Fall 2009
Volume 3, Issue 1
Eye on the Future Research Focus
Poster Presentations: A Guide for New Presenters
By Devin Harker

As an undergraduate many people will tell you that the one thing you can do to be more marketable for graduate programs is research. Originally, working in a research lab meant running participants in a professors study. While yes, most labs are like this, these days it is becoming more and more common for undergraduates to brainstorm a research idea of their own and follow it through to the end. What is the end exactly? Well, for professors and graduate students the end is a publication in an academic journal, but most undergraduates will find their end in a poster presentation. These posters are then presented in a poster session at most, if not all, psychology conferences around the nation.

How does one go about starting the process of creating a poster? First off, you have to have an idea. Most likely your idea will simply come from an area of psychology you are most interested in or a phenomenon that you find intriguing. Youll find that most psychology researchers are always looking for research ideas which are sometimes found at the most random times and places. Dont be afraid to approach a graduate student or professor with these ideas, they will almost surely be excited that you approached them and its very likely that this interaction will give you the research mentor necessary to get the project completed. Its important to have the guidance of a graduate student or faculty member so that they can help you with the more difficult parts of the project, such as interpreting your results.

It is then important to design the experiment necessary to get the results that youre looking for. This is a great opportunity to schedule a meeting with your mentor so that they can make sure youre planning a study that will run smoothly and effectively. Theres nothing worse than running a bunch of participants to find out that you have a confound, making your data basically useless. Faculty members are good at finding these small things in research that most undergraduates are likely to overlook. Dont be afraid to ask them for their help.

When youve completed running your experiment and the data look nice (and youve been sure to consult your mentor), you can begin to start your poster. Most people who create posters find that the best program to use for it is Microsoft PowerPoint. You must make sure that the dimensions you use are correct so that it will create the correct size poster. I have always used a 4x3 poster as this seems like it is a respectable size and allows enough space for an efficient poster. It is important that your text is large enough to be readable from about 5 ft away. I recommend using no less then 20pt font.

Posters should not be used to write a thesis about the topicposters should be very efficient at getting the goals and results of the study available to the lay person as best as possible. Most undergraduates have a hard time with this as some write way too much and others not enough. It should help to think of the audience as a beginning psychology studentsomeone willing to put out the effort to understand the research and not knowledgeable enough that certain ideas are expected known.

The sections of the poster that are most important and should appear in some form on your poster are the Introduction, where the literature review is done and you reason for the research are explained; the Methods, which includes the types of participants, the materials you used and the procedure followed; the Results, where the data are presented; and the Conclusion and/or Discussion, where the results are explained, implications are mentioned and ideas of where future research could be headed. Pictures and graphs are extremely useful at explaining how the research was conducted and I have found that a flowchart is a must have for any poster as it leads to an easy discussion and answer to the very common question, So, what did you do?

You may also find it helpful to prepare handouts of your poster. Every once in a while you may be approached by someone interested in obtaining a copy of your poster, if you have a simple, one-page copy of you poster it will satisfy their inquiry. If you arent able to have handouts, it may be helpful to have a piece of paper handy to scribble down some email addresses. If you take their email addresses though, be sure you get them the copies that they asked for. Not only does that look good for you as a respectable researcher but you never know when a simple inquiry might lead to a collaboration with a professor who may end up awarding you a masters and/or doctorate degree. With that being said it is important to dress for success like most career services advisors tell you because in effect, your poster presentation may turn into a graduate school interview.

In all actually, a poster presentation is a very personal and fluid design. You choose the colors, layout, etc. and you become responsible for its overall outcome. You will find that making a poster can be one of the most rewarding things you do as an undergraduate. It shows future employers that youre dedicated and future graduate schools that you have the foundation needed for their program. Not only that but it shows yourself that you accomplished what most people dont even consider doing, be proud that youve accomplished it. If you can make a poster, just think how close you are to the next stepgetting published!

Author Note:

Devin Harker is a first year masters student in experimental psychology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His research interests lie in the psychology and law field, including eyewitness testimony, lineup/showup comparisons, jury decision making and, most recently, the pre-identification feedback effect. His advisor is Jeffery Neuschatz, PhD.
Editor: Molly Petersen - Associate Editor: Peter M. Vernig