04 January 2016

AGU Poster Session Basics

I enjoyed meeting many RDA data users at the 2015 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, including two graduate students from IIT Delhi.

The AGU Fall Meeting is always a bit of a homecoming for me as I catch up with colleagues and school friends. (I attended both high school and college within 20 miles of Moscone Center so it is literally a homecoming as well.)

With over 24,000 attendees over the five days of the meeting, it is not logistically possible to give everyone an oral presentation slot.  Moreover,  many find condensing their work into a 12-minute talk difficult.

Most attendees will be offered a spot in a poster session, which allows ample time for face-to-face (f2f) discussion.  Many find the f2f discussion so helpful, they present their work twice in oral AND poster sessions.  I've often seen professors give oral talks and refer the audience to the poster(s) of the graduate student(s) for more details about the work in the talk.

If you haven't attended an AGU before, the AGU Poster Presenter Guidelines are a good place to start.  But, they don't adequately give you a feel for what these sessions are like.

Each day, there are four poster sessions of two hour duration each--two in the morning and two in the afternoon with a coffee (AM) or beer (PM) break in between.  Presenting authors are required to stand near their posters for at least one of those two hours.  In practice, people stand by their poster part of the time, and view the other posters in the session the rest of the time.

Presenters put their poster up before 8:00 AM and take them down after 6:00 PM on the day of their poster session.  That gives people who could not attend the poster session's appointed time a chance to peruse the work.

Occasionally, as in the picture below, the organizer for the poster session will give a time for a "Flash Mob".  A flash mob moves down the aisle and listens as each poster presenter gives a 2-minute poster summary.  After the mob has given each presenter two minutes, people with similar interests and concerns tend to congregate and discuss the work in more detail.
RDA data specialist, Tom Cram, presenting his poster to a flash mob at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting.
Poster sessions are not a consolation prize for not snagging an oral slot.

Think of them as free research coaching sessions.  When I was starting out, I was amazed at the number of more experienced researchers who listened to me and gave me ideas about what to try next.

They are also great networking opportunities.  The people you literally hang with in the poster session are all grouped together because your research focus or techniques have something in common.  Get to know them and their work.  Exchange contact information.  Make up some business cards if you haven't already done so.  Find out if they are going out for food or drink after the session and tag along.

Try to find new collaborators outside of your school.  But protect yourself.  They may also be competing with you for research grants.  Demonstrate and talk up your unique skills (analysis, writing, programming) and resources (data, software or experimental equipment) so they will want to collaborate with you rather than scoop you.

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