There is a trend afoot, encouraged by the funders of research, to ask PhD students and other academic researchers to design posters explaining their work. The aim, I think, is to provide an accessible means of explaining (often unfinished) academic work.
It’s a nice idea, but many of the posters end up unattractive, overly technical and uninformative. Sometimes, they are designed to cram all the contents of a PhD on to a piece of paper of around one square metre. When that happens, they end up illegible due to the huge amounts of tiny writing. (If you don’t believe me, do a quick Google search for PhD posters, then click on ‘Images’.)
It seems odd that, just at the moment when attractive and user-friendly infographics are becoming more common, PhD students are being encouraged to undertake an activity that may be better suited to a school history project than a PhD. Is it really a good use of researchers’ time?
I am told that posters are valuable at academic gatherings as a means of stimulating debate – clearly valuable if so. But, having recently spoken at a conference for London-based PhD social science students on how to ensure their work has impact among policymakers, I remain unconvinced that designing posters is a good way for our best brains to use their energy in publicising their work.
Wouldn’t it be more useful to summarise PhDs in an accessible, open access format that can easily be read on a computer screen (which large posters cannot). The Joseph Rowntree Foundation are masters at putting the research they fund into the public domain in short, readable, openly available documents. I wonder if that is a better guide for new researchers than posters. Or are posters now a permanent (and useful) feature of the research experience that will get better over time?