Category Archives: Education

Templates for better posters

There’s been a frenzy of discussion on Twitter this summer about conference poster design (see #betterposter, #betterposters, #butterposter) so perhaps it’s a good time to re-share my Powerpoint templates. You just download, then replace the existing text with your own. All assume that you have a catchy graphic  — that goes where the yellow box is. The text you replace contains basic tips but ignore the advice if you’re a pro. If you’re new to posters please see my page, “Designing conference posters” for details.

About that graphic: I strongly believe that it should be large and self-explanatory so that a viewer could follow your approach, results, and conclusions without you needing to explain a thing. If you have a graphic that is too complex (or poorly designed), a poster might not be the right venue for you.

Below is a standard horizontal template. Note that there is no requirement for the text boxes to have a line around them — it’s easy to set line width to zero. And if you want to delete the background color (gray, here), you can eliminate the “rectangles within rectangles” look. Totally up to you.


Here’s a template that moves the Literature cited, Acknowledgements, and Further information to the far right column … which causes the Materials & methods and Results areas to have more room. But the Conclusions box gets squished (such is geometry).


Here’s a template that might work for a humanities topic. I’ve chosen to have a question/result/conclusion flow (from left to right) inside the main arena, but you can always rearrange. There are also no rules about section names — just redo those, too.


The final template is a portrait-style one. For this orientation I think it’s critical to put the least important sections on the very bottom (that position is really hard to read without stooping).


If you’d like to read an article about the frenzy, here’s one from Inside Higher Education in which I’m quoted a few times.

The astute reader will notice that I haven’t promoted the use of QR codes. I used to have that suggestion on all my templates but I removed it years ago for two reasons. First, people who included a QR code said that it was never used and was a waste of space. They felt like a dork, and blamed me. Second, and more importantly, displaying a QR codes sets the normative behavior about photographing a poster, and that’s a problem because there are always presenters who do not want their posters photographed and shared online (that happens). If you want to give somebody more detailed information about your research, bring a handout to peddle. If you adore QR codes, just print business cards that have your name, poster title, email address, and QR code — then leave them all in an envelope pinned next to your poster (“Please take one!”).

That said, there is a place for QR codes in designing posters. For example, you could include the code below (for URL to this blog post) in a presentation on poster design. Just tell audience members to point phone camera at it.

Happy posterizing!

Alternative lawn signs for Mosquito Shield

Mosquito Shield is just one of dozens of companies that spray pyrethroids to kill mosquitoes. Homeowners typically pay $800 per summer for treatments spaced every 21 days and, as part of the deal, agree to feature a sign in their yard for the season.

Two types of people have these yard signs. The main category is homeowners who fully understand that pesticides have bad environmental effects but who simply don’t care. These are likely the same people who knowingly drive with their high beams on at night (“It’s safer for ME!”). And then there are people who were duped by the pesticide companies into believing pyrethroids kill only mosquitoes.

To better reach this second type of person as well as those who are interested in mosquito sprays but are still on the fence, I’ve fabricated six signs that highlight the fact that pyrethroids kill other animals:

All the signs are fairly self-explanatory except for perhaps the Bird Shield one. Pyrethroids don’t kill birds directly but many species depend on insects and spiders to feed themselves and their young. So when you hire Mosquito Shield to nuke your yard every three weeks you are reducing the numbers of birds that can survive in an area.

I realize that none of the above signs is going to be used by an actual pesticide company. Their business model is to obfuscate about the effects of pyrethroids. Indeed, most companies try to hide the fact that their mosquito sprays even contain pesticides. That’s why the government (federal and/or state) should require companies to clearly indicate the active ingredient of the spray. Here’s how it could (should) look, thus allowing curious neighbors to Google the chemical and be horrified.

Pyrethroid sign for Mosquito Shield

If you are an influential part of a local government, please consider enacting an ordinance that requires disclosure of the pesticide name on signs.

If you need an individual sign for your a presentation, here are some image files: fireflies, butterflies, bees, spiders, fish, birds.

Please share this page on your neighborhood social media to get the word out. These companies are spreading in popularity and it’s horrifying.

More details here.

Mosquito traps that work

Spring is officially here so I’ve deployed my collection of mosquito traps (photographs below). In case you haven’t seen them before, each is filled with water and decomposing plant matter (hay and compressed rabbit food), then equipped with special lids (and sticky cards) that prevent females from escaping once they get inside. In addition, eggs that the female might lay are also prevented from developing. All of this happens passively, 24/7, all summer long, without the use of chemicals. I have two from BioCare (~$30 from Gardeners Supply), two from Biogents (~$24 from BioQuip), and one that I made last year (~ $5 in supplies).

Every homeowner should have them. Coupled with other preventative measures (eliminating stagnant water, reducing excess vegetation, etc.), you can knock back mosquito levels and enjoy your yard again. Five units is probably sufficient for an average yard but I plan on making a few more this summer just to make sure.

Ideally, everyone on your block should have them, too, so if you are planning on ordering some you should first send a note to all your neighbors to see whether you can make a bulk order. E.g., if you order a lot of Biogents you can shave a few dollars off of each unit. Buying a bunch might seem like a lot of money but compare it to the cost (~$700) of having a company like Mosquito Squad spray your yard with pyrethroids every several weeks (every year). Using these passive traps also saves all the pollinators that are killed by those pesticides.