Why create a research poster?


Jennifer Finlay is a second year PhD student at the Streatham Campus, University of Exeter. Jennifer completed her undergraduate MSci degree in biological sciences at the University of Aberdeen in 2018. Jennifer is currently looking to improve the production and welfare standards of lumpfish, a cleaner fish used in salmon farming, using water chemistry manipulation. Jennifer is partnered with Ocean Matters, the largest producer of lumpfish in the U.K. Jennifer enjoys public communication of her research, and thinks that it is a vital part of her degree. After completing her PhD, Jennifer would lie to work in the aquaculture industry before going on to teach. 

Research posters are an effective method for presenting your research in a creative way. There are an increasing number of ways to design a poster, and the research community is starting to embrace and encourage more innovative poster designs (see below for more detail).

For those who do not yet feel comfortable presenting orally or for those who like to present their research in a less structured way than oral presentations, posters are the way to go! Poster formats are only limited by the space that you are allotted (e.g. A0 portrait or A1 landscape); the content and the way you present your poster is up to you!

Whether you are presenting your research to the public, or at an academic conference, you will likely be given a ‘poster presentation slot’- the time at which you are expected to stand by your poster, sometimes with a drink or snack in hand, and answer questions. This informal presentation format allows you to tailor the poster to the audience. With oral presentations, once you have made your presentation, there is seldom an opportunity to change the direction of your presentation as you present. With posters, however, the presentation is more of a discussion; you can gauge how much background knowledge the audience has and adjust your presentation accordingly.

What is a research poster?

Research posters are not just for researchers with data, they are also a great way to introduce your research before you have started gathering data; you can outline your proposed project direction in a creative manner and get helpful feedback from the audience. When you don’t have data, focus on the background information, the aims and objectives of your research, and any methodology which you plan to follow to get answers.

When you do have data, research posters are a great way to highlight specific results which are exciting, novel, and/or interesting. Remember, posters are summaries of results; only show the interesting and unusual as cluttered posters can look intimidating and be hard to navigate. Generally, when you have data, it is a good idea to follow: what the background is and why you are researching the topic, the aims and objectives of your research, how you performed the research, a discussion of the results, the main take away, plus what you intend to do next.

Innovative poster designs

When you have set up your poster next to tens or sometimes hundreds of others, it is key that your poster stands outSo, you don’t want a poster like the one below…

This poster is clearly laid out, however, it is unlikely to capture anyone as it looks plain and there is too much text! See poster ideas below for ideas on how to capture an audience.

The above posters have attractive and simple colour schemes, and clear, easy to follow messages. To create an attractive and informative poster, follow these steps:

  1. Know your brief what are the dimensions of your poster? Change the dimensions before you start designing the poster. See this link how to change the slide size in PowerPoint. If you are using another version of PowerPoint or another type of software, Google and YouTube will help you. For different poster dimensions, see below.
  2. Know your audience if you are creating a poster for the public or people who know little about your research area, focus more on the background than data, and use plain language (no technical terms which you will have to explain over and over again). If you are looking to disseminate research results to an academic audience, make sure you have an overview (2 or 3 sentences) of the background and use the rest of the poster to show what you have done and how you did it. If you are looking to present your research to industry, a mix of the above is good; industry are likely to know some of the background, but maybe not all, and will be looking for the impacts of your research (i.e. are there economic or social implications?)
  3. Essential things to have on your poster include:
    a) Your name, a picture of yourself, your professional email, and your home institution(s): you may not be able to stand by your poster for the whole session and so people who are interested must be able to find you either at the conference, or contact you later on.
    b) Any supervisor’s and collaborator’s names and institution
    c) Sponsor and funder (e.g. research funders or travel grants at the event which you are presenting) names and logos
  4. Make the take away message the biggest thing on the page! The audience doesn’t want to have to read through the whole poster to decide whether it interests them- make the most interesting information big, bold, and colourful!!!
  5. Where you can, use images, graphs/charts, and tables instead of text. Large amounts of text are off putting to the reader, so keep it simple, and have relevant images to go alongside text. Make sure the images used are owned by you or are free to share.
  6. Font, text size, and colour is key! You want to have a simple colour scheme which is attractive but not overwhelming to the reader. Remember, not everyone has perfect vision, so make sure that key phrases and important information is clear.

Top tip: Print out different fonts, font sizes, and colours on an A4 piece of paper to see how they look from a distance. Are they clear? Do they stand out? 

  1. If you don’t want to have references on your poster as it makes the layout cluttered, print mini versions of your posters or the highlights on an A4 piece of paper with the references on the back. Put the mini copies in a plastic sleeve and pin them to your poster board for people to take away.
  1. If you are working on sensitive data or research which is not quite finished yet and you don’t want people to take a picture of or post about on social media, use these signs (available from Google) on your posters:

Remember, it is not what more can you add to the poster, but what can you take away and have your poster still make sense– you cannot fit all of your research onto a poster so make sure that only relevant and interesting information and results are on there! If you are available to present your poster, make sure you are smiling to encourage people to come and talk to you about your research! There will be many posters around you, each competing for an audience. Make sure your poster has relevant content and is attractive! Feel free to bring along some additional information or props- sweets can be a good prop to capture the audience!

Written by: Jennifer Finlay

Twitter: @lumpyjenny


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Conducting a viva virtually

Ahmad Alfaraj is a 3rd Year PhD student in Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS) from Kuwait, specialising in Gulf Literature
The reason behind this blog post is twofold. First, to support the University of Exeter’s Doctoral College team in this very challenging time. Kindly allow me to convey my most sincere appreciation to them for the extraordinary moral support they have so graciously shown me in this difficult time, especially PGR support. Second, I would like to encourage my colleagues to conduct their vivas virtually with some tips.

l accepted undergoing my viva virtually although I was -and I still- in Exeter and all my psychological preparation for it was on a face-to-face basis. But l know the material and I am confident of my ability to defend my thesis.

2 days before the date agreed, the administration team told me of the technical requirements for this virtual endeavour as l would need to ensure that they are all available in my apartment.

My virtual viva took place on Friday the 27th March at 1pm. 3 hours before, my internal examiner emailed me a link (an invitation) to join them via Microsoft Teams that I had already installed. I joined them easily on time, and found 3 participants: internal examiner, external examiner, and non-examining chair. My internal examiner introduced me kindly and shortly to them. After that, the non-examining chair decided politely to hide and mute his window in order to let my examiners start the formal examination. I might be fortunate because both of my examiners were lovely and polite with me during the whole discussion.

At 2:40pm, my internal examiner asked me kindly to end the videoconference and wait shortly for another invitation to announce my result. I joined them at 2:55pm again. My mother and I were listening carefully. “Congratulations Dr. Ahmad! I am delighted to announce that you passed your viva successfully” My external examiner said.

Perhaps the most valuable advantage of doing my viva virtually is getting rid of the extra stress that mostly occurs to PhD students during the normal pattern of vivas. I remember very well how I was extremely relaxed on my own desk during my virtual viva.

Just imagine with me the following scene: you’re in your own apartment, your thesis and a cup of tea are on your desk, wearing comfortable clothes, and surrounded by your necessary sources. I personally consider such comfortable atmosphere the catalyst for a better focus, faster answers, and a satisfactory performance.

Further benefits -beside those I exemplified above- might be also observed by anyone else had the same experience. However, as I said: “It’s my own experience!” and I hope you all folks have even better experiences. 

My advice before conducting the virtual viva:

– Read your thesis entirely (1 day before the viva).

– Sleep well.

– Check your internet speed.

– Charge your laptop.

– Practice breathing exercises for stress before joining the videoconference. It’s really fruitful.

This coronavirus situation has taken us all by surprise and its ramifications have disrupted the lives of all unfortunately. I find myself torn between checking on my family and loved ones back home and ensuring that I and my colleagues here are well. But l must admit that it is stressful.

That being said, it is a situation that has been imposed on all of us and we just have to make the best out of what we have. Therefore, I support you guys to stay safe in this challenging time. In the same time, I invite you to be open to the possibility of conducting the viva virtually via videoconferencing.


Written by: Ahmad Alfaraj


Preparing for a virtual upgrade

Isabel Sawkins is a second-year PhD student, based in the History Department at Exeter and the International Politics Department at Aberystwyth. Issy’s project investigates the contemporary memorialisation of the Holocaust in the Russian Federation, specifically how it has been represented in museums, film, and education. Her project is funded by the South-West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership. Issy is also co-editor for Ex Historia and one of the representatives for the British Association of Holocaust Studies

For half of 2019, my interaction with my supervisors took place solely through Skype: I was living with my parents over the summer months in Kent, before embarking on a ten-week placement at Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum between October and December 2019. Skype was also my modus operandi for communication with my supervisors upon my return to the UK, as I was living with my parents in Kent yet again before my “planned” research-trip to Russia between March and June (Spoiler Alert: that trip hasn’t happened!)

Because of my research-trip to Poland, the Doctoral College agreed to offer me the opportunity to sit my upgrade in the Second term of Year 2 of my PhD, a term later than was expected for my cohort. It afforded me the means to completely immerse myself in my research whilst abroad, and then focus on submitting the documents required for upgrade when back in the UK. Being able to split my time in this way was essential for my mental wellbeing, ensuring that I was not overwhelmed with multiple responsibilities during my time in Poland.

I submitted my documents for upgrade in mid-February, in the hope that I would be able to have my upgrade interview in the first weeks of March (when I was scheduled to be down in Exeter for a conference I had organised for the British Association of Holocaust Studies). However, given the UCU strikes, my upgrade was delayed until the end of March, to just two days before I was destined to fly to Russia. Given that I would be back in Kent by this point, it was agreed that my upgrade would happen virtually, and this had been the agreement since late-February.

The decision to move all upgrades online in light of Covid-19 complications did not, therefore, affect my planned upgrade in any way! I was prepared for the fact that my upgrade would happen in my parents’ house, with shoddy internet (they have six different WiFis in their house because of the thick Georgian walls). I was also prepared for a situation in which multiple people would be in the same vicinity as me (plus two dogs). Luckily, my mother was kind enough to offer to walk the dogs whilst my upgrade was taking place, so that they weren’t tempted to scratch at my bedroom door, climb over my laptop, and introduce themselves to my upgrade panel (and yes, they have done this during multiple Skype supervisions and conference calls!)

The upgrade was a really pleasant experience for me, a unique opportunity to discuss my research with experts in the field and how to look at the project from different vantage points. Speaking frankly, within two minutes of speaking, I had completely forgotten that I was speaking to my panel virtually: it didn’t even cross my mind! I actually think I was more relaxed doing the upgrade virtually. I was in the comfort of my bedroom, with a cup of tea in hand. My panel understood the complications that might arise from doing the upgrade in this fashion, and when one of my panellists disappeared because of poor internet connection, we all managed to laugh at the situation. Technology is not always our friend, but we were all prepared for this eventuality! We didn’t let technological anxieties get in the way of discussing the research, which was the reason for which we were all there, after all!

Now that I have passed my upgrade, I can continue with my work, although not necessarily as had been originally planned. Luckily, some of my information can be accessed online, and I have managed to schedule some interviews with teachers in Russia, which will definitely keep me busy! I am sure that some of the conversations during my upgrade will shape this next stage of my work, and I am incredibly thankful for the advice and guidance offered by my panel for this project.


Written by: Isabel Sawkins

Twitter: @IssySawkins