Poster Session, Fall 2018: Sweating the Details

As regular readers know, I’m a huge believer in iterative refinement. It’s important to try new things, and it’s equally important not to give up too soon. Pretty often, even with bad ideas, there’s a glimmer of promise that just needs to be nurtured. My first poster session was good, but they’ve become so much better over the years through incremental improvement.

Last night we had an awesome poster session with my 86 Applied Econometrics students, and I thought it would be useful to write down some recent lessons learned:

  • Figure out a good location early and reserve it. The room I’ve used for the last couple years is currently undergoing renovation, but the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) graciously let me use their big fancy conference room in 401 Warren Hall.
  • Figure out how posters are going to be displayed early on, and if tech is involved, test it well before the big day. I far prefer providing big displays for students to show their posters electronically to requiring them to print out paper copies. The ClickShare stations we use are getting a little long in the tooth, but they’re mobile, easy, and mostly reliable. Another big thanks to CALS for sprucing them up and letting us use eight!
  • Organize the space. You absolutely need lots of open room for walking around. Place the posters around the edge. Provide some, but not too much seating. Provide a place to put coats and bags. Have tables for the food and drinks. Don’t forget trash cans.
  • Keep track of what you buy for food and drinks and make a note at the end about what you over or under bought. This time around egg nog was a big hit!
  • Get to the venue early—Moving furniture, setting up the food, and getting the music and lighting right takes time. It sure is nice when you have two super-competent teaching assistants to help.
  • Kick off the festivities with a very short speech about how excited you are to see what folks have been working on. Lay out the schedule and thank everyone for coming.
  • The first few poster sessions I did required a fair bit of focus on the logistics during the event. Now that I’ve got the routine down, I can spend almost all my energy on the poster projects themselves. I try hard to have a real conversation with every group about the substance of their project. My TA’s do the same thing.
  • The session is always organized as a sequence of three rounds where a third of the students present in each round while the rest circulate. I noticed last time around that many students were arriving for the their own round and then leaving, and that meant the audience was a little thin. This time I strongly encouraged students to attend at least one round in addition to their own, and it made a big difference.
  • I always have students vote (using a Google form) at the end of each round for best project and best poster. Last year I was shocked to see evidence of a whole lot of voting fraud. For example, there would be batches of several votes placed within seconds of each other for the same groups. This year voters had to identify themselves and vote for a group other than their own. Unless they’ve become far more sophisticated, this eradicated all the bogus voting.

Was the poster session perfect? No way! But it was absolutely more productive and fun than ever. Given the logistics are in pretty good shape, I think I’ll be focusing on improving the actual content of the posters next time around. Progress!