The joys of poster presentation

As Meredith mentioned last week, she, Craig, and I are counting down the days until we head out to sunny California for an academic conference.  I am really looking forward to above-zero temperatures. I am rather less enthused about the prospect of presenting a poster. Yes, it is good networking. Yes, I get to personally advertise results from a study that are currently in review at a journal (and hopefully will be published “soon”). Yes, I get to engage with brilliant minds whose research I have read forward, backwards, and sideways. Despite all of that, I’m still not excited.

Poster-ing is perhaps the most awkward component of an academic conference. Academics are not known for their mingling skills. Add to that the inherent awkwardness of having to lurk like an ambush predator by your poster while fellow ever-so-socially-savvy scientists trudge through the narrow aisle ways, trying to sneak non-committal glances at figures and headings without pausing long enough for the poster-presenter to pounce with their “poster spiel.” For the browsers who do stop and study your poster, you have stand there pretending that you aren’t just standing there breathing down their necks while they try to read your poster until they decide that a) this is really interesting and they want to talk to you, or b) phew that was close, they almost got roped into having to talk to you about something they know/care nothing about. Most conferences have figure out that poster sessions are a lot less painful if beer is served.

Working with big, fuzzy animals means that I usually get a pretty decent sized crowd at my posters. About half of those people want to ask me about job opportunities or to tell me about the time that they worked in a wildlife sanctuary and got to hug a lion and do I get to hug lions when I’m working? I once had a pleistocene re-wilding advocate approach me for advice on – no joke – introducing African lions into suburban America. But they aren’t all bad. I’ve met a number of people in poster sessions who have gone on to become respected colleagues and casual friends. I’ve met faculty members whose labs I am now applying to for post-doctoral research positions. And I’ve learned how to condense a 20-page paper into a 2 minute monologue — which is a remarkably handy skill to have.

As much as I gripe and grumble about poster sessions, I know they’re good for me. At least with this one, I’ll be close to the beach!!

Below is a copy of my (draft) poster for the upcoming Gordon Research Conference that a chunk of the Snapshot Serengeti team will be at. It’s mostly on data outside of Snapshot Serengeti, but you might find it interesting nonetheless! (Minor suggestions and typo corrections welcome! I know I still have to add a legend or two…)

At 4 feet by 4 feet, this thing is a beast!

At 4 feet by 4 feet, this thing is a beast!


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About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

8 responses to “The joys of poster presentation”

  1. matti Ollikainen says :

    Could the posture picture be published with more detail ie. with more pixels? Seems to host a great total of interesting stuff.

    • ali swanson says :

      Hmm, I published the full res version but it won’t seem to enlarge — that’s silly. I’ll see if I can fix that!

  2. Adam says :

    Your Figure 4 is my personal Snapshot all-seasons favourite and the whole poster looks great.I’d normally wish you luck, but honestly, no luck is required..Enjoy !

  3. Nicholas Rowe says :

    “The joys of poster presentation”

    You mentioned the elephant-in-the-room ! There are more posters than any other type of conference presentation. They are undertaken in huge amounts, costing millions of $ around the world. We present up to date Rc on topics of interest, but …

    Few people stop & really engage – we compete with lunch, coffee etc – we have to ‘ply our trade’ (sorry to mention ‘trade’) – we ‘advertise’ but get a second rate ‘publication’ to put on the CV & all our carefully crafted efforts are condensed into a 300 word abstract in proceedings …

    I have written on poster presentation since @2008 & am doing a PhD on the subject (someone has to be interested in the elephant-in-the-room). My concern is that whilst we want to disseminate findings, engage & network with others, publish, raise our profile in the field etc, posters (as they currently work) do not help much in any of these areas … but we paradoxically still use them as our #1 conference platform. I am trawling the world literature (in 20 languages) & hope to be able to show what we identify as our motivations for poster presentation,

    Let me know if this topic is of interest to you (or anyone else reading the blog): nrowe(at) …. not exactly the Serengeti, but someone has to live up here 🙂

  4. David Bygott says :

    Congrats Ali, this is a most provocative and interesting piece of work! I am blown away by Fig 2 – had no idea there were so many dog sightings – who has been doing that work?

    What do you think is the mechanism here – do lions actively persecute dogs / kill their young / steal their kills? Yet they do the same for cheetahs, with much less apparent effect. In the 70’s, dogs were still occasionally seen in the lion project range (like, we’d see some every month or two), yet I can’t recall obvious instances of conflict. Dogs seemed good at choosing den sites in open plains unfrequented by lions.

    Could there be a disease issue? yet you’d think there would be far more transmission in current dog range, from domestic animals, than within the park.

    What are the dogs eating in LGCA & NCA…surely must be mostly domestic stock in those areas….easy prey, yes, but how do they get away with doing that?

    In Fig 5, do the color contours each month show cheetan distribution? that isn’t clear, as in Fig 3 they showed lion distribution.

    And yes, what about hyenas, the real ‘elephant in the room’?? An outsider might find it a teeny bit odd that after c. 30 yrs of dedicated work by the Serengeti Hyena Project, “demographic and ranging data were insufficient for inclusion”… I know, dont ask 🙂

    Great stuff, my head is buzzing. Hope you got lots of good feedback.

    • ali swanson says :

      Hi David –
      It is all a bit of a surprise, eh? I have a suspicion that what’s happening here is that the cost for encountering a lion is really costly for wild dogs, and so they get displaced from lion territories altogether. In doing so, they lose access to really valuable resources. Cheetahs, for whatever reason, seem to be able to use lion territories. It could be that they are able to employ fine-scale avoidance strategies (as suggested in Vanak et al. 2013 and Broekhuis et al. 2013) that let them first and foremost access food, and then only secondarily avoid lions. Maybe they can do this because they are less conspicuous than dogs (solitary, quiet), or can use their speed to escape a lion attack. It’s also quite possible that estimates of lion-inflicted cheetah cub mortality were inflated (see the brand new Mills & Mills 2013), or are compensatory with other sources, or just don’t matter that much for cheetah population dynamics (e.g. Crooks et al.’s PVA from the late 1990’s).

      Frustrating that hyena data were insufficient, or, more accurately, unavailable. But the coarse-scale surveys that are published indicate that, if anything, hyena numbers have increased since the 1960’s. So, while they may have contributed to wild dog decline, they don’t explain why cheetahs are doing so well in the face of tripled lion numbers!

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