Organizing Student Poster Sessions
- Present a plan for the event at some sort of conference organization
meeting and get concurrence of the relevant organizing committee or
chair(s). This plan should include a date, judging plan (and rubric),
and prize information.
- Determine date/time for the event. We usually try to have the event at
the start of the conference as a kick-off, either before or concurrent
with the opening reception so it has an informal flair and there is
good, energetic traffic.
- Mixing the reception, student posters, and vendors is also a good
way to generate through-traffic, give exposure to both students and
vendors, and give delegates an early opportunity to learn the layout
and navigation of the event.
- Advertise the event date/time clearly on the conference website.
Participants need to know this information before they make their
travel reservations, particularly judges and students.
- Make sure that any prize money and incidental other costs (printing,
award preparation) are allocated in the conference budget.
- Student Organization
- To have a student poster event, you need student posters! Advertise
on the website, and include a separate poster registration to get
a head count and information about prospective students.
- You can email blast the students if you have a list of them, but
usually it's best to advertise on the website and in the conference
registration process itself. Be prepared for ~10% stragglers to join
very late in the process, even on the last day; they will not make it
into the program (below) but should have poster boards assigned and
should be judged.
- Maintain a spreadsheet of all students, their topics and classifications,
when they registered, email addresses, etc. You will be emailing them
with information about the event and using this as a basis for generating
the guidebook and judging sheets.
- Some conferences have student grants. At PAC/IPAC, we require student
grant recipients to participate in the student poster session (as well
as participate as scientific secretaries in oral sessions).
- A few weeks before the event, prepare a student poster guide that
lists student names and affiliations, coauthor names/affiliations,
classifications, and abstract text. A copy of the IPAC'15 student
program guide is available here.
Publish a copy on the website. Update it as changes are made to the
program. Print enough copies for the judges and students as late as
possible, preferably a day or two before the event. It does not need
to be professionally printed since it is not treated as a keepsake like
the actual conference program booklet is.
- A few weeks before the event, email all students reminder
information about the event. This includes their poster location
(assigned when creating the program booklet), layout map, and a
link to the program booklet on the conference website. This can
also include a link to information on the conference website about
the poster layout and poster board dimensions. This email should
also let the students know that they will probably have to give a
short "elevator speech" of 5-10 minutes to the judges about their
- Judge Organization
- Our judges usually come from the organizing committee or scientific
program committee of the conference on a volunteer basis. They also
need to know about the schedule early to ensure that they make travel
arrangements that permit them to participate fully.
- Doodle polls are good ways to poll
the SPC/OC of the conference to determine initial participation. For
IPAC'15, I also laid out the groups of posters by topic and wrote
another Doodle poll for confirmed judges to form two-judge teams for
groups of posters. This permitted judges to avoid posters where they
might have conflicts of interest, and allowed me to fill in judge
names on rubric score sheets beforehand so the judging organization
session was much more efficient.
- Typically we organize our judges in pairs, and allocate 10-15 minutes
per judging team per poster that they are judging. Each poster is only
visited by one pair of judges. There is a second round of judging by
a separate group of three judges who evaluate 6-10 finalists.
This gives a fairly straightforward calculation of the number of judges
that you need. For example, with 100 student posters and a two-hour
first round of judging, you need about 16-18 judges (10 minutes per
poster) to 24-26 judges (15 minutes per poster).
- We usually have a half-hour organizational meeting of the judges at
the start of the event, at the same time that we give the students
a half-hour window to mount their posters in the poster area. This
meeting is to form judging teams, remind the judges of the rubric,
and distribute judging sheets with poster assignments. After the initial
judging, there is another half-hour meeting of the judges to winnow
down their selections to a set of finalists (see below).
- Maintain a spreadsheet of the volunteer judges, including their email
addresses and areas of expertise. Some conferences like to assign
judges to posters in their area of expertise. I tend to assign judges
randomly since diversity is important and it reduces opportunities for
topical or scholarly favoritism.
- A few weeks before the event, email all judges reminder
information about the event. This includes a link to the program
booklet on the conference website, the location of the judges'
meeting room (and a map to it), and a copy of the judging
rubric. A copy of the NA-PAC'13 judging rubric is
- Preparing For The Event
- Be sure to reserve the poster space for the event, and a separate
meeting room for the judges. Since the judges are volunteers, it is
usually good to provide some sort of refreshments. You will want an
overhead projector in the judge meeting room to show reminder slides
about the rubric in the first meeting, and show a list of posters in
the second meeting where decisions about finalists are made.
- Have an assistant (or assistants) who can help run the event. They
should be in the poster area with a copy of the program booklet to
help students find their assigned posters, and help with poster
mounting and general traffic flow. They may also have to label the
poster boards with their numbers before the students arrive if this
is the first event of the conference.
- As mentioned above, email all judges and students reminders about
the event a couple of weeks in advance, using email addresses from
- As mentioned above, print and prepare copies of the student program
booklet a few days in advance, including copies for all judges and
at least the number of participating students.
- Prepare and print scoring sheets and copies of the rubric to
distribute to all judges at the judges' meeting on the day of the
- Prepare a spreadsheet or document to display information about the
top 10-20 posters (when determined) on an overhead in the second
judges' meeting. This document will be filled and adjusted during
that meeting based on discussions among the judges to determine the
list of finalists that the final judges will visit.
- The Event
- Visit the venue with your assistant(s) to ensure that poster boards
are clearly marked and set up, that poster mounting equipment is
available, and that the space is accessible. Give the volunteers
printed copies of the student poster guide, and give them
instructions to send you a list of late arrivals and their poster
board numbers a few minutes before judges are sent to the room
so you can include them in the poster list for the last set of
- Ensure that the meeting room is prepped before the judges meeting.
Meet with the judges, review the rubric and organizational plan
with them, and distribute judging sheets. My usual suggestion to
the judges is to walk through all their assigned posters to get
a feel for them, then return to them and address them in order
of promising presentation and topics. The judges should return
to the judging room with a prioritized list of about 3-5 posters
that are the best of their group.
- Participate in judging if necessary, and visit the venue during
judging to interact with students and express your appreciation
of their participation in the event. For students, face time with
the judges (and delegates) is the most important thing -- that's
what they're there for! This is also an opportunity to intervene
if judges are experiencing problems or if there are any problems
on the floor.
- Gather the judges back in the judging room at the close of initial
judging, and collect the prioritized lists from each group. Work
with the judges who can stay to get input and determine a list of
finalists among those that ranked highly. This can be a delicate
process, but as long as all judging teams are heard and have an
opportunity to bring their best to the floor, you usually can
achieve consensus quickly.
- We have tried to simply order posters by numeric scores before,
but this does not work as well as the "each group brings their top
posters to the table" approach listed above. Different judges have
different approaches to numeric grading even with a rubric, and
the rubric should not be slavishly adhered to. It's a guideline
for determnining which of the posters have the highest quality
within a given group. Simply listing posters by aggregate scores
can disenfranchise certain groups of judges who are more strict in
- When finalists are determined, let the volunteers in the hall know
so the finalist students can stay by their posters while other
students are released from the obligation to stand by their posters.
Sometimes they stand by anyway because they are enjoying interacting
with the delegates, but it's important for the students to know
as soon as possible which are finalists and which aren't.
- Gather the finalist judges, prepare scoring sheets, and go do the
final judging, interacting with the finalists, congratulating them,
and listening to them in detail about their work.
- Sometimes the winners are determined very quickly, in which case
it's best to let all finalists know the outcome right away while
they are still in the hall. If this process takes longer (as it
did at NA-PAC'13), then all participants and judges should be
informed of the outcome via email on the evening of the event.
- The Aftermath
- Email the winners congratulations from the committees (or even chair)
of the conference, and let them know about the award conditions and
- Prepare the awards (checks, tax forms, certificate or plaque, etc)
- Post winner information on the conference website and announce them
through appropriate venues, including via email to all students and
judges as noted above.
- Have a drink or three for a job well done! :)
Last update: 9 October 2013