We recently had a small poster session for our fourth year undergraduate thesis students. The event caused me to reflect on why I often hate poster sessions at academic conferences. I often don’t like these events for a variety of reasons and it doesn’t really matter if I’m presenting a poster, or whether I’m looking at or evaluating posters.
Here’s my list of poster session pet peeves in no particular order:
1) Lack of space to manoeuver. Poster boards are big and awkward. Leave enough space to walk up and down the rows of posters. These spaces are often tight and cramped. This is irritating to deal with as an able-bodied person and these events are often not physically accessible for anyone who has mobility issues or uses assistive devices. Not cool!
2) Poor poster locations. I always feel bad for the person who ends up with a poster display next to the washroom, right beside the bar, next to the food table, or in the dark corner in an out of the way spot. Even worse are posters that are spread across multiple floors in a convention centre. If I need a compass or GPS to find your poster that is a problem.
3) Placement of food and beverages. Put these in a place that makes sense and a bit of distance away from the posters. These are high traffic areas that massively impede flow and cause major disruptions to getting around.
4) Overwhelming acoustics. Poster sessions are loud because people like to talk, catch up, and share ideas. Having poster sessions in rooms where the sound bounces around and is amplified sucks. As someone who wears hearing aids, this is a special kind of purgatory.
5) No plan for when presenters should be at their posters. Sometimes presenters are never at their posters, but this can mostly be avoided by giving presenters time slots that they should be physically at their poster in order to interact with others.
6) The conference creeper who behaves inappropriately at poster sessions. Have a code of conduct in place so that there is a mechanism for receiving complaints of harassing or threatening behaviour and so that they can be reported and dealt with effectively. Check in with your trainees during the session to make sure that they are having a positive experience.