Poster Child? Not bad

By Jack Rosenberry, St. John Fisher College

Dear Professor: I am pleased to inform you that your paper submitted to our division’s research competition has been accepted for presentation at the AEJMC summer convention. …”

Typical submitter’s response: ALL-Rig-g-h-t! It got ACCEPTED!

“ … It will be presented in the Scholar-to-Scholar Poster Session scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday afternoon …”

Continuation of response: Oh. A poster session. Hmph. I wonder what they didn’t like about it.

Many of us who have had papers accepted for the convention have experienced this range of responses. Without a doubt, the idea of presenting in “just a poster session” carries a stigma that the research, while acceptable for the convention, is somehow second-rate.

This is a belief that the Council of Divisions and Standing Committee on Research are hoping to change.

The simple fact is that with the growth of the organization and the convention, it would be a physical impossibility to accept the number of papers that has become typical in recent years and have them all presented orally.

Last year’s convention in Chicago saw about 700 papers accepted for presentation; for that many to be presented orally with four papers to a session, as is typical, would have required 175 sessions. The convention programming “grid” had about 250 available programming slots from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. So to schedule oral presentation of all papers would have occupied literally 70 percent of the convention programming, and left only about 75 slots for other programming – with 30 divisions and interest groups scrambling for them.

As important as research is, nobody wants a convention dominated that severely by it. And nobody wants to limit the number of accepted papers to such a small number that all can be presented in the limited number of oral sessions, either. That is why poster sessions and “high-density” sessions have become increasingly common at the convention. (In a high-density session, approximately 10 presenters each give a 3-to-5-minute summary of their work, a time limit that moderators strictly enforce. Then, presenters go off to different parts of the room and listeners can approach them for more in-depth discussion of the work.)

For its part, the Newspaper Division received about 80 paper submissions for Chicago and accepted about 40, a typical acceptance rate across all units that hold research competitions. About half of those 40 accepted papers were presented in five traditional sessions, leaving the other half for two poster sessions: the Scholar-to-Scholar event and a special poster-research session co-sponsored with the Mass Communication and Society Division.

The same number and format of sessions is on the schedule for Boston this year. So, if your paper is accepted by the Newspaper Division, there’s about a 50 percent chance it will be presented in a poster session.

One hypothesis about the stigma against poster research is that it exists because some institutions consider them to be “lesser” accomplishments that don’t carry as much weight in the tenure case because of fears that posters are a dumping ground for secondary work.

But within AEJMC, all papers are accepted according to the same criteria. Only after all acceptances have been made are papers divided into their presentation venues, which ideally is done on the basis of a theme that combines similar papers in a given presentation.

Research chairs are instructed to divide the best papers between the oral sessions and the poster or high-density ones, and especially to make sure some of the best papers are allocated to the Scholar-to-Scholar session. All papers, regardless of venue, are read by a discussant who offers a critique of them.

So within AEJMC, at least, no stigma should be attached to poster or high-density sessions. Absolutely no distinction is made in the judging or standards for acceptance based on the presentation venue.

I have done both traditional research presentations and posters in recent years and actually have come to prefer posters. A bit more preparation needs to go into the presentation materials for a poster session. But once that is done, the rest is very easy. I find it easier – or at least less nerve-wracking – to make a poster showing than to deliver a formal presentation to a room full of colleagues. (Or to a room devoid of them, which is even worse!) The sessions allow for a lot of informal chatting with people who are really interested in your work, and I’ve met colleagues at such sessions who have become close friends and collaborators because of our similar interests.

So, if your work is destined for a poster session, don’t despair. Know that it met the same high standards that every other accepted paper did (and save this column to show your chair or tenure committee if you need validation of that). Enjoy the more relaxed setting to show off your fine efforts. And look for me, because I like attending them as much as I like presenting in them.

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