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Tackling the Poster Hall

Written by: Kelsey Watson
Published on: Dec 5, 2015

Credit: Gary WagnerPlanning ahead can help you optimize the time you spend in even the busiest of poster halls. Credit: Gary Wagner

Here are some tips for going to a poster session, from knowing where to start to connecting with presenters—even if they're nowhere to be seen.

Attending a scientific poster session? “This should be easy,” you say to yourself.

You arrive at the conference, step into the poster hall, and are faced with a sea of posters lining corridors that teem with scientists and other poster-goers. Where do you start? Which posters should you read? How do you even get through one of them?

You can avoid this drowning sensation. Just do a little planning ahead.

Preposter Prep

Let’s rewind. You’ve identified a poster session that you want to attend at a scientific conference. What do you hope to gain from this event? Would you like to better understand a specific field of research? Network with potential graduate school advisers? Defining your goals for attending the poster session will make for a smoother, more rewarding experience.

Next, take a look at the abstracts from the session. You don’t have to read the entire program. Look at the titles, authors, schools—what catches your eye? Read the abstracts of those posters. Although there’s no need to feel bound to those choices, this preview can help you make better use of your time and not miss anything really intriguing.

Approaching a Poster

The day has arrived. You’ve finally made it to the poster session, armed with a pen, paper, some business cards, and, most importantly, a plan to tackle your poster session goals—congratulations!

Because you’re prepared, the sea of posters looks a lot less threatening than it otherwise would have. You head right for the poster that interested you most in the program. My! This poster is big—and dense. It includes figures, boxes, and text: Where do you even start?

You’re ahead of the game because you’ve already read the title and abstract. Look at the poster as a whole. If you’re lucky, its creator avoided common poster pitfalls. Orient yourself to its flow; how is this poster supposed to be navigated?

You needn’t read the entire poster from start to finish. Look for summary statements, maybe set apart from the rest of the text with boxes or colors. Sometimes figures convey the research in a clear, concise manner that can help you quickly get a grasp of what was done.

Person to Person

If a presenter/author is there, ask questions! The researcher worked hard on the study and organized this poster to share it with you. He or she may even offer to walk you through the poster.

If the presenter isn’t there and you have questions or wanted to introduce yourself, leave a business card or a simple note with your contact information. You could also take the initiative by jotting down the presenter’s coordinates from the poster and making contact later.

Hey, there’s another poster that looks interesting, but it’s not on your master list. That’s OK! You know the drill; there’s a whole sea of them out there to explore.

—Kelsey Watson, AGU Education and Public Outreach Intern; email:

Citation: Watson, K. (2015), Tackling the poster hall, Eos, 96, doi:10.1o29/2015EO040863. Published on 4 December 2015.