One of the many great events of the annual meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology happened very early on: the university poster competition. Alive with energy and young thoughts, it can also be a crowded and intimidating place!
If you are a faculty member and bring one or more undergraduate students to compete, how can you help them get the most out of it? Here are five things you might want to pass on to them.
Images provided by Kirsten Fertuck
Ezra Levy presents his undergraduate research at the annual meeting of the ASBMB.
1. Help them understand how the event fits into the overall outline of the annual meeting.
Take the time to describe the differences between what he would have to present in an undergraduate poster contest and what the full meeting would be like later. These two experiences are completely different!
Emphasize how positive they are participating in an event designed for themselves and their peers and how willing they are to present it to a wider audience later in the meeting.
2. Help them understand the schedule that leads to the event.
Many undergraduates had never participated in a meeting like this before. The process of submitting abstracts, separate registration for the competition, then separate registration for the meeting itself (not to mention booking travel and accommodation) – all can seem a bit daunting. Creating a checklist of deadlines can help keep everything on track.
Also, students often have questions about how and when to print their posters and how to take them to the meeting, so it’s helpful to include your recommendations here as well.
2022 ASBMB Undergraduate Poster Competition
This year’s competitions are held from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, in Philadelphia.
Submissions for the competition will open in January.
Participation is required of award holders of Student Classes to travel but is open to all undergraduate ASBMB members.
To qualify for the competition, a student must have submitted an abstract, as first author, to an ASBMB subject by November 30, 2021.
3. Help them understand the evolution of the day of the event.
Students arrive from all over the world but must be present late on Saturday morning for the poster session. Since many students will likely be traveling the night before the event or on the morning of the event, this makes it difficult for them to get a good rest. Help them arrange travel that will lead them to the direction in as comfortable a fashion as possible.
Students also often have questions about the dress code. It may be a good guideline to dress as if for an interview if it will increase your confidence, but other than that, casual clothes will work well and may be easier to pack.
Finally, make sure they are aware of the instructions as to when and how long the poster is actually present.
4. Help them understand the judging and scoring process.
It can help if your students are aware of some typical features of the judging process. Although the judges have individual styles (for example, some prefer to start by quietly reading the label to themselves, while others immediately begin by asking “Please take me through your label”), there are some general features that can be expected.
First, you can reassure your students that the judges should be clearly identified by labels and that they should introduce themselves initially. Students should not fear that they will not realize that they were being brought before the judge.
Second, it may be helpful for your students to know that referees overwhelmingly love undergraduate research! There were a variety of other things that many of the judges involved in that day could have done, but they chose to volunteer to try and help the event run smoothly with the goal of assisting the students in their professional development.
In other words, referees want undergraduates to succeed and become more confident and practicing in presenting their work, so when a student begins their presentation, it can be helpful to imagine that they are talking to a supportive and interested colleague.
Finally, it can be helpful to know that the referees work from a rubric – details may change from year to year, but in general, an excellent poster presentation will score highly across a range of criteria that you can talk about with your students beforehand. Time (clear oral and written explanation of hypotheses, methods, results, conclusions and future work, as well as addressing follow-up questions during or after the presentation).
Sheylena Gordon presents her undergraduate research at the annual meeting of the ASBMB.
5. Help them understand how the experience can fit into their professional development.
Think about the kinds of skills you’ve developed over time at scientific conferences: absorbing new information, making new connections with peers and other professionals, becoming less tense and more succinct as you explain your personal area of expertise, and much more.
Your students, of course, can practice this for the duration of the meeting, but it’s worth showing them how great early gains can be during this undergraduate-focused event.
However, no matter how much you encourage your students to be proactive and meet other people, it pays to make this easier for them at least on the first day of the meeting – especially if you are only bringing one student. If you and your student do not know any other students attending, you can try reaching out to the regional directors of student classes to see if they can connect you with other attendees from your area.
Don’t forget to take a picture of your student with their poster. Time passes quickly, and then you will want to remember how proud you are all of being able to participate in this dynamic knowledge exchange!