Monday, July 16, 2012

Mini Posters

The overall lab I work in consists of about eight or ten different professors, each with their own individual research and students. All of the combined students in the overall lab work at cubicles in two big offices, which I think is a great way to "house" the grad students, allowing for both socialization and cross-pollination of ideas across labs.

But eight or ten professors all working on related, but still substantially different, projects in their own labs is hard to keep track of. So once a year we have a symposium. All the professors give high-level overview talks about their current projects and research direction, we usually have a couple guest speakers, and it's generally a chance for everyone to get together and align themselves about what in the world is going on across the hallway.

All students are required to submit posters for the symposium. This sounds like a great idea, and in theory it is. (Shoot, I don't know half of what students are working on at any given time... there are just too many! Plus I'm old and crotchety and don't socialize as much as I should.) But in practice, grad students don't particularly like taking time out of their research lives to create a poster for, essentially, an internal event. So we don't take it very seriously. In fact sometimes, we are known to submit posters on work that is over two years old (that wasn't me, oh no of course it wasn't...).

So there is much grumbling, but everyone has to do it, so there is mutual complaining around the water cooler and then we all buckle down and make the poster. 

There is prize money awarded, for 1st 2nd 3rd place, so there is some incentive. But there is a fatal flaw in the prize-dispensing system. Only people OUTSIDE the lab are allowed to vote - ostensibly to avoid biased voting. But because so few guest people come to this symposium, if you get two votes you are pretty much guaranteed to win something. So the voting doesn't mean much.

But the PRIDE (and the testosterone, in some cases...) is a powerful driver. And the BRAGGING RIGHTS. Those are forever, prize money or no. So my office takes much enjoyment in friendly trash-talking about whose poster is the best. This year one of the older students was so pleased with his design, that he printed out a mini-size and pinned it to the cubicle wall.

Not to be outdone, it wasn't long until others did the same - we all have to make a file to send out for full-size printing, so why not dash off an 8.5x11 as well?

Inspection. Very important.

So we found ourselves with a wall of mini-posters. And I tell you what, I learned more about other people's research from sitting around gossiping about these mini-posters, than I ever do at the actual symposium. Because nobody takes the time to stand and read every poster when there is an open bar, let's be realistic. But if you pass the same posters for a week in your office, you pay attention.

In the end, this mini-poster display in our office has been one of the most helpful things to make everyone aware of the research that's going on. We should just do THIS, and skip the symposium! :)

On second thought, there is the prize money, after all. Although of course nobody wins prize money for a poster that is based on work over two years old... oh no of course I didn't... Maybe let's keep the symposium!

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