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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Postgraduate Diary: A PhD Week, Thursday

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Today is the big day: the poster I have been working on since Christmas goes into a competition against others from the Grad School. As I sit at a desk in the printer room, waiting to trim the edges on the large cutting board, ahead of me in the queue clutching her tightly rolled printout is a woman dressed in a sharp suit and shocking pink high-heels deals. I am dressed, as I usually do, in jeans and a hoody. I wonder whether it will make the slightest difference to my chances, and suspect not - albeit an old one, I am a student, after all; casual is what the judges will expect.

The competition itself starts after lunch, and as soon as I walk into the room I am struck by the odd atmospheric mingling of the sociable (the hoodies) and the serious (the suits). We are given information packs and name badges, as if this was a proper conference; however, it is the tea and biscuits which occupies as much attention, as student stereotypes prove fitting again. Whilst I chat to other amiable postgraduates (there's no one I know particularly well, though I recognise faces from having sat with them at other Grad School events and training sessions throughout the year), there's a tight undercurrent of competition, as we glance at the other posters on their assigned boards and compare them cautiously to our own: Is that one too texty, or is it that mine does not say enough? That one seems to lack colour, but is it perhaps that mine is too cheerfully bright with its red and black fonts?

As I stand by my poster, I get the first hints that mine is not really fulfilling its job as a piece of publicity about my research, as three different people ask me "So what's this about, then?" Though I (gifted with the gob) am happy answering questions and talking through my research, the poster is supposed to be largely self-evident, and to communicate my project and findings to a broad audience. At least people seem interested and when comparing my research with those scientific topics displayed around me, I realise that is the best I can expect: whereas the scientists' posters tend to be divided into neatly boxed sections with aims, method, outcomes and applications, mine lacks the latter. Not for me the carbon nanotubes that promise super-lightweight building materials in the future, or studies of how sleep patterns affect obesity in children. The only thing I can hope for, then, is that people from all backgrounds and interests agree that my research is interesting, if it is not of direct public benefit (this is the old "What is the value of my PhD?" question I have posed before on this blog).

Once the judges arrive at my stand and make the same observation - though put in the subtle terms of, "Oh, this looks interesting, so, er, talk me through it then" - I see the prize money (up to £200) fluttering away on the wind. Again, the judges seem to go away full of praise for my research, but left a little cold by the poster itself. Sure enough, out of the four posters entered in the Arts and Humanities category, I come one of bottom, second from bottom, or third from bottom. The winning entry, on medieval history and romance, was certainly a well-designed poster. But, sore loser that I am, I note that whereas following the workshops I have been on my poster text was in at least size 30 font, so as to be legible from five feet away, the winner's required closer peering and reading. I am thus left uncertain as to what constitutes a good poster. Is is one which visually grabs the attention, attracting a viewer towards me rather than another so that I can then discuss my research with them, doing the all-important "networking"? Or is it one that explains my study in a thousand words, such that a reader can leave with new knowledge of some recent research (rather as in a conference paper)? The one drawback of an otherwise excellent event is that I leave more baffled than pleased. I will certainly redesign my poster so that it makes clearer the aims and methods of my research; but whether I should use large fonts and pretty pictures, or aim for an essay which happens to be dispersed in boxes across the page, I am less sure.


Posted by Alistair at 6:03 pm


Anonymous John C (Team B) said...

I'm also entering a poster competition and am struggling to come up with a poster before the Easter deadline. I've been told that a good poster should be able to be legibile from 5 foot away, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is all down to the personal opinion of those viewing it and there's no hard and fast rule which I find rather irritating.

8:51 am  

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