Developing and presenting a scientific conference poster that is effective can be a challenge. Here, an experienced pharmacy professor discusses his recent publication on the topic and provides insights which may benefit others.
Interview With: Adam Persky, Ph.D.
Interview By: Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D, BCPS-AQ ID
Across the spectrum of science professions and within the many specialties that exist, scientific conference poster sessions at professional meetings have provided a venue for idea sharing and networking.
In the profession of pharmacy alone there are hundreds conferences each year in the United States. From national to state to local gatherings, thousands of scientific posters are presented by pharmacists each year.
Preparing and delivering a scientific poster can be challenging. There are many factors to consider along with the instructions provided by the organizing conference body. Given that so much energy goes into pharmacy conference poster preparation and delivery, the topic is relevant to many pharmacists today.
Recently, a publication in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education authored by Dr. Adam M. Persky was published, garnering interest for its examination and discussion on the topic of pharmacy conference posters. This publication is here and free to access:
- Persky AM. Scientific posters: a plea from a conference attendee. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2016; 80 (10): article 162.
To further the conversation on this topic an interview with Dr. Persky was pursued. He accepted an invitation and the following were developed.
1. What prompted you to write an article about scientific posters?
The article about posters was on my mind for a while but there were precipitating factors.
I print posters for the School of Pharmacy so I see 150+ posters a year come through. There also were 2 recent precipitating factors:
(1) I wrote a recent piece about mentoring and the impact of my master’s advisor. She taught me a lot about being a professional and part of me wrote this piece on posters to honor her. She taught us how to present and make posters and I wanted to share her advice with others – with my own twist of course.
(2) I went to a psychology conference and saw some poorly designed posters. They were not any worse or better than posters I see at other venues. What occurred to me is some of these people are experts on attention or learning from multimedia – people you would think know how to take their research and apply it. I had a conversation with a graduate student at the conference about various posters and then decided to write about making posters. I wanted to take what the evidence says about attention or learning and put it into application – it is what I do every day in the classroom – apply what research says about learning.
2. When you say scientific posters are frequently more like a mini manuscript than an illustrated abstract, what do you mean?
What I mean by mini manuscript is a large fraction of posters have paragraphs of text explaining the background, the methods, the results and the discussion just like a manuscript except its on 1 large page. The goal of such posters seems to cram as much information on to a poster and later copy and paste that poster into a manuscript (conversely, people may write a manuscript and copy and paste it into a poster form). There is not much thought of what the conference attendee might experience. And frankly, its probably easier to write more than being much more selective.
3. Are the 10×10 rule, legibility index and KISS principle really all that important for scientific posters at professional conferences?
I think design principles are absolutely crucial to scientific posters.
Currently there is a large national conversation about STEAM or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) combined with the Arts because they work well together. You cannot be a great scientist without the humanities and arts. As I tell my students, no matter how smart you are or how great your research is, if you cannot communicate your knowledge you are not that impactful.
Everyday we experience road signs, placards in hospitals and pharmacies, and medical devices all built for functionality and the design elements of these things are as much about function as is the message or medication.
Imagine you are traveling down the highway and see a road sign you can’t read because the font is too small or it is full of text. By the time you read it, either you crashed into something else or you missed the turn. Signs are built for functionality.
People are inundated with more information now than ever and people are constantly looking for effective ways to communicate. I have spent the past 2 years trying to improve my writing and have read a few books on how to write. These books are full of examples of science writing that is confusing or misleading and how people should write in such a way that is more effective and clear. I even extended to this to how I email – the bottom line is up front – if you get 300 emails a day, you don’t want to spend time mulling though the tedium – get to the point of the email.
Posters are a communication venue. They need to be designed in such a way to communicate effectively given the context of the situation. If you spend 5 minutes reading a poster at a conference, you can get through 12 posters in an hour. There are usually a hundred or more posters at a big conference session – you miss so much unless you go in with a very strategic approach.
4. When it comes to scientific posters, does size really matter?
Size matters in terms of font and visuals.
Font and visuals need to be legible from a distance. Does it need to be proportional to a 4×7 photo or 16:9 TV screen? No, I think that is less important than legibility from a distance.
Personally, if things look stretched, it bothers me because I am use to looking at 4×7 photos, 16:9 screens, 8 ½ x 11 pieces of paper. It is more important that I can stand 5 feet away and read it. I just came from the eye doctor and need glasses for the first time in my life because I am having issues with text near to me – distance is fine – please don’t make me wear my glasses for your poster…
5. Is there a major piece of advice you can give for when preparing or presenting a scientific poster?
A major piece of advice for putting together a poster is to decide on the most single important point you want to communicate.
Pharmacists make decisions everyday on what to educate patients on. You have 3 minutes to communicate how to take a medication, the side effects and other relevant information. Posters are the same, what is the main message? Once you have that message, everything supports that message. The less important or less critical pieces of information can be filled in as needed through the verbal presentation / conversation or goes into the publication you should be working on if you are a junior faculty member or trainee. So that is piece of advice number two – posters are nice but manuscripts are the gold standard – so write, write, write!
As for the actual presentation, know your talking points. I am a strong introvert, I do not accost people to talk about my posters but if someone stops by and wants to chat, I am ready to answer their questions and try to focus on the main points – something I learned from media training – know your message and make sure your message gets heard.
6. Looking to the future, do you suppose scientific posters will remain a relevant means for communicating ideas within the medical community?
Yes, I don’t see posters going away.
Abstracts for posters are now stored electronically on apps or websites – easy to search and allowing people to get the latest research. The physical presentation I think will remain because it serves as a networking tool. During these sessions you meet people whose work you enjoy, you meet people with common interests, and relationships develop. If you are lucky, the conference will even be serving food and beverages as you circulate the posters.
7. In addition to your recent AJPE article, are there any other resources you would direct people to for helping prepare and present a scientific poster?
There are articles published in most health professions and disciplines about poster design. Some are listed within the article.
I think there are some decent websites that making for good talking points. I have not found the end all be all of poster design websites – maybe because there is a large degree of personal preference. I am sure some people strongly object to my recommendations.
My best advice for design, is :
(1) get an outside opinion when you design it to make sure its delivering the message you want.
(2) look around a poster session as strictly design aspects (forget about the content) and ask yourself, what seems to work and what may not work?
Posters are a venue for communication, like Twitter, abstracts, articles, and blogs. Good communication is difficult and we all should strive to be better communicators. Posters allow the visuals to mesh with the text and can be highly effective in delivering message if designed very intentional.
I would like to express my utmost appreciation to Dr. Persky for taking the time to complete this interview.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Adam Persky received his B.S. in biology from Purdue University and a MS in exercise science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He completed his Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Florida and did an industry-sponsored postdoctoral fellowship in pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and GlaxoSmithKline. In 2004 Persky joined the faculty at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy where he is currently a clinical associate professor in the Division of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics.
Within the pharmacy school, Persky teaches physiology and pharmacokinetics and has received several of the School’s teaching awards, including Best Overall Instructor. Persky was named an Atlantic Coast Conference Teaching Scholar during the program’s inaugural year (2009–2010). He has published articles on teaching and learning and is the associate editor for the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education and on the editorial board for College Teaching. He has given numerous workshops across the country on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning.
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