‘Ten top tips’ for designing a research poster

Rebekah J White (she/her) is an evolutionary biology and genetics PhD researcher in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter. Her current project involves exploring the genetic basis of ageing, late-life disease, and lifespan extension in nematode worms, using a range of laboratory-based techniques. Her previous work has included emerging zoonotic diseases and transmissible cancers. Rebekah has a passion for communicating research both to the public and to researchers in other fields through many mediums, including podcasts, social media, and interdisciplinary conferences. She co-delivers the Designing Effective Research Posters course for the Exeter Doctoral College. Twitter: @rebekah_jwhite

Shahan Choudhury (he/him) is an Applied Linguist and a postgraduate researcher in Education. His PhD focuses on children’s and teachers’ understanding of English grammar in reading and writing contexts and how grammar is used. He is a part-time lecturer in Academic English at Anglia Ruskin University. At Exeter, he co-delivers Designing Research Posters, Writing Journal Articles and Academic Writing. His aim is to help others improve their reading and writing through the understanding of grammar.


If you are considering designing a research poster, get started with the ten top tips below developed by the Designing Effective Research Posters skills training leads.

  1. The key aim of a research poster is to summarise research results in a concise and attractive Always keep this point at the forefront of your mind during the design stage. Totally stuck for ideas? Have a look at some research posters online, or perhaps stroll through some University buildings which sometimes have them up, such as the hallways of Hatherley or Washington Singer on Streatham.
  2. One of the most important stages is planning and thinking things through. Ask yourself the following questions – having clear answers to these questions will help you throughout the design process.
    1. Why am I doing this poster?
    2. What is my core message?
    3. Perhaps most importantly – What do I want to achieve (e.g., sparking discussion, networking, attracting funders)?
  3. Try and first design a draft outline of your poster. Start with a blank sheet of paper/open up a new PowerPoint slide and jot down the following titles, along with bullet points on what will be included in each section: Background/ introduction, Aims, Methods, Results and Conclusion. Make sure you include…
    1. The university logo (and funders’ one, if applicable), which you can access from here: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/departments/communication/communications/design/downloads/
    2. Your name with an asterisk, and others that contributed to the project
    3. Contact information of all contributors
    4. References
  4. Adapting your message to your audience: If your audience is all within your discipline, how would you change what you say, for example for an interdisciplinary conference? Think about things you would need to do to make it accessible for each audience.
  5. Think about language. This will depend on your audience – will it be interdisciplinary, field-specific, or industry-based? Spending time on what you write is just as important as you are looking to communicate your research in an easy-to-understand manner. Do think about:
    1. The words you will use. How much / what jargon is appropriate?
    2. Sentence length – short is preferred!
    3. Keep it formal
    4. Keep explanations as simple as possible
    5. When using images and diagrams, are they self-explanatory, or is a little annotation needed?
  6. Looks matter: How will your poster look? Make sure to check on specific conference requirements for layout or size (if there are any). Take care with the design, making sure that:
    1. Font is clear and legible
    2. Images​ are appropriate and relevant
    3. It is not over-crowded
    4. It is not text-heavy
    5. You use colours that complement each other
  7. It takes time! Give yourself plenty of time to work on it – it is fun but can take longer than you think.
  8. Reuse your templates! If you have done steps 1-3 above, you should be well on your way to designing your personalised template. Remember, you can re-use it each time you do a different poster.
  9. The extra flair: Give your poster an edge by adding ORCiD, QR codes, or even a link to a video!
  10. And finally: show your poster to a friend, colleague and family member even, asking them what they think of it – you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you learn by getting other peoples’ views!

We hope this helps. Enjoy getting started with your research poster!

Top Tips for Tweet Your Thesis

Thinking about entering this year’s Tweet Your Thesis competition? We’ve asked last year’s winners for their advice and top tips to help you craft that prize-winning tweet!


Ari Cooper-Davis, PGR in the Centre for Water Systems – 1st Place













Ari’s top tips

  • Assume your audience is not familiar with your subject area, so try to avoid acronyms or subject-specific vocab
  • An eye-catching photo can draw attention. If you’ve not got any you can find freely-usable images on Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay
  • Using whitespace to break up big blocks of text makes it easier to scan, and can make your narrative easier to follow

You can find Ari on Twitter @aricooperdavis


Kate Sansum, PGR in the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre – 2nd Place















Kate’s top tips

  • Keep the message clear and simple. Imagine you are explaining your research to a child/teenager as this helps to ensure anyone can understand what your thesis is about
  • Use emojis to help save characters when you are over the limit
  • Add a relevant and engaging GIF or photo to supplement the information in your text

You can find Kate on Twitter @KateSansum.

Thinking about entering 3MT? Here are our top tips.


Jennifer is now a third year PhD student in the biosciences department. Jennifer looks at how elevated CO2, commonly found in fish farms, impacts lumpfish growth and behaviour. Lumpfish are farmed to be deployed into salmon pens across the U.K. Jennifer won the UoE 3MT competition in 2019.


Isabel Sawkins is a third 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.



Thinking about entering our 3 Minute Thesis competition? PGRs Jennifer Finlay and Isabel Sawkins, who run our presentation skills training, have developing this infographic with some top tips! Don’t forget to apply online by 30th April!


Opportunity: NVivo Learning Materials Developers

We are looking to recruit a small group of doctoral researchers across the GW4 community, who are using NVivo in their research, to develop learning resources for other doctoral researchers to use. Ideally these learning resources should illustrate how you use NVivo within your research.

Successful applicants will be employed on a casual teaching contract and can claim up to 15 hours for developing the resource.

This opportunity has several benefits:

  • provides a fantastic development opportunity
  • uses the practical, ‘on the ground’ experience of our doctoral researchers
  • gives the resource ‘currency’ – made by doctoral students for doctoral students
  • provides a paid opportunity

More about the learning resources

We are looking to recruit around 8 students across the GW4 community to work on topics including, but not limited to:

  • theory- or data-driven data analysis (for example thematic analysis or grounded theory)
  • conducting literature reviews and working with NVivo and reference managers (EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero)
  • using queries and visualising data or coding
  • coding and analysing video and audio materials
  • importing and analysing survey data-
  • collecting and analysing social media data
  • creating coding frameworks
  • working with maps and diagrams
  • using case of file classifications
  • working with auto-coding
  • using a framework matrix
  • how to facilitate double-coding or teamwork more broadly
  • any other NVivo feature or trick that has been useful in your work

Applicants should ideally have some experience of online teaching and resource development (although not essential). Experience of producing videos, podcasts or posters will be an advantage.

The successful applicants will be expected to create online resources in a variety of formats, which could include including short video presentations, podcasts, infographics, exercise and task sheets and interactive pdfs. Technical support will be available, if required. The resources will be clearly credited and attributed to the creator.

This pilot project is part of new initiative to create a community of NVivo users.

How to apply

To apply for one of these positions, please fill in this application form.

The closing date for applications is 9 May.


In February we launched our PGR Careers Planning ELE page, with bespoke resources taking PGRs through the Career Management Cycle.

This blog post is an extract from this ELE page all about Networking, and was developed by Dr. Kate Massey-Chase, doctoral graduate in Drama.


We are currently surveying our PGRs and find out what other resources you would like us to develop to enhance our PGR Careers Planning ELE page and Beyond Your Research Degree podcast, and in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic through a brief online form here. 

Some people shudder at the word ‘networking’, picturing awkward drinks events where you have no idea who to talk to (or how to hold a drink and canapé and eat/drink/talk at the same time). But networking isn’t just about meeting people in the atrium of a conference or going to events with people in shiny suits, aggressively thrusting business cards at you. It’s simply about making and sustaining connections.

You already have networks around you: your supervisors, other colleagues in your department, your research student peers, research networks you belong to, conference working groups, social media groups… So you’re not starting from scratch. But: are you making the most of them?

Ask yourself:

  • Do the staff in your department, beyond your immediate team, know you by name?
  • Have you positioned yourself as someone who can be asked for a favour? If someone needed an extra pair of hands for an event or had an exciting opportunity to offer, would they think of you?
  • If someone in your department was writing a paper that overlapped with your research area, would they know it was your area too?
  • Have you attended events run by your College? Or offered to organise any?
  • Do you ever email someone after an event to tell them how much you like their work?
  • Have you nailed your academic Twitter game?
  • Do you forward opportunities to your peers, if you think they might be interested? Do you offer to proof-read their abstracts or applications?

From this list, we can see that networking is not about self-promotion; it’s about dialogue and connection. It’s about being proactive, helpful, generous and kind. You get out what you put in, so it’s up to you to create the research community you want to be a part of.

Of course, this might sound a) daunting, and/or b) horribly time-consuming. You also might feel it puts those with other demands on their time – such as caring responsibilities, part-time work and health needs – at a disadvantage. However, we are not advocating participating in a toxic culture of trying to push, push, push and be everywhere, all of the time, for everyone. We’re not suggesting that research students sign up for lots of unpaid labour (like regularly doing the washing up after events, if the paid staff aren’t also helping). But rather that you think strategically about what you get involved in – and this course aims to help you do that. And yes, for those with multiple demands on their time, it can sometimes feel like a lot to keep on top of. That’s why it’s important that it’s always dialogic and mutually supportive. It only takes a moment to forward an email to a peer telling them about a conference that you think they might be interested in; then, you never know: they might do the same for you.

The harsh reality is: if you don’t build networks, your work and your job prospects will suffer. Your research suffers because you have fewer people to ask for feedback, are exposed to fewer ideas, and are less likely to encounter research at the fore-front of your field. And your job prospects suffer because you miss opportunities and you have fewer people to recommend you.

So, what can you do to build your network?

  • Find out what your peers’ research topics are, if you don’t already know, and send them the next call for papers or job opportunity you think might interest them. If they never do the same back, it doesn’t matter because you have done a nice thing. Bonus points if they are students who have the potential to be marginalised in academia (women, disabled people, students of colour, international students).
  • Follow people that interest you professionally on Twitter and engage with them (see more about using social media to build your career, below).
  • If you are feeling shy at a conference/event, ask a friend or your supervisor to introduce you to people they know; don’t worry too much what you talk about – you don’t always need to do your ‘elevator pitch’ – just see how things progress naturally. If your working group is going for dinner one evening, be brave and don’t just sit with your friends.
  • Subscribe to relevant Jisc Mail lists – these are email discussion lists for UK Education and Research communities (you can find mailing lists by category, or ask around which ones your peers/supervisors subscribe to).
  • Keep talking! If you are passionate about your work, people will find it interesting (and show interest in others’ work in return). You never know what’s around the corner or who you might meet, so go ahead and chat to people on trains, in cafes, at the pub… This also helps you practice talking about your research in ways that are accessible to diverse audiences.

As well as building your confidence in reaching out to people, making contacts and then nurturing relationships, you can also make use of ready-made networks at the University of Exeter. Some of the networks are listed here, such as the Early Career Research Network, women’s groups and initiatives, and the Parents and Carers Network.

Networking at conferences

If you are looking for more advice about networking at conferences, Heidi Maurer from London School of Economics, offers some sage advice:

Do not make the mistake of thinking you are only there to present your research. You are there to become part of an academic community, what means that you need to invest time and engage beyond your own panel appearance. When you are part of the audience, show interest and ask questions. We all like engaging audiences, so be one. Also, do not only network with the “big names” in your field (i.e. professors), but also engage with your peers. These are the people with whom you will share the largest part of your career, and it is indispensable to learn, exchange and create supportive networks with one´s peers.

Read more of her advice in her blog: ‘Preparing to Present at an Academic Conference’.

The jobs.ac.uk website also offers practical advice on networking as an academic in their blog ‘Networking: How to Maximize Opportunities and Boost Your Career Connections’, including the importance of opening conversations with questions to get things rolling. Remember: most people like to talk about themselves.