I mentor a lot of students in research, and have for years. I’ve gotten to go to a lot of undergraduate research conferences in addition to professional veterinary conferences. I’ve seen posters which were good, bad, and in between. I don’t have a perfect formula for success, but I think the posters my students put together are better than most. Here are my tips.
1) Use Powerpoint. Build your poster in PowerPoint. Use a single slide. Adjust the size by going to the Design tab, then the “Slide Size” icon. Make the size whatever the standard poster size is for the conference. If it is unspecified, a size I have used is 54” wide 36” high. Most institutions have templates you can use if you’re unsure of how to start.
2) Create text boxes by going to the Insert tab, then the “Text Box” icon. Draw the text box where you want it and then move as necessary. Use a large enough font that it could be read from a couple feet away- I recommend at least 36 and preferably 54. Create a separate box for the Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion.
3) Use at least one image and preferably 2. If you need more to represent your Results, that is fine- check with your mentor. Represent your data using images or, possibly, tables rather than put it into the text. If all of your relevant data can be expressed with the images, you don’t need a written Results section.
4) Use bullet points or short sentences. You don’t want people spending a lot of time reading. You want them to glance to get an idea of your project so they can decide to read more or, better yet, to engage with you during the poster session. Don’t detail all of your methods on the poster. If it’s all written out, what is someone going to ask you about? Ditto with the Results. Which is better:
A) Someone approaches your poster while you stand there, leans in close to read all your details, grunts and walks off
B) Someone approaches your poster while you stand there, glances at a couple of points, asks you a detail about the methods, you give a knowledgeable response, and now you have a conversation about your work?
5) Less text. I am giving this a second list number because it’s so important. I continue to see a MAJORITY of posters with way too much text. Just give a bare bones outline. This is basic storytelling: leave them wanting more.
6) Have it printed by your own-campus resources. You could have it commercially printed, but most universities have a printing office which will do it for free or you can use research funds from your mentor to pay for it.
7) Ask around for a poster carrying case. You don’t need to buy your own if you are traveling for a conference- someone in your department has one. Ask nicely if you can borrow it. Send an email out to the department if necessary.
That’s it! An above-average poster for your first professional conference.