some software you would need to prepare the poster. Some of these tools are free while others might need a paid license. In case of the latter, you could always ask your University for financial assistance or to get a group license so the peers in the group could also benefit from the features.