Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The poster as an indispensable tool of science
when I was in 8th grade I put posters up in my room. I think I had one or two of various fighter planes (I did, after all, have aspirations of becoming a fighter pilot. After Top Gun, what 13 year old boy didn't?). I also had a few of scantily clad ladies (I did, after all, have aspirations of one day knowing a scantily clad lady). Somewhere around 17 or 18, however, the poster fell out of favor in my life. Sure, I still have a few covering various subjects. I think one shows pictures of all of the sharks found in North American waters. Another one, I think, has a pretty picture of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary on it. The key point here is that they are all in storage, and none of them ever spent significant time actually hanging on a wall.
All of this has now changed. As it turns out the poster is a critical communications tool for scientists, and vast rooms are devoted to posters at conferences highlighting the most cutting edge science. I must admit that I find it vaguely ironic. Here are people who do work that most of us can not understand, using a communications tool only ever so slightly evolved from the tri-fold science fair cardboard display. But since I am doing my best to fit in as a scientist right now I've jumped right on the poster bandwagon. Just a few weeks ago I presented my first poster at the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference in Seattle, WA. I walked into the big poster room, and tacked my creation up right next to about 150 other posters. Then a bunch of people come in the room and walk around, sometimes with coffee or a beer, look at your poster, and nod and "hmmmm" sometimes. As it turns out, some really nice and inspirational discussions can emerge out of starting at a poster with another person, which made me understand, perhaps just a little, why science has opted to keep them around.
And for those of you who weren't there, here is my poster. The real thing is, at this very second, actually hanging up on a wall right next to me.