Six reasons why PhD students should make poster presentations

Do you have a poster presentation at the upcoming Experimental Biology meeting? Check this blog out to see why poster presentations are great for trainees!


By John Finn

Six reasons why PhD students should make poster presentations

When visiting other institutions, I love learning about people’s research  by reading their posters. Here’s a picture of the wall outside my own office…
Are research posters a good use of time and effort? I’ve been intending to write a post about posters since PhDSkills began…so here it is! I’ve been putting it off because there is so much to talk about, and this will be the first of several posts on posters. Here, I outline six advantages of posters.

I think that early-career researchers are much more able to disseminate information via posters than many of  their senior colleagues. This was very apparent to me at a recent conference, where I witnessed a 6-foot tall poster (it was more like wallpaper) with size 12 font – the authors (three senior researchers) seemed to have simply copied and pasted an entire research report into a poster format. This poster attracted the attention of everyone at the conference – but no-one noticed its research content!

I am a keen advocate of poster presentations for PhD students (and all researchers) for a number of reasons.

  1. Posters clarify thinking. This is probably the most important function of a poster, especially at the early stages of a PhD or any research project. The creation of a poster is a form of writing, and like all writing, forces the writer to focus on clarifying and expressing a clear message. This is probably one of the most important functions of a poster for PhD students, as it is probably one of your first public dissemination of your work. This is a great opportunity to focus some energy on thinking about: What is my main message? What are my priority arguments or pieces of evidence? Why are they important to my target audience? How can I best present my main message?
  2. Posters are an effective dissemination tool. When well-designed, posters can be an excellent way of disseminating research information. This doesn’t have to be at a conference! As in the picture above, the use of posters in your own research institution are a great way of informing others about your research. These ‘others’ are not just visitors from somewhere else! You will be amazed at how little your colleagues know about your research – a poster can be the easiest way method to address this. When your colleagues know more about your research, they can better discuss it, offer new perspectives and perhaps spark up new collaborations and projects – which can mean a new research article or a new job.
  3. Posters will help you travel the world. Many researchers can only justify their attendance at a conference or workshop if they are making an oral or poster presentation. For early-stage researchers, a poster presentation can be less threatening than an oral presentation at a conference. Many conferences now allocate a 3- or 5-minute oral presentation for poster presenters to advertise their wares – I think that these are really effective. Use this time to generate an emotional attachment to your work (a short relevant anecdote, the importance of your work, relevance to policy, unexpected results etc.) to attract visits to your poster, rather than trying to cram all your results into 3 minutes.
  4. Poster sessions can sometimes be more rewarding than oral presentations.The most rewarding conferences are those where you have made good links with other researchers or stakeholders with an interest in your work, and vice versa. Oral presentations are generally a one-to-many flow of information, with the exception of the questions at the end. This question time can generate great questions, but the discussion is always a little stilted when in front of a crowd. In contrast, poster sessions where you stand by your poster and engage passers-by can allow you to engage in more extended one-to-one discussion with people who are interested in your work.
  5. Posters can complement your online profile. There are numerous online repositories of posters, and more conferences are now uploading posters (not just related abstracts) to poster galleries. This can help you use Twitter, Facebook or other social media to link to and promote the content of your poster. Similarly, you can include a QR code on your poster to link to your blog or other relevant online resource. I occasionally practice what I preach, and used a QR code on a poster for the first time recently, (bottom left of poster below) to link to the abstract of a journal article on which the poster was based.
  6. Posters can help extend your network. See points 2, 3, 4 and 5.

PhD Skill: The ability to create effective poster presentations is an important research skill. Make a poster about your research today – even if it just to describe what you intend to do in your research. There are at least six reasons why this is to your advantage!
There are LOTS of great online poster resources, and I’m going to collate some of them in a future post. If I had to pick one, it would be ‘Designing conference posters’ by Colin Purrington.

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