Tag Archives: presentation


This post is for people tracking the bizarre ethical slide of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. (CPBR).

As you probably know from my earlier posts, CPBR sends out a yearly invitation to plant biotechnology researchers to submit grant proposals.  Part of the emailed PDF has instructions on how to make a scientific poster, and a big part of that section was created by copying/pasting text from my page on the topic (but with no quotation marks and no attribution).

Because I happen to have an official copyright registration on my poster design page, the PDF is in violation of U.S. copyright law.  So, in addition to being able to sue CPBR rather easily, I can can also use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to send Notifications of Copyright Infringement (NOCIs) to have the CPBR document (PDF and any paper copies) destroyed.

So here’s what I’ve done.

  1. I’ve asked every member university to delete the PDF when received from CPBR.  In other words, the grants administration office will no longer forward that PDF to faculty on campus.  Because CPBR forbids member institutions from posting the PDF online (don’t ask me why), this means CPBR will not receive grant applications in the future.  Note that asking universities to help protect my copyright is a friendly request — I was not accusing the universities of anything.  It’s just like asking them to help protect copyrighted movies that might be illegally shared by students.  With one exception (University of Minnesota), they are happy to help. The University of Minnesota’s lawyers insist email forwarding of PDFs is exempt from copyright law (lingering effect of cold temperature?).
  2. I’ve asked every member company to do the same.
  3. I’ve informed the Fraud Alert representatives of the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agencies that CPBR is violating U.S. Copyright Law and should stop receiving Federal funds (DOE has given them almost $23 million, for example).
  4. I’ve informed CPBR’s internet provider that CPBR is using email to send content that infringes on my copyright.

All of the above could have been avoided if CPBR simply linked to my Designing Conference Posters page.  I love it when people link to my page.  Alternatively, if CPBR wanted to quote a sentence or two, that would be totally fine.  Here are two examples (book, website) of how to use quotation marks and attribution.

“Yet the politics of shipwreck can be avoided, I think, if we can construct a theory of feminist criticism within the framework of a general theory of the critical process that is neither purely objective nor purely intuitive; in that way, its processes can be examined beside, compared with, and contrasted to other branches of criticism with some degree of dispassionate distance.” [translate]

— Schumacher, D. 1989.  Subjectivities: a theory of the critical process.  Pages 29-36 in Feminist Literary Criticism: Explorations in Theory, edited by Josephine Donovan. University Press of Kentucky.

“CPBR speeds the transfer of plant-related biotechnologies from the research laboratory to the marketplace, expanding economic opportunities through university research and global networking. Its highly competitive project selection process includes … industrial evaluation of research concepts to insure [sic] industrial relevance … ”

— The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. Retrieved 22 March 2014, from http://www.cpbr.org/content.html.

It’s really odd that CPBR didn’t just use quotations and attribution.  The CEO has a PhD in literature, and CPBR’s website has images and quotes that are all nicely attributed. Plus the core mission of the company is to foster commercialization of the intellectual property of participating scientists — and CPBR has IP lawyers on retainer for that very purpose.  There are, in short, so many reasons why this is not a company you’d expect to plagiarize or to infringe on copyrights.

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Charts with bling

Just a silly pie chart I created for “Designing conference posters” to argue that graphs with illustrations can help viewers absorb results a bit faster than those with just labels and legends. (Please note that although the graphic is a tad silly, the data are real: less than 10% of Americans accept that humans evolved without supernatural help.)

Gallup poll on evolution of humans

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Poster page revisions

I finally got around to making some long-needed changes to my page on designing conference posters: http://colinpurrington.com/tips/academic/posterdesign.  For those who care, the poster-like file with poster tips is now just a PDF, not a Powerpoint template.  This PDF will hopefully be useful to those who want to both an example layout and tips on how to craft a poster. Teachers can print this PDF out on a large-format printer and pin it to classroom wall a month before student posters are due.  The second big change is that the Powerpoint templates are now text-light, which will make them easier to use as templates (i.e., no need to delete all the annoying “tips” text that was there previously).  Templates now come in a few different flavors, too (and more coming).  Finally, lots of minor changes to the page itself, though just as long-winded, with apologies. If you know of somebody who needs poster help, please feel free to send them the link.

Advice on designing scientific posters

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Open letter to poster session organizers

Poster session at Society for Neuroscience's Annual MeetingHere are a few opinions (mine, at least) on how sessions might be improved by the organizers of meetings. If you know the session chair in your society, please forward this post to him/her.

1.  Provide guidance on poster aesthetics, audience, word count

Conferences are announced a year or two in advance on web pages, and those pages should give presenters more than just the due date.  If you say, “Try to keep your word count under 800, use graphics, and design for people outside your field,” you might find that poster sessions are better attended and enjoyed.  And about that word count suggestion — just choose something, since “keep your word count low” means “under 8,000 words” to the average poster designer. If you can provide the above guidance, make sure it is added to a stable page on your society’s main web site, not just on the temporary page associated with the upcoming meeting.

2. Provide links to poster guidelines

If your society can’t be bothered to come up with guidelines, find a web site or online PDF that pitches advice appropriate for the kind of session you are organizing. Again, house this on a permanent page.

3. Don’t provide templates

poster-template-horizontal-1-purringtonIt’s tempting to post a PowerPoint template online, but that encourages attendees to use PowerPoint, which was not designed for posters. Providing a template also encourages all the posters to look the same … and that would make for a mind-numbing session. Also keep in mind that if you post a template with lapses in aesthetics, color choice, font size … everyone at the meeting will adhere to those lapses. I find glaring mistakes in almost all conference templates I have looked at, and I’ve looked at a lot. If you must post a template, hire a graphic designer to make one for you.

4. Don’t require logos or banners

Branding attendees’ posters doesn’t really add to the quality of the poster session. All it does is remind people that they are attending the meeting, which is silly unless people drink heavily and black out. Mandating a logo at the top of posters also squishes the title to be smaller, and adds a visual distraction that competes with graphic elements on the rest of the poster. If you really want to brand things, give attendees t-shirts and handbags.

5. Don’t require abstract on posters

A poster is an abstract. But it’s totally great to include a poster abstract in the conference booklet to help people figure out which posters they’d like to visit.

6. Show examples of good posters

Advice on designing scientific postersScientists learn how to design posters from their mentors and colleagues. Yes, that’s really alarming. So find a few good posters on the internet and link to them as examples. Ideally, get permission from the poster owners to display large versions of the poster directly on your conference page (links are fine, but most people won’t click on them). Give some commentary about each poster so that attendees know what is good about it.

Example of bad scientific poster (copyright colin purrington)7. Show examples of bad posters

Placing awful posters on your society’s web page can be a great way to communicate what not to do. You could also hang an awful poster at the poster session to generate conversation on design issues (“OMG that’s hideous!”). It could be fun, and might help improve the quality of posters at future meetings.

8. Post judging criteria, evaluation form online prior to meeting

If posters will be judged for prizes, tell attendees what criteria will be used. Ideally, post the forms that the judges will be using (shouldn’t be a secret!). And, please, don’t give top award to the poster with smallest font: that just encourages people at future conferences to use even smaller fonts.

9. Sponsor a fun “people’s choice” award

Even if you have official judging, set up a voting box in the poster session room for attendees to nominate posters for a “most enjoyable/creative/novel” (or whatever) award. There’s always one at a conference, and it would be nice to give them credit somehow, even if the judges didn’t give them any love.

10. Provide 4×6” poster stickers to presenters

personal-poster-stickerWhen people arrive at the meeting, have colored pens and pencils on a table and ask them to sketch their research. Making these sketches can energize the entire meeting, not just the poster session. E.g., people will proudly point to their mini-posters and explain their research. If you can list the time and place of your talk/poster, that will increase chance people will come. I’ve done poster design workshops involving these sketches for over a decade (at Swarthmore College, Sigma Xi meetings, NYAS, EPA, DOE, etc.) … and would love see to it catch on at meetings. It’s fun! If you’re curious, it’s mentioned in this article.

11. Specify horizontal posters, not vertical posters

A0 portrait powerpoint template for scientific posters -- Colin PurringtonI get it: it’s much cheaper to pack portrait-style posters into a meeting room. But here’s the issue: portrait-style posters can be really hard to read if they are large and conference attendees have different heights. Either the top of the poster is too high for short people, or the bottom is too low for tall people (see example). For example, males and females have different average heights … that alone might make the poster-viewing experience very, very different. Horizontal posters are much less of a problem for people of different stature. Plus, a horizontal poster allows the presenter to situate herself/himself in front of the poster without occluding the whole poster. In contrast, standing to the side of a portrait poster means standing in front of neighbor’s poster.

But if you can’t resist specifying everyone make vertical posters, at least suggest that attendees situate the boring sections at the bottom, as shown by this example. (See Templates for portrait-style science posters for more information.)

12. Prohibit photography of posters

Sometimes posters have research in progress, and many people would prefer that the tentative results aren’t broadcast to the world in tweets with the hashtag, #candothisbetter? (or whatever). Certainly, if the presenter is present and grants permission for a photograph to be taken, that’s all great. But the default — no pics with camera or smartphones — should put presenters at ease when they are not present.

If you want even more tips, please see my “Designing conference posters” page. I’ve been updating it since 1997 so it’s a tad long, with apologies. Feel free to send the link to your attendees if you’d like.


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