FigShare: Increasing the impact of scientific posters

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Scientists meet up periodically to share their findings, usually at one or more annual meetings. We share results usually in oral presentations or in the form of a poster that we put up and stand near, in case anyone wants to engage in discussion.

I went to the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE) this past summer. While at SMBE 2013 I saw several oral presentations, and perused through the posters, when I wasn’t presenting my own. I had a conversation with a PI who said something to the effect of, “I won’t attend a conference unless I am giving a talk.”

Okay, well, I suppose once one has obtained the level of status where talk invitations are constantly rolling in the door, I can understand being choosy about the presentation style for a conference. But, presumably, this PI will still have students and postdocs who will want to attend the conference, share their science, and get feedback on current projects. And most of those people will likely not have the prestige of giving a talk. So, how else to scientists share their results?

Posters!!

Too many posters.
But, a drawback of giving a posters is that, despite the larger potential audience, it often seems like few people care as much about learning from posters as they do from talks. Part of this may be the assumption that all the “best” research was chosen for an oral presentation. C’mon, though, we’re all in science. We know how arbitrary the talk selections can be. Another part, however, is that it is simply overwhelming to walk into a conference venue with 2000+ posters lined up. A lot of things might happen:

  1. You simply don’t have time to make it to all the posters you want to view.
  2. Even if you have the time to stop by every poster you want to look at, the presenter might be busy with other people, or away talking to other people.
  3. The titles you read through might not have captured the essence of the poster, resulting in overlooking a poster you might have really been interested in.

All those posters “disappear”.
After the conference, what happens to the posters? Sometimes they are brought back to labs and placed in the hallways. Sometimes they are abandoned at the conference site. And sometimes they’re just resigned to join a roll of “previous posters”, where eventually the paper will be recycled.

But, there’s another option now.

Sharing posters on FigShare
I decided that from now on I will also post pdf files of my posters on FigShare. Now, if you can’t make it to my poster, or didn’t attend the conference, or didn’t even know you were interested in it, you can check out my posters! I think it would be wonderful if conferences started encouraging participants to upload versions of their posters to FigShare, and then compiling them for conference participants to skim prior to attending the meeting.

Another great feature of FigShare is that you can link to relevant material (and update when it becomes available). So for each of these, I linked either to the published version of the paper, or to the arXiv submission. 

Below are links to three recent posters (including an upcoming presentation):



20 Comments

Posters presented at scientific conferences are part of the intellectual output of the researcher. It is highly appropriate for a summary of that research to be made available to the public, especially if that research was funded by federal tax dollars. I commend M. Wilson Sayres for uploading your posters to FigShare and for bringing this practice to the attention of Panda’s Thumb.

My research lab provides an institutional repository as part of our Open Access policy. The repository contains mostly peer-reviewed journal papers, but any intellectual output is welcome and indexed in the archive. I submit published papers, articles, presentations, and posters to the archive. Some readers don’t want to plow through a scientific paper for various reasons, and a poster is a great way to present a summary of the research in a friendly format.

Melissa wrote “…I saw several oral presentations…”

Cool! Did you hear any posters? (/snark)

Melissa -

I just downloaded your three FigShared posters for free free free. Who pays for this operation? (Presumably not the U.S. Government. ;-) ) What is FigShare’s business model?

Carl Drews said:

Melissa -

I just downloaded your three FigShared posters for free free free. Who pays for this operation? (Presumably not the U.S. Government. ;-) ) What is FigShare’s business model?

it appears that they are funded by a company called Digital Science.

Their preferred capitalization looks like this: figshare.

Right now M. Wilson Sayres’ poster view counts at figshare are:

  • Boston: 104
  • Chicago: 59
  • Dublin: 61

And she hasn’t even gone to Boston yet. Question: Is it possible that more people will view these posters on-line at figshare than will view them in person at these conferences? Do you expect more than 100 people in Boston to come by and read your poster?

Bear in mind that the figshare view counts increment by one each time I refresh that page in my browser. I’ll lay off now.

And most of those people will likely not have the prestige of giving a talk.

Two questions: Why won’t they? and What prestige? When I go to meetings, I see a lot of student talks. In my experience, whether you go for a talk or a poster depends not on prestige but about whether your story works as a talk. If it doesn’t, you go for a poster. I don’t recall ever hearing of a talk that was submitted on time being refused because they were all full up. After the deadline, maybe. Do we just go to different meetings?

John Harshman said:

And most of those people will likely not have the prestige of giving a talk.

Two questions: Why won’t they? and What prestige? When I go to meetings, I see a lot of student talks. In my experience, whether you go for a talk or a poster depends not on prestige but about whether your story works as a talk. If it doesn’t, you go for a poster. I don’t recall ever hearing of a talk that was submitted on time being refused because they were all full up. After the deadline, maybe. Do we just go to different meetings?

You go to different meetings than I do, anyway. Getting a talk at some meetings is very hard.

Steve Schaffner said:

You go to different meetings than I do, anyway. Getting a talk at some meetings is very hard.

During graduate school I was declined by the organizers of a small conference to give a talk during the plenary (and only group) session. They said that I had not accomplished enough research to report. But I still have this lovely poster on my office wall! Apparently I had not yet learned about rounded corners on rectangles when I made that particular poster. And my background colors were too saturated.

For my own field, there are two main meetings I attend: Evolution and SMBE (Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution). In my limited experience, at the Evolution meetings, anyone who wants to can give a talk - this sometimes leads to 15+ concurrent sessions, while at the SMBE meetings, being selected to give a talk is very rare, and viewed as a reflection of the quality and impact of the work.

M. Wilson Sayres said:

For my own field, there are two main meetings I attend: Evolution and SMBE (Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution). In my limited experience, at the Evolution meetings, anyone who wants to can give a talk - this sometimes leads to 15+ concurrent sessions, while at the SMBE meetings, being selected to give a talk is very rare, and viewed as a reflection of the quality and impact of the work.

I like the Evolution meeting better, even if there are lots of concurrent sessions. Didn’t go this year, but last year there were some amazing student talks. Fie upon theee, SMBE.

I had my students mostly give their papers in an “organized session.” I was supervising a bunch of them at a time, and what they were doing was basically what I was interested in that year (or three). So, once or twice a year I would collect abstracts and submit them to a conference.

I really enjoyed watching them give their papers. I liked it even more that these were undergraduates from a community college. I was over joyed that my professional colleagues were in the audiences taking notes, and later recruiting my CC kids for their university programs. It became a sort of tradition.

We only tried posters twice. It does not fit with a research group project.

John Harshman said:

I like the Evolution meeting better, even if there are lots of concurrent sessions. Didn’t go this year, but last year there were some amazing student talks. Fie upon theee, SMBE.

Haha - they are quite different in organization, in focus, and in the general climate. My research interests span both conferences, so usually I alternate.

Poster sessions give the opportunity for real, detailed discussion, but I think that they are unfortunately considered second-string or overflow. Once when I had to give a paper to an international conference in Paris, I submitted my paper as a poster. I immediately drew the response, “Oh no! Your paper is too important to be a poster paper. Please resubmit as a ‘regular’ paper.” I argued a little, but then I did as I was told, thus perpetuating the stereotype and relegating real, detailed discussion to the hallways.

Matt Young said:

Poster sessions give the opportunity for real, detailed discussion, but I think that they are unfortunately considered second-string or overflow.

Posters can be excellent. OTOH, I think many presenters spend more effort fine tuning their talks vs. their posters, if for no other reason than the common fear of public speaking. I’ve often sought out “practices” for a talk, but I’ll admit I’ve never done that for a poster. Moreover, speaking is far less efficient than the written word, meaning talks generally cover less…which can push presenters to focus. Thus, talks may tend to be tighter or more focused on the important points.

Not always - I’ve listened to some real snoozers, as I’m sure everyone has - but ideally, the talk format is superior in that it forces good presenters to really think about the message they need to communicate. As Twain (or was it Lincoln?) said - if I’d had more time, I would’ve written a shorter letter. Talks are like the ‘shorter letter’ - getting them right takes more effort.

Gary_Hurd said:

I really enjoyed watching them give their papers. I liked it even more that these were undergraduates from a community college. I was over joyed that my professional colleagues were in the audiences taking notes, and later recruiting my CC kids for their university programs. It became a sort of tradition.

We only tried posters twice. It does not fit with a research group project.

Wonderful! I think CC students often get overlooked, so it’s great to hear that you’re supporting them, and they’re receiving recognition.

eric said:

I’ve often sought out “practices” for a talk, but I’ll admit I’ve never done that for a poster.

In my graduate lab we practiced both talks and posters at lab meetings. I thought it was wonderful, and something I’d like to continue in my own lab.

As Twain (or was it Lincoln?) said - if I’d had more time, I would’ve written a shorter letter.

Pascal.

“Brevity is the soul of wit”?

Some messages are good for talks, others for posters. When I have a talk-worthy subject to communicate, I do a talk. When I have a poster-worthy subject, I do a poster. When I have neither, I see what other people are doing. And I’ve seen talks that would have made better posters and posters that would have made better talks.

John Harshman said: When I have a talk-worthy subject to communicate, I do a talk. When I have a poster-worthy subject, I do a poster. When I have neither

…You write blog entries for ENV? ;)

(To be clear, that jab isn’t directed at you, but at them.)

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by M. Wilson Sayres published on October 1, 2013 8:08 AM.

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