Another reason poster sessions are the most productive part of the meeting

June 28, 2010

You get to fence with the reviewers of your manuscript or grant application.
Do you ever get into conversations at your poster that sound hauntingly familiar? Someone is challenging you to explain something about your approach, or data, or interpretation that you’ve just dealt with. On a paper review or grant application revision?
I have.
I consider it a great chance to make your case. Far superior to a platform presentation.

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31 Responses to “Another reason poster sessions are the most productive part of the meeting”

  1. JohnV Says:

    I always assumed it was the most productive part for my competitors because it allowed them to come jack my research.

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  2. No way dude. I would rather be dragged across a field of gravel than present a poster. It’s the most painful and least rewarding way to get your data out there. By far.

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  3. Gerty-Z Says:

    I think poster sessions are great. I think it is really useful to be able to interact with people face to face in this setting. Giving posters can be exhausting, but it is always rewarding and usually pretty fun. I will always give a talk if given the chance, just for the exposure, but I probably learn more at the posters.

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  4. Alex Says:

    Poster sessions at small meetings are indeed the very best part.
    Poster sessions at big meetings are a mixed bag.

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  5. Eric Lund Says:

    As a consumer of scientific presentations, I prefer poster sessions because I can focus on specific presentations and have detailed discussions with the main authors. With talks, you can sometimes get the detailed discussions part at workshop-type conferences, but at major meetings, such discussions have to happen off-line if at all (no guarantee that you can catch the speaker at a break, especially if he’s a big shot).
    As a presenter, it’s a mixed bag. Posters are better for early stage research because of the detailed discussions that you can have with people whose expertise covers the gaps in your own expertise. The availability of beer at the poster session helps. But for advanced stage work, I’d rather do an oral presentation since talks often have higher visibility than posters. It’s also somewhat meeting dependent: the American Geophysical Union does a good job making poster sessions an integral part of the meeting, but some other organizations (COSPAR being the most recent example among meetings I have attended) have a tendency to make poster sessions an afterthought, and you definitely do not want a poster at one of those meetings.

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  6. As I have gotten older, I have completely lost the attention span required to stand there and listen to some fucking trainee blather endlessly about Figure 6 Panel G of their stupid fucking poster. I much prefer talks, because either (1) the fucker gives me the important take home message clearly and concisely or (2) they suck ass and I can surf the Web while they blather. Getting stuck with some longwinded blitherer at their poster is miserable.
    I have learned through aversive training that the first thing I need to say when I approach a poster is “Give me the five minutes or less version”. And if they go on longer than that, I just walk away.

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  7. bsci Says:

    I’m the opposite of CPP on this one. I find that my attention span is great for bouncing from poster-to-poster. Most people are quite reasonable when I say “give me the quick version” or “what’s the take home message” and I can always engage more when something is interesting. I have little patience sitting through an hour of 15 minute talks on the off chance that one of the speak well enough to say something interesting and hold my attention. Sure I can surf the web, but, if I’ve gone to a conference, I’d rather be learning new stuff.
    As for personal preferences, a high profile talk is best, but I’m no longer sure whether I prefer a 12 minute talk at an SFN-like conference with 90 overlapping talk sessions and mediocre scheduling of common themes in rooms. I’ve given a few too many talks where I get a couple of questions of feedback and nothing else. In those cases, I would have preferred the give & take of a poster presentation.

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  8. whimple Says:

    [while attending a platform presentation] they suck ass and I can surf the Web while they blather.
    I find people in the audience “using laptops” during platform presentations to be incredibly rude. Only ego freaks at the meeting of the very highest order do this.

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  9. tideliar Says:

    Fucking hell, I remember at at a conference a few years back the editor of one of the journals who rejected a manuscript of mine came by my poster and gave me the fucking third degree about the work. I *almost* told him to GFY…

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  10. I find people in the audience “using laptops” during platform presentations to be incredibly rude. Only ego freaks at the meeting of the very highest order do this.

    Why? Who gives a flying fuck if some douchebag in the audience isn’t paying attention? My philosophy is that if a speaker isn’t interesting enough to hold people’s attention, then she gets what she deserves.

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  11. anne Says:

    CPP,
    Why has the uninteresting boring presenter have to be a she???. Just curious.

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  12. DrugMonkey Says:

    anne, just about every indeterminate pronoun defaults to “she” in the CPP discourse.

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  13. bayman Says:

    Depends on whether your conference is full of sociopathic douchebags or not. Best case you get lots of stimulating exchange and discussion. Worst case…you stand at you poster for 3 hours no one says a word to you as they walk by snapping shots on their 12.1MP cameras and then rush back to their hotel rooms to crop your figures and paste them into their hot new manuscript. Your data (minus the “problematic” outliers) is published in C,N or S before you can say “wine and cheese.”

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  14. anne Says:

    I thought that the default in CPP’s discourse was douchebag (according to urban dictionary douchebags are “he” SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS)

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  15. Dr Becca Says:

    Presenting my poster is my absolute favorite part of any meeting. You work hard all year doing experiments and cranking out data, and finally you get to TELL someone about it! Someone who, since they’ve come to you, is at least a little interested in your work! It’s a nice feeling. And getting to chat with competitors/reviewers is fun, too. Or rather, it’s fun to see what they’re going to throw at you…I once had a competitor come up to my poster, whip out a ruler, and start measuring my error bars. People are so weird.

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  16. whimple Says:

    Why? Who gives a flying fuck if some douchebag in the audience isn’t paying attention? My philosophy is that if a speaker isn’t interesting enough to hold people’s attention, then she gets what she deserves.
    This is probably field specific and in your field half of the people at the meeting have their laptops propped open. In my field, only about 1% of attendees do this. Everyone else seems to think if they commit to attending the talk they can give the speaker some nominal amount of respect by paying attention for the duration of the talk. Do you do surf the web on your laptop at your departmental seminars too when the speaker disinterests you, or do you just get up and leave halfway through?

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  17. Do you do surf the web on your laptop at your departmental seminars too when the speaker disinterests you, or do you just get up and leave halfway through?

    If the speaker is just moderately boring, then I dick around with my blackberry. If the speaker is painfully gnaw-my-own-fucking-leg-off boring, then I just get up and fucking leave.

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  18. qaz Says:

    I agree completely with bsci #7. My attention span has completely vanished listening to some trainee (or worse some silverback) blather on about panel G of slide 5. But with a poster, I can always rush them on. I just cut in and say “yeah, I know X, but what about Y”. Or “skip to the end”. I find that I can titrate the time spent at a poster to how interesting it is. Talks just drive me crazy.
    And, um, Bayman #13, that’s both unethical and illegal. I think (at least in my field), it’d be pretty obvious and would pretty much permanently sink anybody who tried it (even a major silverback).
    Finally, I agree with Dr. Becca #15. I love presenting posters. I love interacting with competitors and friends (often the same people!) over my data (or theirs). Usually, we find that the subtle differences in what we are finding are the key to understanding what is really going on that neither of us would have realized if we had not presented or discussed our posters.

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  19. Venkat Says:

    CPP’s reasoning doesn’t add up. If anyone can get up and leave during a talk that they find boring (without much consideration of being disrespectful), there is no reason one cannot walk away as a trainee goes on and on about fig 3 of their poster.

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  20. DK Says:

    I like posters better than talks in every way, both as a seller and a consumer. Listening to talks would only be worse it if there were Fast Forward and Rewind buttons. Else, 90% of them is a waste of time. With the audience waiting for the next talk, there is rarely a room for serious discussion, too.

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  21. DK Says:

    would only be worse – “worth”, of course

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  22. Ria Says:

    I’ll preface my comment by saying that I prefer poster sessions as well. If the biggest draw of a meeting is to network, a poster permits much more effective networking than a presentation is likely to do (especially at very large meetings with concurrent sessions).
    Do presenters really get offended at laptops in the audience? I use mine to type up the notes on the talk. After all, I can type 140 wpm, but I can only hand-write a very small proportion of that. By typing, I can get down the relevant info as well as my thoughts on it.

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  23. When I give a poster presentation, I hit the fucking highlights like Sportscenter. I have a key figure or two picked out to show and a quick summary for folks that are on the run. If you want to stop and chat for a while, then lets delve into Figure 5, Panel A3. And if you even point a camera at my poster you are getting fucking knocked out.

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  24. If anyone can get up and leave during a talk that they find boring (without much consideration of being disrespectful), there is no reason one cannot walk away as a trainee goes on and on about fig 3 of their poster.

    What kind of social pathology do you have to not see the difference between being one among dozens or hundreds in a talk audience and just getting up and leaving versus being one-on-one with some poor-fuck blithering trainee at a poster and just walking away?

    Do presenters really get offended at laptops in the audience?

    Only self-important buffoons whose egos are invested in other people “paying attention” to them.

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  25. Venkat Says:

    “What kind of social pathology do you have to not see the difference between being one among dozens or hundreds in a talk audience and just getting up and leaving versus being one-on-one with some poor-fuck blithering trainee at a poster and just walking away?”
    “…if they go on longer than that, I just walk away.”
    It’s tough to gauge your level of ‘I don’t give a flying fuck’ from your comments, you know.

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  26. With posters you engage a couple of people, whereas with a talk you have a much broader audience. Only people who specifically care about what you are doing will take the time to stop at your poster, but you often have the opportunity as a speaker to connect with those who might otherwise not think they are interested in what you are selling. So, while a poster might offer more give and take with a couple of interested parties, a talk gives you more exposure – particularly as a trainee.

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  27. pinus Says:

    I am on the fence…I think both are valuable and productive depending on the circumstances.

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  28. At ASM (American Society of Microbiology) the poster goes up in the morning (by 9am), and is required to stay up all day. The first two-hour poster sessions doesn’t start until 10:30, and the second not until 1:30 (if my memory serves me correctly). No one (any longer) is bold enough to take shots of your poster DURING the poster session. They either do it entirely beforehand, or between sessions.

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  29. whimple Says:

    To the point, if you have the choice between giving a poster and giving a talk, you should give the talk every time. Poster-esque discussion of your work can always occur later at the bar.
    In terms of being in the audience, the work in talks is usually much closer to publication, including potentially having been submitted already (it is a major faux pas to give a talk about your already published work at the meetings I go to, other than as background). In contrast, work in posters is usually not nearly so developed and is usually stuff that might be several months away from being submitted, or that might wind up never being submitted when additional experiments are done. So, they’re both good. I wouldn’t go to a meeting that didn’t have both talks and posters. What I enjoy most actually are the lightning-round talks given by students/postdocs that were selected on the basis of abstracts they submitted for posters. These are usually something like 12 minutes to talk plus 3 minutes for questions. I find them fresh and entertaining, and about right for my attention span.

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  30. DK Says:

    And if you even point a camera at my poster you are getting fucking knocked out.
    Wow. Why do you present to begin with? I typically leave my poster hanging for as long as I can. It’s free advertising. That’s what posters are anyway (besides being a pretext for schmoozing). If it’s the last poster session, I don’t even bother taking it off. Carrying a tube back to home is such a hassle.

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  31. cookingwithsolvents Says:

    I’m w/ CPP; it’s worse than nails on a chalkboard to walk around a poster session. However, I do it for two reasons 1) you WILL find some great science and people and 2) because I’m young career and I have to recruit very actively.
    A word of supreme warning to poster presenters (especially younger scientists): every person is a potential interviewer/job opportunity. Drinking is common (and probably encouraged) but being sloppy is supremely unprofessional. So is making some dismissive comment about the background research for your own (likely the most interested parties are in your citation list…..you may not care too much about your background work but the PI’s you might want to postdoc for or will review your papers DO). I’ve eliminated several people I was interested in recruiting on the basis of poster interactions and I don’t think any of them even realized that they were talking to a job opportunity. . .
    Furthermore, at big conferences I prefer talks. At small, field-specific places I prefer talks because of the prestige but posters inevitably are very valuable sources of info.
    Finally: you sure it was a reviewer or just somebody insightful picking up on something obviously wrong (to them) with your research direction/methods/conclusions? food for thought…

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