I submitted – admittedly, a bit last minute – what I thought was a pretty tasty conference submission earlier this year. It was 1000 words of international comparisons in higher education, heavy on social theory, and on a hot topic on which there really is no research. It should have been a winner, right? Wrong…I was mortified, for the first time in my career, to be given the opportunity to present it as a poster. Boo.
Why the long face? A conference poster is ranked below a conference presentation, and basically implies that you squeaked in by the skin of your teeth. Still, it’s better than an absolute rejection. I’ve never had one of those… I did a number of reviews for the same conference, and the range of quality, coherence and originality of the submissions I reviewed was varied, but I didn’t reject anything outright. Somehow, I’d come in below the main cut – but not amputated from the proceedings completely.
My initial indignation (yes, bruised ego) nudged me in the direction of turning the whole thing down. That would have been a simple case of throwing the toys out of the pram. Unofficial enquiries about submissions for the conference revealed that they had been massively oversubscribed this year, and the chances of acceptance were potentially linked to the popularity of the theme, or strand, you submitted to. Some were simply more competitive than others. At least it was better than an outright objection. I spoke to a few colleagues, and decided that this presented (excuse the pun) an opportunity for a learning experience – I’d never done a poster before – and I really wanted to attend the conference. It’s the first year I’ve had the budget to be able to go, and it is probably in the top two or three conferences in my area.
So, a poster. Surely this would be easier than delivering a paper as a presentation. Those only last about 15 minutes but somehow it still takes a day to put the wretched thing together. I already had 1,000 words. Distilling that down into a single page would be easy peasy. I had some ideas in my head about how to shape it, and I thought an afternoon would take care of it. Wrong…
There are some nice resources out there on how to do posters, and the two principles that stood out for me were that it had to be:
- Simple enough to scan in about a minute from a metre away, and;
- Not like most of the other examples online.
I think I hit the first one pretty well, the second perhaps less so…it was actually quite hard to put together. Take a Powerpoint slide, don’t let your fonts get anything below 24 points in size, and put together a logical argument that has both depth and simplicity. All in, I spent about three days on it.
Lying awake one night, long before sitting down to do it in earnest, I’d imagined what I’ll call the centrepiece – a way of presenting the findings in a way I thought was accessible and attractive. With this in my head, everything else had to fit in with/around it. Perhaps there was a better way, but this was the one that I got attached to and I then had to align the rest of it somehow. I agonised over a draft and posted it on Facebook, asking for academic and non-academic friends alike to tell me what they thought of it. I thought this was important as the non-academics might look at it from a more presentational, rather than content, perspective. I got loads of feedback, which, in short, went like this:
- Reduce the text;
- Simplify the argument;
- Change the colours;
- Make the flow between sections more logical;
- Sort out your typos;
I took all of this on board, and the result is below. I think I could have done something more creative/picturesque, given more time, but I didn’t have any. I learnt a great deal in the process, as I’d hoped, and the conference was fantastic, very much worth attending. The poster sessions, though, were squeezed onto the end of the lunch breaks, and so I’m not sure if anyone looked at it. Doh!!