Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Talk v. Poster

Some scientific conferences are dominated by talks and some are comprised of talks + poster presentations. At conferences with talks and posters, it varies from conference to conference as to whether talks are more prestigious or whether it doesn't matter very much because there are so many posters, though of course it tends to be the case that talks are preferred. Big professors typically get talks, and students and other unfamous people get posters.

As it turns out, a colleague and I are both co-convening sessions at different international meetings later this year. At both of these meetings, talks are perceived as being significantly more prestigious than posters.

A few days ago, after organizing his conference session, my colleague said "The good thing about organizing a session is that I could assign myself a talk rather than a poster."

When my co-conveners and I recently organized our session, I didn't think I should assign myself a talk at the expense of other people who preferred talks over posters, so I assigned myself to the poster session.

I mentioned this to my colleague and he said "Well that's the difference between you and me." Then he told me that I had missed an excellent opportunity to promote myself and my work. I think I missed an excellent opportunity to be a jerk.

There will be plenty of women giving talks in my session, including some early career women, so I didn't feel that I needed to give myself a talk to ensure diversity of speakers. Also, poster presentations are a way to interact with more people and have extended conversations about your research.

Even so, I have been thinking about this for several days, and I guess it is bothering me. Where's the line between being nice and being submissive? Is this a classic case of a woman's failure to promote her research? I rather suspect it is. Two of my (male) co-conveners will give talks in our session, so I could have insisted on a talk rather than a poster. It just didn't seem like the right thing to do, though.

If I could re-organize the session today, I would do the same thing again. And I will have an awesome poster.


Anonymous said...

My graduate (male) advisor who is a leader in our field and organizes all the big conferences never, never assigns invited talks to his students. I often wondered why he did not, even though our research was really cutting edge. I adore this advisor. He actually helped me out tremendously when I had a very rough first postdoc position. He is definitely not a jerk. He promotes his students in other ways like helping them get lots of papers and finding good faculty jobs. I think you are correct in not assigning yourself a talk. You are a leader and leaders help others. Keep making fun of these guys who self-promote. They will not last.
I would rather work for you than some guy who needs to promote himself. He strikes me as insecure and boring.

Schlupp said...

At both meetings where I knew the organizers, they always assigned the talks to other people and went with posters themselves. In both cases, this was noticed by everyone and praised.

You were absolutely right.

Anonymous said...

I think you made the right decision. I am co-organizing a meeting this summer with two others--myself male, both of them female. We decided, largely without discussion, that none of us would give talks, to offer more opportunities for others and also, to be honest, because we thought this would make us look better with funding agencies. They sent the not-so subtle message in reviewing the last edition of this meeting that too many friends of the organizers spoke (as did the organizers). This and other changes led to an increase in success in funding the meeting this time, so I feel like we made the right choice both for the right reason and the practical reason. The three of us also now serve as back-up speakers if someone drops out at the last minute, thought we could also promote one of the poster presenters in that event.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

You ask what is the line between being nice and being submissive? I think you have to ask yourself if you were being nice or submissive. It seems as if you were just being nice and giving other women the opportunity to do talks. On the other hand, if you feel like you did the wrong thing after hearing the male collegues argument then I guess you might have been submissive, although by changing your mind after hearing his argument you are probably just as guilty of being submissive.

Incidentally, on my vita, I would never list that I presented a poster or a talk. I just put that I was at a conference so that the assumption is that I gave a talk as they are more prestigious in my area.

Anonymous said...

You absolutely must talk if you are convening the session. If you are uncomfortable with self-promotion, give yourself 50% of the usual speaking time and do an introductory survey of this corner of the field as a formal introduction to the other speakers (very useful for the grad students and new postdocs in the audience as well).

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that both you and your co-organizer have reasonable approaches. While it's extremely generous of you to provide opportunities for early-career scientists, I don't think there's anything at all wrong with your co-organizer assigning himself a talk vs. a poster, as long as he believes that his talk will be at least as interesting and informative as any of the talks which would be otherwise given.

One could even go so far as to argue that as a conference organizer, you have a duty to ensure that the talks are as interesting and informative as possible. It's not necessarily the case, but it's not an unreasonable line of thought (I tend to think that the most interesting and important stuff should be evenly distributed through the talks and posters--I can only attend so many talks, but I can see many posters).

That your co-organizer has a reasonable line of thought doesn't mean he's not a jerk, however.

Unfortunately, I think you're right that this is a good example of a woman missing an opportunity for self-promotion that most men would not (I actually don't think it would even occur to most men that they wouldn't give a talk). In your case, your success isn't in doubt, but for many women, these sorts of missed opportunities, added up over a career may very well make a substantial difference.

Jennie said...

The last conference I went to my session was only alloted enough time for 8 talks. Both male conveyors gave posters instead.

Anonymous said...

Do you need self promotion? It sounds like you are already fairly well known in your field. Would giving a talk actually increase people's opinions of you beyond what it already is? If so, then you should have probably given a talk.

If you were more junior, a talk would be a great opportunity. That you are giving talks to junior colleagues speaks greatly to your interest in helping people beyond yourself and your stature is increased in the eyes of those junior colleagues. If you just let other senior people speak instead of you, then it would have been submissive.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to say without knowing which conference you're talking about but it sounds to me like you did the right thing. I remember once seeing one of the top people in his field at the poster session of a conference where talks were clearly more prestigious. In this case, he had either chosen to give a poster or had submitted a late abstract and was put in the late abstract poster session. Either way, it didn't affect his impact much because there was always a huge crowd of people around his poster trying to talk to him. My point is that I wouldn't worry about it too much. As a full professor you will probably know enough people to interact a lot at the poster session and the prestige of giving a talk is probably not as important for you as it is for the early career scientists that will be speaking instead.

Janus Professor said...

In my field, the general perception is that a poster is less prestigious. However, my best experiences at conferences have been when I give posters. I meet more people, I network more effectively, and the feedback on the work is genuine.

Average Professor said...

I think that while conventional wisdom is that talks are higher-profile, they're higher-profile in a less valuable way, because you generally don't have the same quality of dialogue with interested parties that you do when you give a poster.

So I think both have value, talks in just getting your face and name recognized, but posters in really getting to generate some substantive interest in your work. (Not that you can't generate good discussion or contacts from a talk. It's just much easier with a poster, in my - albeit pretty limited - experience.)

Perhaps your selection of a poster is not an indication of submissiveness or being too nice, but rather an indication of your confidence that you don't need more name/face recognition, and that you're more interested in having some good dialogue about your work. And if not, then you should just spin it that way. ;)

Kate said...

What's tricky about this is that I think you DID do the right thing and those two men are wrong... but it does sometimes seem like women doing the "right" thing also ends up being the submissive/less promotional thing.

We put a lot on ourselves to be the ones thinking and trying to make the right decisions to advance junior colleges, especially ones from underrepresented groups. But it seems to me that that only makes sense up to a point, and part of what we all should be doing is figure out how to either retrain men who function in an unawarely jerky (which plays out as sexism) way... or reach out to them and make them our allies so that they no longer do this unaware stuff.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question. I am female and have been in the same position. In my case, I assigned myself a talk, but only because my co-convener assigned himself a talk (and it did not even occur to him to not give himself a talk). I thought it would appear classically submissive if I didn't give myself a talk as well.

In my field, it is very common for the conveners to give themselves talks. It is also common for them to give themselves posters.

Anonymous said...

If you are famous, it doesn't matter whether you are giving a talk or a poster. People will find you anyway. I feel it was very annoying when a group of people showed up for a famous person's talk, and left right after that as a group when a student/junior was the next speaker. They (maybe a different group) might come back again for 15 min for another famous person's talk.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Part of the lure of the talk is that it's usually a bit easier to rearrange some slides and throw in a few new graphs than it is to generate a poster, deal with layout issues, and then get the whole thing printed, which more often than not ends in disaster, or at least some hours of anxiety ("Why did all of the Micros print as rectangles??")

But I agree with others, if you're as established in the field as it sounds, you come off looking good for promoting younger colleagues at some slight expense to your own publicity.

Unknown said...

I like to believe that behavior like yours is moving us toward a different paradigm in research, with less nepotism than what we currently have. But this shift requires more people who do not have their self-worth so inextricably linked to the external valuation of their work. It's ironic that talks are perceived as more prestigious than posters, but an organizer can simply assign themselves to a talk. The lack of external review on this decision suggests that this self-assigned talk is actually not more prestigious, and the paper is actually not higher quality. If it only gets a talk session by self-appointment, it may not have deserved it in the first place.

I applaud your actions, FSP.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm a grad student, and all the conferences I've been to, I've been pretty happy that the organizer gave a talk. I guess I haven't given it much thought, but I really wanted to listen to a talk by the organizer and I would have been disappointed if they didn't give one. It doesn't have to be one of the long talks; a short one will do. The organizer is usually someone who is known in their field and I thought it was part of being a good host to give a talk. Though I confess, if they stepped down to offer the talk to me, I wouldn't complain. For a grad student however, that's a pipe dream.

"Part of the lure of the talk is that it's usually a bit easier to rearrange some slides and throw in a few new graphs than it is to generate a poster"

That's where we have to disagree. Even if I rearrange some slides, if I want to give a good talk I still practice it 5-10 times. I then ask labmates to listen to the talk and make changes, practice some more, ect... My talks are polished so that nothing can go wrong and every word and joke is planned out and meets with success. It takes far longer to do this.

A poster takes only a day to make. Though, as you say, a lot of people have trouble with layout especially if the poster is made as a slide in PowerPoint. The grouping of objects can be hell when you have about a 100, and if you miss one, it will fly off the poster at printing. Nothing that a bit of practice won't fix though. Though, for my next poster, I'm going to use a different program.

Anonymous said...

I think it's better that you didn't give a talk. It sounds like you're fairly well known in your field, so it may not be all that necessary to "promote" your work. It's nice to give lesser known people that opportunity.

Besides, posters give you more of an opportunity to discuss one-on-one with people...which is more comfortable, IMO, than standing up in front of 50 strangers.

Female Science Professor said...

I should say that I don't think my co-organizers are jerks. The talk v. poster decision can involve other factors besides an interest in self-promotion: some presentations lend themselves better to talks, for example. I felt in my case, though, that it would have been obnoxious for me to give myself a talk.

Michelle said...

The last line in your post is fabulous - I hope you have a fun and productive time at the conference!


Ms.PhD said...

I think it's great that you're promoting younger scientists, but don't discount the value for us younger female scientists of seeing senior female scientist speakers.

In my view, the best time I can have a meeting goes like this:

I give a talk > I see a woman talk and think "she's a great role model" > I see a man talk and think "he's a great role model " > I lurk and don't present anything > I give a poster

But that's because I hate making posters, which probably because I'm not good at it. I got a new book on making scientific posters, but I doubt it will help.

The next meeting I'm going to, I have to do both! Twice the stress, twice the fun. And I have to check the schedule, my big hope is that the poster will be AFTER the talk, when it would be very helpful, and not the other way around, which would be much less helpful.

Anonymous said...

I co-organised a large international conference in 2002. The local organising committee (1F, 3M if you care) took a decision that no-one in the home institution got talks, but could fill in where required (it was - twice). We also decided that fill-ins would be final year PhDs and postdocs who needed a new position.

So yes, I agree with your position, and whilst I don't think you should ever miss a chance to say how good your own work is, you should not give yourself the chance. If you want to see someone's character give them power etc.

Anonymous said...

I don't think talk/poster assignments have much to do with self-promotion or generosity. As an untenured Assistant Professor, I have convened Sessions on three occasion, and the overriding concern is to strike a balance between papers on topical issues, give a young colleague a break and importantly strike a balance between US and non-US speakers. As a result, I have done 2 posters and one talk. Submitted abstracts and recent publications help gauge who's upto what...and what would prompt a good discussion.

I think you are generous...which

Anonymous said...

I agree with Janus Prof - I actually prefer posters. They're seen by more people and you can get interesting feedback and make connections. Since you already have tenure, you don't have to worry about the prestige in the same way as a junior person. So, you are actually promoting your research more and giving it a wider audience :)

EliRabett said...

The organizer is the host of the session. Nuff said.