Facts & Tools

How to create & present an Academic Poster

We talked to a young PI about preparing a poster presentation. Here are his best tips on preparation, structure and content.

Matthew is a group leader and he has seen and made many posters during his career. He holds a PhD in Neuroscience and an MD, so his advice works mainly for researchers in the Natural Sciences (however, some is true for any discipline). You can find him on his institute’s website, his personal website, and on Twitter.

»Presenting your research is as important as the research itself. A poster is a great way to do this.«
Matthew Kraushar, PhD, MD, Research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics

Matthew’s best tips on preparation, structure and content:

  • Think about your audience – not about yourself: What is interesting for them to know? What background do they need?
  • Tell a story!
  • Find the right amount of information: Not too much and not too little
  • Start by making a sketch of your poster, e.g. by drawing, and structure it as if you are telling a story with a beginning, a middle part and an ending

These questions might lead you on the way to tell your story – as far as you can tell it at this point of your PhD:

  • Why are you doing what you are doing? What are you doing – and how? How are your experiments building on each other?
  • What are your hypotheses?
  • What have you done so far? What did you find out? What are your results? What are you concluding from these results?
  • What are you still going to do? What remains open at this point? How will you address this? What is the way ahead?
  • Start preparing as early as you can: Things always take more time than you think
  • Get your data ready (if you have some already)
  • Choose a short and clear title conveying your main message
  • Don’t forget to mention all involved people and their affiliation
  • For the middle part: use visuals and think about a clear order on how to read the poster

Prepare a mini-presentation along the questions – and practice it in front of an audience (e.g., your fellow PhD researchers, the postdocs in your lab or your PI)

Since a poster presentation is also about interacting with the audience, here are a few tips on that from Matthew:

  • Be proactive and engage with the guests/audience: Can I tell you something about my research? Would you like to know something about my research? Would you like to hear about the story I am currently working on?
  • Make eye-contact and pay attention to a welcoming body language

Be prepared for the following questions (by the way, these are also typical questions for a  PhD defense):

  • What are the weaknesses in your research?
  • Why did you choose this topic/approach/method?
  • Are there other approaches/methods?
  • Why did you interpret the data in that way?  Are there other possible interpretations?

If you can’t answer a question: Stay calm – it’s no shame to say ”I don’t know at the moment – but my guess is…” and offer a reasonable/possible interpretation or explanation.

And overall: Commit! Have confidence! Own it! Don’t take it personal! Cherish the feedback!