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PyCon 2010 Poster Session Wrap-up

PyCon 2010 had a poster session for the first time ever. Out of 19 original submissions, 17 actually presented posters, covering topics from testing and clouds to Unicode and robotics. The poster session was a plenary session, running from 10:05 to 11:55 am on Sunday morning in the expo hall. Snack service was also in the expo hall at the same time.

The cost of doing the poster session was relatively low. We used eleven poster boards at $70 each, so the total outlay was under $800.

Overall, it went well. The room was very full and active for most of the time, with things only tailing off the last 15-20 minutes. I chatted with all but one of the presenters, and they all felt it was very successful. Some liked the ability to reach more people than a regular talk might have, and others were happy to have a way to present at PyCon without the public speaking pressure of a regular talk. From my conversations with the attendees, many enjoyed the chance to circulate through a diverse set of topics and chat with the presenters of those they found interesting, in effect a massive hallway track.

Thanks

Certainly gratitude is due for the backing from Steve, Van, Doug and the organizing committee. That support in the form of time, space, publicity, etc. was huge, as was the organizational help from Ewa. Also, many thanks are due to my friend Rob Ludwick for taking the session photos - he did an outstanding job for very little recognition (although I do still owe him dinner).

Issues

Poster presenters and viewers did point out a few issues:
  1. Space - some felt that things were too cramped and crowded, particularly with snack service, while others felt it was about right. My personal feeling was that it was OK - it was a bit tight in spots, but that closeness fed the feeling of excitement. Certainly we don't want things any tighter and for next year we should tinker with the layout, including placement of coffee/snack service.
  2. Timing - more than one presenter wished that the poster session could have been earlier in conference so that they could have used it to set up open space sessions. I certainly sympathize with that, but using the expo space after the commercial exhibitors moved out worked so well, I don't think I would change this.
  3. Communication and publicity - it was pointed out that we weren't consistent in conference and publicity materials as to when, where and what the poster session was. I think that was because our plans evolved as we moved towards the conference, giving us some version control problems. I don't see this as being much of an issue going forward.
  4. Ratings/feedback - we had no feedback or rating system for posters other than the law of two feet. One presenter wanted some way to get feedback, but my sense was that most didn't care.
  5. Financial support - someone suggested providing financial aid to students for the cost of printing the posters, which can run in the $100 range. It looked to me like the majority of the poster presenters had resources to cover the printing. There were a few (including a student) who chose what one called the "arts and crafts" approach, and printed out individual pages and pieces which they pinned on their boards. This sort of low tech solution is not uncommon in other poster sessions, and as far as I could tell it had no adverse impact on the presentation's popularity. In fact, using that approach meant that they could use the full poster board more effectively.
    As far as financial aid for attending goes, I don't know if any of the poster presenters received financial aid, but I do know that I advised some of them to apply, and I'm certain they did/would have received equitable consideration.
  6. Virtual posters - the idea of offering to play 5 minute videos on a monitor as "virtual" posters was a complete non-starter. While that idea may be of some use somewhere, somehow, it doesn't seem worth trying again as part of PyCon.
  7. Continuing online record - for some presenters it matters, not just for personal reasons, to have some record of their participation. Printing the poster descriptions in the conference program partly satisfies this need. At the moment, I also have fairly low resolution photos of each presenter and poster on my flickr stream (http://www.flickr.com/photos/35528352@N00/) and I've put links to presentations on the Accepted Posters page (http://us.pycon.org/2010/conference/posters/accepted/) as I've received them. We also have higher resolution versions of the photos, which can be used in the future either on the PyCon site or for publicity.
  8. Video recording - I didn't push for creating a video of the poster session this year, but some have suggested it for next year. Certainly if we had the staff and equipment available, a wandering videographer might catch some of the feel of session, if not the details of every poster.

Positives

My favorite review was Anna's tweet, "poster session is full of wins." I would agree.

If I had to boil things down, I would say that the poster session gave two big wins to PyCon 2010. One was the social aspect of the event. Having a room that big bubbling over with excited Python conversations for over 90 minutes made it one of PyCon's best social "mixers", even better because no one realized it was mixer. ;)

Second, it provided a means for less experienced and/or less skilled speakers to do a formal presentation. There has been periodic discussion over the years of the desirability of having PyCon speakers be experienced and "good", but other than invoking (all too rare) local user groups and conferences, PyCon has not offered an entry point where speakers can gain experience and confidence. I believe the poster session provides such an entry point. As the Python community continues to pursue diversity, the poster session could be a valuable way to foster more participation.

Poster Session 2011

Going forward, I'm proposing that we offer a poster session again next year, and I'm volunteering to repeat as co-ordinator. My suggestions would be:

  1. double the room size by removing the wall between Regency V and VI.
  2. cap the number of posters at 35 (40 MIGHT be possible, 50 would be tight).
  3. tweak the poster arrangement and snack placement so as to improve flow through the room. A tough problem, but worth a try.
  4. keep the poster session a plenary session on Sunday morning and keep the time roughly the same. I wouldn't bother to list a separate break time before the poster session starts - in practice the break is part of the poster session.
  5. Issue the CFP for posters around the same time as for regular talks, and determine acceptances about 2-4 weeks after regular talk acceptances, to allow rejected talks to resubmit as posters.
  6. Plan for more ways to capture the session in photos and video.
  7. Have a plan for the long term record (conference program, online, etc) of the posters and let people know what it is in the CFP.
  8. Provide badge ribbons to identify poster presenters.
That's about it. My thanks again to everyone who helped  make the poster session a success - let's do it again!

    Comments

    Doug Napoleone said…
    And a very big thank you to Vern Ceder who proposed and carried out the Poster Session idea to a fantastic success!

    I should have the high-def photo's online tomorrow, and will post a comment once that work is done.
    Catherine said…
    Thanks for organizing it, Vern. We should have started years ago - the poster session is a natural for PyCon; it's sort of an Enhanced Hallway Track!
    Rob Ludwick said…
    Happy to help out with the pictures. :)

    Good job with the poster session, I thought it was very valuable being able to have a conversation about the presentation, rather than just listening to a topic.
    Ian Bicking said…
    In a lot of ways I'd prefer to do a poster to doing a talk about a project. It's easier to prepare for, more interesting for me, and maybe more interesting for other people. At least more interactive. If poster sessions got bigger we could take over the open spaces for an hour or two.
    Jonathan Ellis said…
    I thought the poster sessions worked really well. Great idea!
    Doug Napoleone said…
    @Ian,

    Easier?!??! I can throw together a 1 hour presentation about anything, get up and give a 'decent' talk. It won't be a great talk, and there will be hand waving, but it wont be bad. The thing is you can hid the fact that you have no clue what you are talking about when giving a presentation.

    Giving a poster? You actually have to know your subject inside out and backwards. If not, it's a blood bath!!

    All kidding aside, this is what I love about poster sessions. Those who give them are always passionate about their subject and know it to an amazing depth. I have been to many presentations and walked out with no new knowledge. I have never been to any poster session and not learned something.
    Anonymous said…
    @Catherine - yep, that's exactly the way I've come to think of it.

    @Ian - re: open space and posters: getting the space and poster boards might be an issue, but open space is usually very sparse the first day, so there might be something there...

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