Tips on judging scientific posters

Scientific posters are a great way to engage colleagues at conferences, providing a visual route into research. They can be used to facilitate discussions, spark new ideas, and introduce scientists to areas of research they are unfamiliar with. Judges should keep in mind that this is not only a competition, but also an educational and motivating experience for the students. For most students, the high point of the poster session is the series of interviews with interested judges.

Don't worry if you are not an expert in the area of research related to the student's project. As a judge, you will be providing a valuable audience for the student's presentation and the student will have an opportunity to fully explain the question and background of the problem to you. Ideally, the projects should be presented in a fashion that is understandable to a “lay person.”

Following are some tips on how to conduct yourself as a judge in a fair and professional manner:

  • Examine the quality of the student’s work and how well he/she understands the project and area of study. The physical display is secondary to the student’s knowledge of the subject. Look for evidence of laboratory, field or theoretical work, not just library research or gadgetry.

  • Judges should use an encouraging tone when asking questions, offering suggestions, or giving constructive criticism. Judges should not criticize, treat lightly, or display boredom toward projects they personally consider unimportant.

  • Compare posters only with those at the poster competition and not with posters seen in other competitions or scholastic events.

  • Students should be interviewed by one judge at a time. Even one judge can be intimidating for some students and for this reason one-on-one interviewing is preferred. Occasionally, some posters become crowded with judges observing. In this case, only one judge should be asking the student questions.

  • In fairness to the participants, it is absolutely necessary to maintain the confidentiality of the results of the judging process. Judges are not to disclose in any way the results of the judging process to anyone. Be discreet when discussing or making critical comments in elevators or other areas where students or others might overhear. Winners will be announced only during the awards ceremony.

  • Comments of a personal nature, by a judge to any participant, are unacceptable. Judges must adhere to the highest standards of professionalism. Avoid personal questions about the student’s background, home and school life. Stick to questions related to the project.

  • A potential for conflict of interest arises when a judge is personally acquainted with a student that he/she will be judging. This acquaintance can be the result of a biological relationship (i.e., a family member), mentoring, teaching, etc. It is the responsibility of the individual judge to notify one of the SC INBRE Program staff of any possible conflict of interest at the earliest possible time, so that the judge can be reassigned to a poster(s) that would eliminate the conflict.

These questions might help you evaluate researchers’ posters:.

  • Is the abstract succinct and informative? An abstract summarizes, but also presents research findings. It should include methods, results, and conclusions, as well as overarching ideas and the purpose of the study.

  • Are the introduction and background clear, informative, and mindful of prior research? Do you understand what the author is trying to convey? Does the discourse adequately cite previous studies? Citations allow scientists to trace the genealogy of ideas and understand how those ideas are applied throughout a field.

  • Why was the research done, and why are the results important? The author should clearly state why this research was carried out and how its results will benefit the scientific community.

  • How easy is the poster to read? Easy-to-follow posters present information in a logical order, use space efficiently, and avoid redundancy as well as large blocks of text. They leave out the clutter of nonessential details. A well-chosen font and text size help make a poster more readable.

  • Do the figures convey the research? Labeled, readable figures can summarize research and indicate big-picture themes, providing readers with a quick grasp of an author’s research. The poster text should reference the figures.

  • Are statistical analyses explained? A reader should not have to sort through a researcher’s data to draw conclusions and see patterns. The poster’s text and figures should explain statistical analyses.

  • Can the presenter expertly discuss the poster and answer questions? A poster presenter should have a command of the research. This includes the ability to dive deep and answer detailed questions, to draw connections between the research and broader implications, and to explain the work in understandable terms to someone with no background in the topic.

  • Every student should be treated with respect. This should be self-evident, but is sometimes forgotten. These students are aspiring scientists. They and their projects should be treated with due consideration. Each judge should introduce him/herself, be polite, and make every effort to put the student at ease.

  • As a judge, it is most important for you to show the students that you are both fair and knowledgeable. Your fairness is indicated by a few simple actions:

      • You spend about the same amount of time with each student.

      • You listen to the student’s explanation of the project.

      • The questions you ask are intended to find out more about the project and how it was done – not to embarrass or intimidate the student.

  • Make eye contact with the student.

  • Be sure to use a compliment whenever a student shows a good idea or demonstrates anything you can compliment.

  • Use a tone of voice that indicates interest or inquisitiveness, not skepticism or contempt.

  • Be positive, enthusiastic and supportive of the student's work and efforts. When you make comments on the student's project, be mindful of the ego involved.