How to make a science poster


Posters are like a scientific paper in miniature. However, they are more miniature than you might expect: most people will spend less than a minute looking at your poster. So, if you only had a minute to explain your study to someone, what would you say?

Posters tend to be more specific than the 'elevator pitch' you might give about your research (also in a minute).

Essentially, what scientists will expect from a great poster is a catchy title that communicates the essence of the result as well as its broader implications. They expect to at a glance be able to find the specific research question answered. They also expect to be able to just look at the results figures and from them understand what it is that you did and what the answer to the research question is.

If all this is not only interesting and clear, but also specifically relevant to the research of the person looking at the poster, then that person may ask you about more details, and may want to look in more detail at how exactly you made measurements, or may want to know references for things you claim, or may want to read in more detail what your results mean and why. They may then also want to look at results graphs in more detail, perhaps look at additional results not immediately relevant to the main question, etc.

If you have not been before, go to a poster session before you make your own poster. Look over some posters, then go back and look in detail at the one(s) you liked best. What did they do to grab your attention, and how did they communicate results?

Here are some practical suggestions.

- I make posters in PowerPoint. There are other programs that have specific advantages but it is what I have most experience in using.

- Get a poster template file. You can probably download one from somewhere, or you can ask students in the lab for an example. Remember to set page size correctly for the event where you are presenting.

- Reduce the number of words. Remember any block of text will only be read by the really interested audience members described above.

- Make the specific research question bold and large font and in a prominent place, perhaps its own 'box'.

- Make all figures self-explanatory. That means concise but specific axis labels, p-values in the figure or close by, use colors and icons or insets or arrows or whatever you need to visually clearly identify the results and what is relevant about them.

- include a schematic or photograph of your research methods. This typically will explain what you did faster and more clearly than a long explanation. Add some details in the text but understand that this will not be read by most of your audience.

- put the main conclusions also in a prominent place. Make sure they refer directly to the research question above, perhaps even put the direct answer in bold as well.

- pay attention: the resarch question, methods, main results, and conclusion all have to be a logical unit. I.e. the results actually answer the research question, the methods are the ones you need to get the result, etc. You can even have visual tools (an arrow, all in the same row, etc.) to emphasize this sequence and explicitly link a question to its answer. You can then have additional or 'side-' results further down.

- be very specific. This goes for all scientific writing and presenting. The more junior you are, the more you should work on this: state explicitly your hypotheses. Say explicitly how the results support or reject specific hypotheses. Say exaclty how the values on the axes were calculated. Say exactly what the results imply for the question and more broadly.

Finally, keep the poster. Sometimes there are venues where you can re-use (although you should generally never use the same poster for different professional events, nor for the same event in two different years). Otherwise, I expect all posters from the lab to go up in the hallway around our lab in BSW. Please hang it up there yourself, or ask Anna for hanging supplies or help.

Other websites with advice for making posters: here.



If you are signed up for research credit with me, you will be required to present a poster each semester. Even if you are not though (e.g. because you are on a FWS project), I highly recommend it: it is a learning experience you won't forget, it will improve your recommendation letter, and it will ensure like nothing else that you understand what your project was about and what the data mean, and how we got there.

Understand that 'making the poster', along with the required data analysis, will take you more than a week, AND you *must* have my approval for the final version before you can print it. This means that you should start making the poster at least a month before the poster session, and you should submit a first full draft, i.e. with all graphs and analyses already on it, to me at least 2 weeks prior to the poster session, better earlier. If you have not made a poster before, or if you have not followed the instructions here in detail, you are likely to go through multiple rounds of revisions with me until all is ship-shape and I will approve the poster for printing.

It is not crucial that your dataset is complete or large - many projects will have a very small sample size after only one semester. Also, it is fine to include data from other students or your mentor that are relevant to your project.

It is crucial that you have at least one statistics test and one graph that you made yourself. You can add other graphs from your mentor or others. It is also crucial that your poster presents something unique, i.e. a result that is not already on someone else's poster (although there may be partial overlap).

If you have any questions about how to do any of this, approach me or your research mentor well ahead of time, and with increasing frequency of reminders nearer the time if we don't respond. It is your responsibility to achieve all that is stated here.

In almost all cases, I can pay for the printing of the poster. Check with me first, but then print in the ENR building directly south of BSW. Tell them to charge to my account. I do have to have approved the poster first.