Last week, Brian Ekdale made a really important post on his blog about the value of poster sessions, prompting me to add my own insights to this very valuable topic.
I also went through the same changes in perspective that Brian describes about poster sessions – from feeling like it is a dismissal of my paper to being one of my favorite parts of attending a conference. The feedback is awesome, the ability to talk one-on-one to a variety of scholars is great – and something you often don’t get at a formal presentation.
However, moving to a more poster sessions has its drawbacks. Conference presentations are meant to not only give scholars a format in which to communicate their research, but also to offer young scholars a place to develop their presentation skills. I have felt this benefit personally: presenting at conferences has made me more confident in talking to my research to others and has been invaluable in the classroom. When I graduated with my B.A., I was still uncomfortable presenting in front of large groups of people – an obvious drawback for any aspiring professor. But years of conference presentations have largely removed this fear and left me more confident in my ability to present effectively.
Thus, I think the most valuable format would be a hybrid of these two approaches. Last year, I had the opportunity of presenting in two “high-density” research sections, which I thought were the perfect combination of presentation and poster. Each presenter (8 and 12 in the two sessions I was in) was given four minutes to give an overview of their paper. The rest of the time was basically a poster session, where the audience was free to walk around and talk to the researchers about their paper. This format maintains the benefits of presentation: it gives scholars the opportunity to briefly present their research – and a four-minute overview of a paper is more likely to be useful in talking to others than a more thorough 12-15 minute presentation. This format also eliminated one of the more awkward components of the poster session – walking by a poster that you know little about and finding the research less interesting to you than you thought. Audience members know exactly which papers they are most likely to find interesting and can develop some of their questions before heading over and talking to the presenter. Finally, it also gives scholars at least a brief outline of what people outside their area of expertise/interest are investigating: too often I find that poster sessions allow me to target too well on those papers I am interested in, making it probable that I miss some other projects that could be fascinating.
Thus, in the debate over poster vs. panel session, I come down in the middle – why can’t we preserve the benefits of both?