Friday links: how to make science more accessible and posters more effective, and more

Also: rural communities can be revived by creating/growing college towns, and more!

From Meghan:

I enjoyed this blog post by Amy-Charlotte Devitz about the anxiety that comes along with needing to wonder if events, buildings, etc. will be accessible. She notes:

you don’t want to make people feel like a burden because of their accessibility needs. Feeling like an inconvenience or annoyance is an everyday struggle for me and it is one shared by many others, especially if their disability is not an obvious one.

It’s definitely relevant to those of us who organize events and who teach. Charlotte’s piece reminded me of this earlier Chronicle piece about creating a welcoming classroom, where the author, James Lang, talks about an event he attended related to accessibility. At the event, a student said:

What we don’t want is to be made to feel like we are a burden to you because we have requested accommodations. Many of us already have this feeling that we’re burdening you, and it really helps if you can treat us like you want us to be in your course. We’re not asking for accommodations to make your life difficult, or because we’re trying to get away with something. We want to be in your course. We just need your help learning the best we can.

which led Lang to reflect:

Although I like to believe that I work hard to make my classroom a welcoming place for all students, I had never fully considered the burdens of a lifetime spent making requests for accommodations, and how that might weigh on their understanding of themselves and their sense of self-worth.

On to posters: This video generated quite a bit of discussion on twitter this week. It’s long (~20 minutes) but I think it has an interesting take on the problem (it goes much deeper than just “posters have too much text”) and has a concrete suggestion (including a template) for how to solve the problem. I don’t know that I will use the template exactly, but I have to make a poster for later this month, and I am sure it’s design will be influenced by this video, especially it’s call to use negative space more in posters. (One valid critique of the video that has been made by folks on twitter is that it makes it seem like it’s trivially easy to figure out the take home message for one’s study, when this is actually a skill and takes thought and effort.)

And, finally, this tweet from my colleague Dan Rabosky merged the above themes, raising more important points about accessibility, including at poster sessions:


One thing that everyone can do during regular talk sessions is to use the microphone and not claim that your voice is loud enough for everyone to hear. (I’ve been guilty of not using the mic myself, unfortunately.) This article by Goring et al. has more ideas on how to make conferences more accessible.

From Jeremy:

A vision for reviving the rural US by creating/growing college towns. Seems very cogent and well-argued to me, and I don’t just say that because I’m a prof who likes college towns. But obviously, we can’t know for sure if it would work without trying it.

Is Galileo overrated?

8 thoughts on “Friday links: how to make science more accessible and posters more effective, and more

  1. Via Twitter: is that better posters video really an argument against any sort of poster?

    Kieran Healy’s a sharp guy and he just published a book on data visualization, so I wish he’d elaborated on his brief remark.

    Also: have to say, having only seen the template and not watched the full video: I don’t really get the point of devoting a significant amount of poster space to a QR code. Meghan, what are your thoughts on the QR code thing?

    • Well I ain’t Meghan, but one thought on the QR code thing is that it means that the presenter has to get their “full-story” poster or article whatever posted online ahead of time so that the link takes one to meaningful content. No problem if there’s an article or preprint already, but otherwise it gets complicated. When I do posters or platforms, it’s usually effectively a trial balloon in advance of submitting the article, and I don’t necessarily want it living online forevermore. The point is just that for the QR code thing to work, it would involve a fair amount of advance work and some careful thought.

      • “When I do posters or platforms, it’s usually effectively a trial balloon in advance of submitting the article”

        Yeah, same here. I couldn’t put a QR code linking to further information on my poster even if I wanted to, because there isn’t any further information yet.

  2. Yes, there’s an irony that with a 20-minute video on posters being too dense, I found myself saying to myself, OK, OK, get to the point and skipping ahead. Yet, I think he’s onto something and my most successful poster had little text, and a huge font. I might try some variation on his template.
    Argument against making research posters at all? Perhaps, but the poster session seems a necessary evil. Most conferences I’ve been too already have too many concurrent platform sessions, and to whack posters would mean most attendees can’t present, which would probably turn off a lot of attendees and whomever supports attendance costs. So it seems like efforts to improve the sessions by better posters and better treatment by conference organizers would be worth trying (e.g., longer sessions, food & drink interspersed among the rows of posters).

    Jeremy, you had an aside a few years ago when writing on the same topic of terrible posters. ““It’s difficult to recognize when a poster has too much text, because most posters do (probably including my own posters, back when I was doing posters).” It’s the “back when I was doing posters” remark that stuck, because it implied that posters are for starter scientists, and once established, move onto the bigger platform stage.
    Maybe a post revisiting conferences, posters, platforms, and the science rank/privilege structure would kick off good discussions. Do most people consider posters to be 2nd tier presentations for stuff not worth of platform viewing? I must admit I do, although I’ve been flamed for saying so. Is the platform vs. poster junction parallel to the the recent survey on “stretch journals” vs. the non-selective EcoSphere’s and PLOS One’s that will publish any competent article, accompanied by a valid charge card number?

    • Re: “back when I was doing posters”, I should clarify. All I meant was literally “I haven’t presented a poster at a conference in a long time”. Not “I haven’t presented a poster in a long time because I consider it beneath me, or think my work is too good for a mere poster, or whatever”. But yes, I can see why my remark read that way.

      My own reasons for preferring to give talks rather than posters at the ESA annual meeting are:
      -I like prepping and delivering talks more than I like prepping and delivering posters
      -I think my talks are better than my posters
      -I think my talks are better compared to the average talk than my posters are compared to the average poster
      -More people are likely to come to my talk than are likely to come to my poster
      -The vast majority of presentations that I myself want to attend at the ESA meeting are talks rather than posters. Every year, there are many talks on topics of interest to me, and hardly any posters. And there are many talks by my friends, and few or no posters by my friends. This may subconsciously contribute to my preference for giving talks. I emphasize that I make those choices as to what presentations to see based on topic (as judged by presentation title) and personal friendship. I do *not* make them based on “prestige” of presentation format, or “prestige” of presenter. If there ever is a year with lots of ESA posters on topics of interest to me, and/or lots of ESA posters presented by my friends, I will happily go to see lots of ESA posters!
      -The culture of the ESA meeting is for profs to give talks (though there are many exceptions to the prevailing culture; see below). I conform to the culture without thinking about it consciously.

      I leave it to you to judge how many of those bullets are just post-hoc rationalizations for the final one. 🙂

      Although it’s important to be clear that there are *many* exceptions to the prevailing culture that “profs give talks, students give posters”. At the ESA meeting, there are *lots* of talks by grad students and postdocs (many of which I attend!). And I’ve certainly seen profs, including quite senior and prominent ones (Jim Grover, Hal Caswell…), give posters at the ESA meeting. So I dunno. I haven’t seen any discussions of this issue and so I’m a little unclear why it’s bad for there to be a loose correlation between presenter seniority and type of presentation. And so I’m a little unclear what measures can or should be taken to get rid of that correlation. I guess I’m inclined to leave the choice of whether to give a talk or poster up to individuals and not worry too much if, for whatever reason, a loose correlation emerges between presenter seniority and type of presentation.

      Stephen Heard has a good post on the pros and cons of posters vs talks:

      I don’t think the talk vs. poster “prestige” distinction is really parallel to the distinction between more and less-selective journals. I think there are good reasons why the distinction between more and less selective journals exists (basically: it’s an effective filtering aid), and that if it didn’t exist we’d just recreate it via other means. Relevant old posts, from me and Stephen Heard:

      • Now that’s a full post worthy reply! Good stuff that hopefully isn’t missed down beneath a Friday Links comment. Good stuff in the additional links.

        I’m not in ESA, but culture of profs giving talks is well established in the societies I do participate in (SETAC and SFS). Profs are used to standing in front of the room and explaining science points day in, day out, so often profs give good talks and many in the audience want to hear what they have to say. Especially if it isn’t a time worn message that sounds familiar. My plea is that organizers are careful to give early career scientists their share of the limelight, also giving program time to recent graduates and advanced students.

      • “My plea is that organizers are careful to give early career scientists their share of the limelight, also giving program time to recent graduates and advanced students.”

        Depending on the conference, that’s not up to the organizers. I don’t know how ESA organizers allocate oral slots vs. poster slots. But my experience is that everyone who asks for an oral slot gets one, whether they’re faculty or students or postdocs or whatever. I’m confident that if anyone does get turned down for an oral slot despite requesting one, it’s not because of presenter seniority or fame, if only because there’s no way to indicate those things on the submission form. And the organizers have thousands of presentations to schedule, I’m sure they’re not googling presenters to find out who’s a prof and who’s a student. Organization of some other sessions like symposia and lightning talk sessions is up to the session organizers, not the conference organizers.

  3. “A vision for reviving the rural US by creating/growing college towns.”

    not too likely:

    1) tech workers don’t want to go to small towns that don’t have cultural amenities
    2) tech companies don’t want to go to small towns because there’s no one to hire.
    3) even though tech worker demand is high, it’s not high enough to support 50 tech hubs around the nation, which require a critical mass of workers to generate growth.

    “And yes, @paulkrugman is right that rural America’s decline is due to big, impersonal economic forces that we can’t really alter.”

    Yes, big “impersonal economic forces”, like environmentalism. 🙂 Today Washington State produces half the lumber that it produced in 1970 – even while the Puget Sound’s population has risen by 150% and the housing market is booming – denying the hinterland of hundreds or even thousands of decent paying jobs. Same for mining and energy. The giant sucking sound of environmentalism, driving tens of thousands of people around the US into min wage jobs.

    Canada doesn’t have this problem – it appreciates the economic benefits generated by resource jobs.

    The Progressive economic plan today is to hope against hope that somehow the government can spend money on things that cost more than they’re worth and that will make everyone wealthy and prosperous. 🙂 It’s a self deception to prevent them from facing the fact that the Green Utopia they’ve so long preached is instead unfolding into the economic disaster that Conservatives always knew it would be.

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