January 2012 Archives

This week, meteorology students are attending the American Meteorological Society's annual conference in New Orleans. Many of them will be presenting scientific posters that took them a lot of time to design. A crucial step in creating a poster is to consider the layout that will be easy for the audience to understand and to grasp while casually walking by.

To design an effective poster, it's usually best to arrange the components using columns instead of rows. Often a three-column format is used because this allows more readers at one time.

By following general reading and viewing patterns, generally from left to right, and top to bottom, readers' expectations will work to allow your poster to be predictable in a good way. In other words, they'll find the movement from one section to another without having to think much about how to navigate among the sections.

Lead with the most important information.

For example, place the information that sets up the overall content in positions 1 and 2. This could be the introduction and the objectives of the research. Use the middle positions (3 and 4) for results, usually conveyed with large graphics (e.g., tables, illustrations, photos, graphs).  Think of them as your centerpiece; use them to pull in viewers.

Positions 5 and 6 are well suited for the discussion and conclusions. The references and acknowledgements are usually at the bottom of the poster, but can be left, centered, or right depending on the overall layout. If necessary, numbers or arrows may be used to lead the reader through the poster too.

Of course, many layouts are possible. This is just one example. It's important to remember that designing the layout of your poster is key to clarity and ease with readability. To keep your audience reading, you'll need to consider content and design as thoroughly as you ponder the question "Am I a man or a Muppet?"

ant 1.jpg
Dear Del,
I am scheduled for an interview in the coming weeks. I have already been given an internship offer, but I still want to feel out any other possible offers. Is there an appropriate way to bring up this fact without coming off negatively? I really just want them to realize that I have other offers, and they should make a decision quickly.
Or do I not say anything and just wait it out?

Antsy for an Answer

Dear Antsy,
You're too antsy for your pants. Of course, honesty is always best. You mention having an internship already. Does this mean you've already told this employer that you're coming this summer? If so, it makes this situation more complicated.

For example, if you're still juggling interviews and offers, but you haven't accepted a position yet, you can request additional time to make a decision if one of the offers comes through but there are some others that you're hoping come through. It's reasonable for a potential employer to give you at least a week for you to make a decision. You can say, "Thank you for this offer. I'm really pleased. May I give you my answer in a week or so?" You don't have to explain why. It's reasonable that you'd have arrangements and budgets to consider before giving your answer.

After buying some time, it's acceptable to contact those with whom you've interviewed but who have not extended an offer to you to see if an offer is in the pipeline. Be direct and say, "I've received another job offer. They need an answer in a week. I'm really very interested in working for you. Would you be able to get back to me with a decision before this deadline?"

But it sounds like you've already told one employer you'll be there this summer, yet you want to continue the job search as if you aren't committed. This is a more volatile situation because of the dishonesty.

Keep in mind if you come to a first interview and mention that you've already accepted another offer, most companies will say, "Why did you meet with us? We're going to make an offer to someone who hasn't accepted another offer."

If you want to take a gamble and go in a different direction, go to the interview, and make sure to ask when they'll be making a decision before you leave. Then call back after a reasonable amount of time and ask if they are willing to let you know because you have other offers. Know that you may be burning a future bridge, and you may be paying a higher price for this option in the long term. For example, will you be interacting with these people at association meetings and conferences? How close-knit is the industry?

I do know of a situation that worked out well for a student, but her situation was a bit different. She had accepted one offer, and on the day she accepted, she got another one that she liked more. She called the first-offer employer the very next day and was honest.

She said exactly what had happened and why she thought the second place was a better fit. The employer thanked her for her quick notification and said he understood, and if she ever wanted to come work for them, he'd find a position for her.

In the end, it goes back to being honest and treating others how you'd like to be treated. Not really surprising, is it?

Casino Night 2011

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Music, mingling, munching, and merriment of all sorts made Casino Night 2011 a fabulous success. Earth and Mineral Science students, staff, and faculty took the Friday before finals (December 9, 2011) to celebrate the season and their close-knit community with a gala at the Penn Stater. If you missed it this year, promise yourself you'll take advantage of this great EMS tradition next year. Check out the photos!

After you've identified the main points, it's time to sketch a basic layout factoring in the conference's guidelines on size and the procedure for how your poster will be viewed. You'll also need to consider your budget constraints.

Select an appropriate size. The sizes of posters vary according to the guidelines specified by the organization sponsoring the event. Follow these requirements. If the guidelines state the poster should be no bigger than 48" by 48," and you arrive with one that is larger, it's likely you'll overlap on another presenter's poster making you either unable to show your poster, or at the very least, very unpopular with a peer. Here are some common poster sizes. 

Some Common Poster Sizes

48" X 36" 48" X 48" 48" X 72" 48" X 96"
42" X 36" 42" X 42" 42" X 48" 42" X 52"

The three most common sizes are 48" X 48" (or X "72  or X"96). There is, however, a great deal of variety in size restrictions because it often depends on the size of the venue. You may also be required to have a border around your poster because printers don't print to the edge of the page. You'll need to be precise in your measurements. After you've determined the size of your poster, hand draw a basic sketch to get a general idea of your layout. Make choices based on what you've decided to highlight.

Know the location and the exact size of the assigned space you will have. Consider if it is free standing, attached to a wall, or on a cork-board. What materials will the hosts provide? What are the set-up and dismantle times? Practicing good citizenship with respect to the rules of the organization is not just nice, it's also important to your professional reputation.

You may also need to consider your budget in this preliminary stage. Poster printing can run from $50 to $500! For example, the Engineering Copy Center offers large format printing based on the square foot. Occasionally there are funds that are available to support scholarship, travel and other related expenses. You may want to check with your adviser or department head to find out.

Also consider how you will transport your poster to the meeting. The easiest and most common method is to print it, laminate it, roll it up, place it in a protective tube, and hand-carry it to your location to ensure its arrival. Horror stories about the loss of an important poster during air travel exist!

After you've hand-sketched your poster, the next step is to decide what software you'd like to use. There are many free templates for scientific posters. By far the most common is PowerPoint. PowerPoint templates are easy to use, but they are relatively inflexible and less creative. Other programs that cost more, are more difficult to use, but give you more creative control, are Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Canvas, Publish-it, Corel Draw, and LaTeX.

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