You’ve had a lot of questions about the poster projects, and that’s expected. The poster project assignment is an ill-structured problem. Let me explain.
Well-structured problems have a single correct answer. When you solve a well-structured problem, you can confirm that you got the right answer. An ill-structured problem doesn’t have a single correct answer – multiple answers are possible and the quality of the answer depends on the quality of the justification and supporting evidence.
In the life and health sciences we rarely have a well-structured problem to solve. Conducting original research and communicating your discoveries, diagnosing a patient and designing a treatment plan are real world examples of ill-structured problems.
The goal of the poster projects is to give you practice taking on the challenges of an ill-structured problem. From what I’ve seen so far, you’re doing really well! Keep it up. It gets easier with practice.
By the way: you can include your posters in applications to med school or grad school as evidence that you can ask questions, conduct research, and answer those questions – highly prized skills!
Now for student questions:
“Are we supposed to relate our topic to things we are interested in as a biologist?”
Yes, absolutely! Your questions should be interesting to you. This is your chance to center your learning on what you actually want to know about biology! You can even approach the same topic that you’re passionate about from different angles as we do the next three posters. The first Learning Outcome for our class from the syllabus is “research one or more ‘personal passions’ for biology.”
“Do I have to state my question on the poster? If so where?”
The best posters will have clear questions that are answered, but you don’t have to write them as questions. You can describe your question with a statement on the purpose of your poster. The abstract should show the purpose and if you have a brief introduction, it should be there too (see Sample Poster).
“It’s unclear to me how we are supposed to put everything together on the poster (electronic) in the same template as the sample.”
The Sample Poster is on a single PowerPoint slide that has been sized to be 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide. If you go to: File > Page Setup, you can select “Custom” size and then enter a width and height in inches. For poster drafts you can re-size the slides to be “Letter Paper” or 8.5” x 11”. Pictures are easy to add by going to: Insert > Photo > Picture from file and then browsing to your preferred image file (.jpg works).
Text is a bit tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not too bad. Use the Text tool to add a text box to the page. My Sample Poster can be used to lay out the columns. If you want to wrap the text around a picture, you have to make several text boxes. Check out this tutorial from MS.
Minimum font size for the narrative section is 24pt. Minimum for captions is 20pt. Try to keep your narrative to 2 pages in order to have room for lots of good figures.
“How do I condense/simplify my information so that it isn’t just a review on a poster, but still have depth, sophistication, and generate interest?”
This is a difficult question to answer simply. Use the most simple, concise language possible. Reduce words without reducing meaning. If you say it simply and clearly, you will sound sophisticated.
Use the correct technical words in the appropriate context to save space. We have technical words because they allow us to capture complex ideas in a single word or phrase. You’ll use a glossary to define those unavoidable technical terms.
The way to generate interest is by telling a compelling story. Build up your question with a little relevant background, introduce a conflict, then resolve that conflict. To practice and get a feel for how authors write these story elements into scientific papers, look for them in your reading. In each of the journal articles that you read try to identify the background, conflict and resolution (they should all be in the introduction).
Use the box and figures wisely to save space in the narrative.
“Still unsure about boxes. Do they just go near figures?”
The box is your friend. It lets you satisfy your content requirement in order to tell the story you are really interested in. I recommend using the box to make the connection between photosynthesis or cellular respiration and the topic related to your question. That way, the explanation doesn’t disrupt the flow of your narrative.
Once you’ve used the box to explain how a certain genetic disease can disrupt aerobic respiration you can use your narrative to discuss the effectiveness of different treatment options and how people with the disease can lead normal lives (or whatever story you want to tell). If you do this, then your narrative only needs one or two sentences explaining that the genetic disease disrupts aerobic respiration in the mitochondrion, rather than the three paragraphs it would really take to explain in detail. Those explanatory paragraphs (and maybe a figure) are in the box.
A figure is a picture to help you tell your story with a brief explanatory caption. Figures can also help to explain complicated ideas in very few words.