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Values in Science – How to Judge Scientific Posters

24 Jun

(apologies if this post isn’t super clear — I just wanted to get it out)

I haven’t posted in ages, but I am at a conference, I can’t sleep, and something is on my mind, so I figured I’d strike while the iron is hot.

I’m at the 2010 Computational Science Graduate Fellowship Fellows Conference in Washington D.C. This evening I had the pleasure of serving as a judge for a poster competition. The current fellows present posters on their graduate research. The poster topics shared the theme of “computational science”, but besides that they can be from any discipline. I’m not going to discuss the specifics of the posters here.

The basic criteria we judged posters on were visual, oral, and impact.

To me, there are fundamental rules governing effective poster design. For example, in the visual category, use no paragraphs of text, and large fonts (even in figures), and well balanced graphics. In the oral category, have a 3 minute speech prepared, and refer to the poster when delivering that speech. I was surprised, however, how other judges had vastly different values when evaluating the work submitted. Most specifically, some judges felt that work of high scientific quality could compensate for poor poster presentation.

Have you ever designed or seen a scientific poster? If so, what do you think are the most important criteria for evaluating this sort of work?

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7 Comments

Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Alchemy

 

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7 responses to “Values in Science – How to Judge Scientific Posters

  1. Tom Mansell

    June 24, 2010 at 12:21 am

    enable me to figure out what the hell you did and WHY in a minute or less. a clear abstract is clutch for me. a poster could represent years of work, so boil it down to the essential experiments and results.

    i shouldn’t have to work in your lab group to know what’s going on in the poster. make it accessible.

     
  2. halfawake

    June 24, 2010 at 12:29 am

    Tom – I totally agree. We told presenters to explain what was going on in 2-3 minutes, and some of them went up for 10 minutes before I had to cut them off. It’s really refreshing when someone asks what your background is before starting their spiel.

    How important do you think it is that the poster stand on its own with no presenter standing by?

     
  3. Olivia

    June 24, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I haven’t judged science posters, but I was a judge at a history competition & judged posters for that…some of the issues are the same. Going in I was really worried that a person with high-quality research inadequately displayed on a poster would be up against someone with good research displayed excellently on a poster, and that’s exactly what happened. We had to reward the better poster, and we recommended that the person with the high-quality research but mediocre poster submit to the research paper category the next year. It was so tough, though!!

     
  4. Jason

    June 24, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Even at Communication conferences, where you’d figure that a good verbal/visual blend would be the gold standard, top poster awards seem to go to the presentations based on the “best” (read: quantitatively/methodologically/”scientifically” detailed) research. I’ve seen only a few really excellently designed posters at such conferences. I’d rather see more posters that let me get an idea of what the study was about from a brief glance, offer figures or graphics to illustrate the points if I feel like sticking around, and encourage me to talk to the presenter if I want more detail. It should be considered academically suspect to show up with a bunch of all-text pages printed out to stick to the wall.

     
  5. halfawake

    June 25, 2010 at 12:16 am

    @Olivia and @Jason, thanks for the comments.

    We had one judge who explicitly called for giving an award to a poster because it was based on work that was published in nature. That doesn’t make sense to me.

    Occasionally we see posters that are just power point presentations printed out on 8-1/2 x 11 sheets and pinned up.

    Anyways, it’s a subject I have strong feelings about. I really hate to see a bad poster get an award because a judge liked the research. I guess the people funding these things need to clearly define the goals of the competition.

     
  6. weirleader

    June 28, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I think you make a good point. Not that I’ve ever been in a poster-judging situation, but any type of judgment (even grading an exam) affords the opportunity for various biases to creep in. From what you’ve expressed, it seems clear to me that the poster (and not the research) is the intent of the judging, but it seems a prior discussion amongst the judges would have been beneficial… and perhaps even a breakdown of the intent of the judging from whoever was setting this up.

     
  7. halfawake

    June 28, 2010 at 10:51 am

    @weirleader I made a similar suggestion to the organizers for next years contest. I mean, I can imagine a poster contest where “research quality” is a factor in the judging. But if that’s the case, we should be explicit about it.

     

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