Are you preparing your poster for the upcoming Postgraduate Research Showcase? Kirsten Thompson, one of last year’s prize winner’s, offers her thoughts and tips for designing a poster.

Making a good poster, a really good poster, is not as easy as you might think and is an incredibly good skill to acquire. Think about attending large conferences with 4,000 delegates and hundreds and hundreds of posters. Do you want to spend the time reading the text of every one? Which ones catch your eye? Make you want to stop? Which ones do you walk away from feeling inspired and actually understanding the new discovery?

I found designing my poster for the University of Exeter Postgraduate Research Showcase 2016 a task which forced me to really focus the key findings of my research. I had to distil several years of research into a very small word count. I work on a deep diving oceanic Southern Hemisphere whale which we only very rarely see alive – Gray’s beaked whale. Almost all we know about this species is what we have inferred from genetic analyses. My poster attempted to tell the story of how this research has evolved and how the methods we have used have developed our understanding of the biology of such an enigmatic species.

Secrets of the Dead
Kirsten Thompson’s Winning Poster- Secrets of the Dead: Examining genetic kinship in Gray’s beaked whales

I was absolutely delighted to be the Winner of the STEM category! I am a part-time student also working part-time as well as being a mother to three teenage children. It was incredibly encouraging to have won this award, not only to be the recipient of the Amazon voucher, but also to be given recognition for the time, care and thought spent.

PGR Showcase Display in the Forum

I learned a huge amount and here are the key things that really stand out for me both when I was designing my poster and when I have spent hours floating through aisles of poster boards looking for one that will change my life (or research).

  1. You have less than one minute to capture your reader’s attention. Whose attention are you trying to capture – who is your audience? Make sure that the poster is inviting and the lettering is big enough. An abstract of 200 words is a useful test to make you focus the key findings of your work. Make sure that this abstract is easy to find. If you want the reader to take away key messages, draw the eye to them with bold. At least one good figure that tells your story will be appreciated.
  2. Less is more. Don’t make the poster too busy, it will take too much time to read and make the reader work too hard for the prize.
  3. Enjoy the process. You will learn a lot and if you love your research, let this joy flood out onto the page with some creative flair!
  4. Ask for advice from your co-authors. They also know your research and will probably have presented many posters in their time. The final decisions are yours, but if co-authors are willing to give advice you may learn something.

The University of Exeter Postgraduate Showcase is a valuable opportunity to trial your skills in presenting your research to a cross-disciplinary audience. You don’t have to win a prize to learn something and if you enter every year throughout your degree you will certainly hone your skills. It also gives you an opportunity to talk to people who know nothing about your work. Acquiring this skill will be critical as you present to much larger audiences and develop your career, whether in academia or not.

Written by: Kirsten Thompson- College of Life Environmental Sciences

This year’s showcase will take place all day 15th-17th May in the Forum Street, with prize ceremony on Wednesday 17th May starting at 14:00. For further information about the Postgraduate Research Showcase and to view previous winning posters visit the website here.