Applying to Present Your Research Poster

Published: Tues., March 17, 2015; by Elisha Hall

Elisha Hall portrait

Where to Present

If you don't have the means or opportunity to travel to professional conferences to present your research, the Spring Research Fair is a great way to practice developing and presenting a poster. Registration is open in the early spring.

Where to Print

Poster printing services are available online or at local printing/office supply stores, but for most situations we recommend the Pixel Lab in Henzlik Hall on City Campus.

Poster presentations are a great way to quickly disseminate your graduate research to a large number of experts in your field. Not only do you get to share the results you’ve spent countless hours obtaining, but you also get to network with experts who have similar research interests. When you’re looking for conferences where you can present, sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start and what pitfalls to avoid. Through my experience with national conference presentations, I’ve compiled some tips to help in the process:

Finding a conference

Start with what you know. Find out if any societies or organizations to which you belong are hosting a conference. You can generally find calls for abstracts on their websites.
Ask around. Conferences are very discipline-specific. Ask faculty for their recommendations on respected conferences within your field.
Prioritize. If you’re choosing between more than one conference, let the agenda of topics and presenters help you decide which is the best place to highlight your research.
Start looking early! Conferences are held throughout the year, and generally have abstract submission deadlines many months before the conference will be held (in my own experience, anywhere from three to eight months). Once you miss the deadline, you will have to wait an entire year or find another conference.
If there’s a mailing list, join it. This will keep you up-to-date with any additional late-breaking deadline opportunities, resources, tips, and webinars that may be geared toward increasing your chances of acceptance.

Preparing to apply

Hall presents research
Elisha Hall with her research poster.
Photo courtesy of Elisha Hall

Split up your research if necessary. If you have a multi-component project, don’t try to present it all in one poster. Take advantage of the fact that you can split it up into multiple presentations.
Adhere to ethical guidelines. If your conference specifies that your material cannot be published elsewhere prior to presentation in any form, take this seriously. Not abiding by this rule can result in your abstract being removed from the program. Keep funding in mind. Although you don’t need your finances planned down to the dollar, you should make sure you are financially able to attend before applying. Organizations do not look highly upon accepted presenters who don’t show up.
Look at previous accepted abstracts. Most conferences will have proceedings from previous years available. Take the time to read through abstracts to gauge the organization’s standards.

Writing your abstract

Follow directions. Every organization has its own preferred format. Don’t get rejected on a technicality because you didn’t follow the word limit or include all required sections. Many calls for abstracts will provide the review criteria—use them!
Proofread. It may seem simple, but many abstracts automatically get rejected because of poor grammar and spelling. If they do get accepted, they do not go through a revision process and are printed “as is.”
Be clear and concise. An abstract is a short, succinct summary.  Get to the point and avoid jargon.
Make your title interesting, but short. The title is what attracts conference attendees to your poster. Think about what’s unique and novel about your findings and highlight this in a short title.
Ask for advice. Your faculty advisor or mentor has had his or her share of conference presentations and understands what it takes to get accepted. Be sure to ask your mentor for feedback!

Poster presentations are an effective way to share your research that I would encourage everyone to present at least once during their graduate career. These tips I’ve included should help you through the common pitfalls of the application process.

Good luck!