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May 11, 2012

Poster designing: a warm welcome to Hell! – by Bernie

Can I just say, I hate making research posters. Back in the mists of time, in my musician days, I used to make fun posters for concerts involving bassoons - there would be pictures, bright colours, general nonsense. They were easy to make, because there was always a theme of sorts, and essentially, as long as you included the date, time and venue, you couldn't really go wrong.

Research posters, on the other hand, are a completely different ball game. I make about one per year, and I have very specific reasons for doing so - either there's a competition at university, of I'm off to a conference and want to communicate something about the work I'm doing.

As an example, here are the two I've done so far during the PhD. The first year involved a giraffe:

Heads above the parapetI know - a giraffe. I took this poster to a university competition at Nottingham, but nobody seemed to get the giraffe analogy. People just wanted to tell me their birth stories as soon as they noticed the word 'midwifery'. That poster was also invited to an interdisciplinary research festival - when I got there, there were 19 scientific posters, and then mine. With a giraffe on it. That was a very odd day.

Last year, I again eschewed the traditional approach, and made a methodologically-themed poster for the postgraduate competition:

Narrative ethnography

I did in fact enjoy making this one, despite the previous giraffe trauma. But again, I got it wrong: the head and heart pictures confused people, and once again I ended up hearing birth stories once people made the midwifery connection (there's a definite theme to being an ex-midwife!)

When I look at these posters now, I think they reflect exactly where I was in those two years: in the first year, I hadn't really got much further than a massive literature review and a theoretical framework. In actual fact, I'm still using the giraffe image these days - it appeared on the front cover of my completion review. I'm not sure whether to use it on the thesis - I'd like to, but someone important has suggested I maybe shouldn't. Hmmm.

As for the second year poster, I look at that and laugh - I was properly drowning in questions of how to put myself into the study, and it's very evident in the poster. I really was deep in the pit of think at that time.

So, today I have once again submitted a poster. This year is a bit different, as I finally have a poster WITH DATA ON IT!! This is very exciting, and I thought it might make the construction a bit easier. That was true, during the bit where I planned the layout: introduction, methods, findings, conclusions... The tricky bit came when I had to condense several million words into an A1 size document. I'm envious of scientists, with their lovely graphs and images. I have no graphs, just too many words. It's like writing a research paper, only more like Hell, I've found.

Anyway, it's done now, and I wait with bated breath to see what it will look like in real life. Why not come along to the Postgraduate Poster Competition on May 30th and have a look at LOTS of posters. And if you see me, looking a bit lost without my giraffe, feel free to tell me a good birth story. It's been a while since I heard any...

And just to finish, here's an example of the kind of poster I really enjoy making:

Northumberland 2009

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