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How to Construct a Killer SLAS2019 Poster

By Mike Tarselli, Ph.D.

Fame. Fortune. Recognition. The accolades and adoration of your scientific peers. All this could be yours if you win the SLAS2019 Student Poster Competition! Enter by Oct. 29. (OK, that’s hyperbolic, but at least the parts about recognition and scientific growth hold water. And hey…$500 in prize money is nothing to sneeze at.)

Let’s say you’re a student and you’ve never presented a poster before. That’s OK; we’ll coach you on how to get on our poster submission radar and enter the fray. For those grizzled postdocs and more senior researchers, maybe the tips included below will help you to improve your chances. After all, pre-tenure junior faculty can also compete! Note: EVERYONE can submit poster abstracts for SLAS2019 consideration through Jan. 21, 2019, but only those early in their career who submit by Oct. 29 can compete. The hundreds of posters presented each year truly showcase the innovation happening in our community.

Tell the Story

At its most basic, a good poster tells a single scientific story inside a specified frame. (For SLAS2019, this is 3 feet 7 inches [109 cm] across and 3 feet 6 inches [107 cm] high.) The poster gives a clear reason for why you performed the research and what problem you tried to solve. It shows more than it tells. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a proxy for the passion and interest you (the presenter) have for your work. We’ll go section-by-section [guidelines here] to try and help you maximize your chances to be selected.

Title: Aim for something short, pithy and informative. If you go over about 12 words, you might have too much content to fit on a single poster. Think of this like an ad tagline – I should be able to see it from across the floor and think “Hmm, that’s interesting…”

Overview: SLAS requires “a succinct summary” of the work. Why should I stop at your poster? What’s the scope of your lab’s research, and how do you fit in? What problem did you try to solve, and how did it go? Some believe that the overview, like a journal abstract, should explain enough to the reader that it could stand alone.

Introduction: This subtly communicates to judges and readers alike. Too little content, and you don’t come across as informed. Too much, and we wonder if you haven’t just grabbed text from a longer paper elsewhere, or maybe the end result isn’t really that exciting. Aim for about 20 percent of the poster “real estate” for this, with a nod or two to other work (which you can also append as a reference). Try for fewer words, relying instead on a picture, diagram or visualization to help us along.

Methods: Perhaps this is the most sleep-inducing and potential tripwire of your poster. Remember, we want to see the result and how you communicate it; the methods used must be present for completeness, but don’t dally here too long. As with all poster sections, limit long paragraphs full of inscrutable jargon and extensive acronyms. Ask yourself: If someone stopped by during an evening hour, and I wasn’t here, could they still understand the content?

Results: Show, show, show! Colors, images, complex instrumentation, organs on chips, sample racks, animal tissues with beautiful fluorescent stain. Anything visual immediately jumps out and improves your chances. The best posters I’ve judged (and constructed) have all the text, title and presentation aimed at displaying this cool result. Think of this as the flourish of your work, the “Ta-DAH!” moment of the entire poster. Enthusiasm at this point helps dramatically.

Conclusions:

  • Short
  • Maybe bulleted list
  • No more than three items
  • (Unless you really, really need a fourth to help you out)

 

Not to belabor the point, but passion and excitement for your work should beam through the poster board like a blow torch. For motivation, read about the experiences of John, Sri Teja and Xiao, the happy winners at SLAS2018. Their topics ranged from microfluidic deformation assays and T-Cell enhancements to CRISPR-Cas9 editing of zebrafish to study metabolic changes. But the interest and passion for their science spills out onto the page, and certainly in their talks.

Of course, the scientific program committee members and SLAS professional team stand ready to help you out. With your dynamic contributions, we can make this the most diverse, interesting and educational poster session yet. I look forward to seeing what you submit. Good luck.

If you are a more technically minded or visual learner, feel free to peruse these author guidelines for the two SLAS flagship journals for further information. Happy submitting!

October 1, 2018