Why giving a conference poster is like going to court

By Nick

My first poster session went really well, I got loads of interest, some really good questions and lots of ideas. But boy was it an ordeal.

Two hours of standing next to your poster. During this time I had an almost constant stream of people coming and asking questions. Probing, inquiring. What have I done, what does my data show, did I think about this, why didn’t I do that? Have I considered the possibility of being completely wrong. It is exhausting have to stand there and defend your poster and your work as academic after academic comes over and tries to pick holes in it all. It felt like being a lawyer in court, standing up and arguing for the defendant (my PhD) in the face of a barrage of questions.

Of course it wasn’t really that bad. Bar a couple of annoying people, most were enthusiastic about what I had done, and were certainly keen on seeing the record published. I talked to some great academics, both established and up and coming. It was exhausting, yes, especially being out in the hot Goan sun, but it was quite the experience, and really rather good fun.

There are some things I have learnt that really help. Admitting what you don’t know is great. Especially in front of the big shot professors. Stand behind your data and defend it to the death, but be flexible about your interpretations. Expecting to have data that will change the world and the wealth of knowledge of long standing academics is a bit over-optimistic. Science works in gradual incremental steps.

I must say that I think I am very much a convert to the poster as a way of presenting my work. I got loads of good feedback and a chance to meet a couple of big names in the paleoclimate world. The overall reach of a poster is probably less, but in terms of reaching those that matter, those that are interested, then a poster is far more penetrating. It certainly beats a talk where no-one really cares.

2 responses to “Why giving a conference poster is like going to court

  1. I wonder if it is your field that make it like being in court. I recall poster session I did at a big AGU conference wherein I stood by my poster for the requisite time period and almost no one stopped by to talk about it at all. I guess there weren’t many metamorphic petrologists in amongst all of the 100′s of other specialities at that conference.

  2. nick@oncirculation

    I think the fact it was a small conference really helped – it was pretty hard not to read the title of almost every single poster so that you could then pick and choose which ones were interesting. I can imagine that at AGU, a poster can easily get lost – even by those that would have wanted to see it – there are just so many. I’ll be going to my first AGU this year, yet to decide whether a talk or poster would be better.

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