Thursday, September 01, 2011

One day posters suck

We are talking about conference posters here, not posts on blogs. In general, there are two main types of presentations at scientific conferences; talk, and posters. Talks are generally supposed to appeal to a large number of people, and feature limited feedback between individual audience members and the speaker (aside from the occasional front-row tantrum, of course).

Posters are generally a more personal affair, wit the poster presenter and the one or two people listening engaging back and forth for as long as it takes to settle their differences.

Back in the good old days, when Demetrodon was our most advanced predator and mollusks ruled the seas, posters stayed up for the entire conference. This was great, because speakers could put the nettle gritty details of their methodology on their co-authors posters, and posters that describe methods used in a number of different talk sessions could all be centrally located. When I gave a poster at Goldschmidt in 2006- my last presentation before starting work in exploration, I had one person come by during the dedicated poster presentation time, Monday morning. But as the conference continued, and more and more people discussed interesting science based on what the lab was doing, more and more people started to swing by and discuss things, or ask me to walk them through the poster, and by Friday afternoon we had engineers from different mass spectrometer factories dueling with whiteboard markers of the the details of the ion optics.

Nowadays, this can’t really happen. At all of the major conferences I have been to since then, posters have been a one day affair. They are put up the day of the discussion, and taken down afterwards. And I reckon that this is an inferior system.

Firstly, it makes coordinating posters that related to multiple sessions difficult. Even within a session, if the timing of the talks and posters are not arranged well, you can have a speaker referring people to details in a poster that has already been taken down.

Of course, the flip side to one day posters is that you can halve four times as many of them, with commensurate increases in attendance (and fees?). But is it really necessary to bring more and more people together for less and shallower interaction? I thought that was what the internet was for.

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