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I'm looking into applying to present at a conference for undergraduates in mathematics this summer. When I apply, I have to either apply to give a talk (~20 minutes) or present a poster.

From what I've read on this site, it seems posters are often looked down on relative to talks, especially in mathematics. However, one advantage of a poster session is that I can have a back-and-forth discussion which is impossible in a talk. I think this is especially important for my research, since the computations in the subject are notoriously tricky and will trip up even experts if they aren't paying close attention to the details.

What are the relative advantages/disadvantages of each format? Which is a better way to advertise my research and network with other researchers in my field?

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    I don't know if it's just me, but it's a bit strange that you can choose. From what I know, you submit a paper and it gets accepted as either a presentation or as a part of the poster session. That said, presentations are more prestigious and they reach a wider audience. While it's true that you can have a discussion while explaining your poster to somebody, it will only probably be a small portion of people in comparison to a presentation audience. And, if anybody is interested in your work after a presentation, he can always find you during a break to discuss in detail. – penelope Jul 2 '13 at 7:47
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    @penelope: I've seen several conferences where, in the call for papers, the conference organizers let appplicants choose from a menu of presentation formats, such as break-out session, panel discussion, and poster session. – J.R. Jul 2 '13 at 10:03
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    @penelope: In most conferences I attend, you can choose a poster presentation if you want—and in most of those, you're pretty much guaranteed to get it, if you apply. – aeismail Jul 2 '13 at 11:46
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    See also answers to How important are poster sessions in conferences?. – Piotr Migdal Jul 2 '13 at 12:44
  • A slight aside that may be helpful if you opt for and are accepted for a Poster presentation at the conference. Zen Faulkes contributed a great post on Perfecting the Poster Presentation on our blog. His own blog - Better Posters - has lots of tips and advice for anyone considering poster presentations. Highly recommended and very entertaining! – Dermot Lally May 7 '15 at 14:42
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It depends on what you want to do. If you feel like at this point in your research it would be more beneficial to converse than to present, then I'd say that a poster session is the right venue for you. It's true that talks are considered a bit more prestigious than poster sessions, but you really should go with what you think will be more valuable for you, and for the conference attendees.

It's worth noting that you could always do a poster presentation this year, get the feedback that you covet, and then return next year to do a talk, and let everyone know how your research went over the subsequent year. That kind of progression is not a bad thing.

Also, if you are in the early stages of your research, it might not be ready for a talk. When I attend a conference talk, I'm expecting there to be some significant findings. Sure, talks might be more "prestigious," but, if there are some holes in your research, you could end up discrediting yourself. People aren't expecting the same level of maturity in the research during a poster session. So, as I said before, forget the prestige aspect, and choose what is more fitting based on your goals, and on what you have to share at this point in your research.

  • " If you feel like at this point in your research it would be more beneficial to converse than to present, then I'd say that a poster session is the right venue for you." A talk usually brings much more attention to a topic and people interested in that will often talk to you/write afterwards. – DSVA Aug 13 '17 at 18:33
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From my experience impact of posters is way, way lower than of a talk. If you can get a single person listening to you for 20 min with a poster, it is much. Plus, usually, people are distracted (noise, people moving around). And before they can ask questions, they need time to learn what you are presenting anyway. So if you have a choice between talk and poster, the first is always a better option.

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    Some conferences leave the posters exhibited throughout the whole duration of the conference. Like this, rather than just during the 20 minutes of your presentation, conference attendees have several full days to look at the poster. Given that the audience of a presentation is further restricted by possible scheduling conflicts with parallel sessions, the poster may actually be seen by more people in total than the presentation. With that in mind, talking about the poster(-topic) for 20 minutes is not all that unlikely, as any 15 minute coffee break can lead to such a conversation. – O. R. Mapper Dec 27 '14 at 13:26
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    Of course, but still all of my experiences (both as a poster presenter and participant) say that a 5-min talk is better than a 5-day poster exposition. – Piotr Migdal Dec 27 '14 at 16:13
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Leaving aside the prestige issue for a moment, I get a lot more out of poster sessions than talks, both as a presenter and viewer. For the viewer, they can take in the information presented at their own pace, and ask for clarification if needed. If your audience gets lost during a talk, there is little chance anyone will interrupt as the talks run to a strict schedule. Good luck trying to regain your train of thought from the question session at the end. Talks are far too linear in my opinion. The discussions you have with poster presenters lead to a much better level of understanding I find, and there is a lot less inhibition in discussing the results.

All research should always be at a point for discussion. There is no scientific theory or research that should not need further discussion, at the level you get in a poster session. I have seen posters that present quite mature and significant research.

I regret to say that I have to agree that most researchers will see talks as the 'prestige' option, with posters a poor second. But this does not mean talks are necessarily better for advertising your research or networking.

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Space (time) for talks is often much more limited than space for posters. At the conferences where I've been (geophysics/atmospheric science), almost all on-topic posters were accepted (note that abstracts were not peer-reviewed) as is. For people applying for an oral presentation, either they were accepted as an oral presentation, or they were assigned to do a poster instead. It may be similar in your field; so try for an oral presentation, and if you don't get it, you may still be able to do a poster.

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In the fore-seeable future, in mathematics the critical activity is giving talks, not posters. Thus, practicing giving talks, all the more if your subject has delicate technicalities, is critical. This is not at all any sort of argument against the communication aspects of posters versus talks, but a comment on professional expectations, for better or for worse.

E.g., gritty/volatile/delicate details need portrayal in more conceptual terms, ... or not at all. Even in talks, people often try to use overheads of some sort to zip through ghastly wastelands of unassimilable details... Don't do this. It just alienates and disenchants your audience.

In particular, I strongly think that the "in the moment" aspects of a talk are very, very good exercise for anyone thinking how to portray their work. The extreme case of a "chalk talk" is the best exercise of all, for mathematics, in my opinion, but it does tax performance and organizational, as well as conceptualizing, talents. But dodging the whole issue by the pseudo-resolution of "poster" only delays encounter with the genuine problem-to-be-solved, and doesn't add anything to a CV.

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Talks can be a way for you to reach out to a more senior audience, as many professors or senior figures may be present at a talk. However, your opportunity to actually interact with these figures is severely limited in the scope of the talk itself. Sometimes if a listener is interested in your talk, they may come up to you afterwards; alternatively, you can introduce yourself to a listener more easily if they heard your talk beforehand.

Posters are a better platform for you to reach out to a more junior audience, which includes under/grad students and postdocs, through professors can be present as well. Networking comes more naturally here as the nature of presentation is going to be one-to-one or one-to-few, and generally will leave a deeper impact on the listener (an uninterested listener will probably not come up to you in the first place).

If possible, do both. That way you can have the best coverage in terms of audience.

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