Thursday, April 9, 2009

My First Conference - Posters

The entire reason behind attending My First Conference was to present some of my research. End-of-year reviews are coming up for the graduate students, and just once it would be nice to have publications to show for my work. One poster presented my master's thesis, which I have since abandoned; the other presented what has become the first two experiments of my dissertation.

The master's thesis poster came first. This was my first-ever poster presentation, so I was greatly relieved to have a lab mate on the board next to me. (Originally, I had been scheduled to present both posters simultaneously, one on either side of my lab mate, but I got them to change one of them. I didn't fancy rushing through her crowd every time someone came up to one or the other poster). I also had very low goals for this poster. I abandoned my master's thesis research as soon as I defended it; I'd spent so much time on it I couldn't bear to even think about the topic any more. My advisor convinced me to submit the work so she'd have some way to cite it. I took 20 handouts, and they were all gone by the end of the session; this is as much as I'd hoped for. The thesis contained an overwhelming series of maybe-results, so I wasn't at all surprised that people listened to the summary with few comments and fewer questions.

The highlight of the poster session was when my advisor arrived, children in tow. She didn't talk to us for long, as she was sidetracked by people she can't talk to any day of the week. But, she did hold court with her (or her kids') admirers right next to our posters, and my lab mate and I spent most of our downtime watching her 6-month-old son gum at her name tag. I considered starting up some bets on whether he would abandon the lower-left corner to nibble on any of the others, but before I could he tasted one and abandoned it quickly. We started discussing why, and eventually settled on a dislike of the string attached to that corner. This is the kind of serious science discussions we engage in at the last session of the first day of a huge conference.

The dissertation poster came last, in every sense: my last presentation in the last session of the last day. It was surprisingly well attended. I put the poster up 20 minutes before the session officially started, and was asked for a summary immediately; attendance was pretty constant for the first hour, as people who weren't going to any of the symposia were trying to gain their freedom from the conference. There was a half-hour lull in the middle, at which point my co-author and I took turns going to check out other posters. Then there was a steady stream of people again, as they started leaving symposia early. We kept going until they turned the lights out (well, half the lights) promptly as 6 p.m.

As this was my dissertation work, I was much more sensitive to comments. I didn't have any of the troubles explaining our measures to people that I have at department talks; either I've gotten better with practice, or our department is overly critical. At least one person thought our explanation for our results made perfect sense, and no one directly challenged it. To me, this is the perfect level of critique; they asked questions to help them understand and connect to other material, and they have to go away and think about it before they can come up with a strong rejoinder. Once again, I gave away all 20 handouts, and had 4 people request electronic copies besides.

Overall, this qualifies as unmitigated success. So much of a success, in fact, that I'm considering submitting something to the next relevant conference, in October. We shall see.

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