Wednesday, 19 December 2012

How to get your poster to stand out from the crowd

Having been to a number of conferences this summer in which people have done really innovative things with posters (ECCB12 having some particularly interesting ideas), I'm now at a conference in which people haven't really.

Admittedly it isn't a very big conference...

However, it got me thinking that I should put together some of my thoughts on the interesting stuff that people are doing with internet technology to really enhance posters. Particularly since the University's advice page seems to be a relic from the past.

N.B If any of these photos are your poster, I'd love to give you credit (or I'm happy to take it down if you don't want me to use it).  Please get in contact if you recognise it.

Really Simple Ideas

These ideas don't really use any 'technology', they're just great ideas.  And everyone at the conference can benefit, not just the technologically-able.

1. Tape a plastic folder to your poster board with a copy of your poster in it.  It means people can go away and peruse it at their leisure and then come back the next day with more detailed questions than they would be able to come up with on the spot.

2. Tape a plastic folder to your poster board with a copy of any of your relevant papers.  There are loads of down times at conferences, if conference delegates have a copy of your paper in their bag they may just use that time to read it.

3. Stick some copies of your business card (you don't have any? You can get the free from some companies, a great idea even if you're just a Phd student) somewhere by/on your poster board.  People aren't going to necessarily remember to write down your email address for future contact.

4. Use post-its.  Use them to add in things you forgot, your email address, your website.  Or use them to get feedback while you wander off and look at the other posters like this guy did

Technological Ideas

5. QR codes.  These take no time to make, there are 100s of websites that will make them for you.  And you can put anything on the other end:
                  a) Recent Papers
                  b) Extra Data
                  c) Equations that you think might put off some people!
                  d) Your Lab website
                  e) The Software you're using

6.  Augmented Reality apps.  These might be a bit advanced for lots of people, but they're really cool.  There was one poster with it at ECCB12 and I think every single person at the conference went to see it.

I hope you find some of these ideas helpful.  Would love to hear about other great ideas people have seen as well.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tweeting at ECCB12

I've just come back from ECCB12, and as I'm finding with most conferences now, one of the most rewarding aspects came about through twitter.

For those of you who haven't come across this, the aim is basically for a bunch of people to micro-blog a conference on twitter i.e. making comments in real time as the talks go on.  It turns into a secret conversation happening continually over the conference, about the conference.

And its really great for meeting people.
ECCB12 Tweeters meet up at lunch

Being a Bioinformatician I like to sum things up in nice easy to read stats and graphs.  So I thought I'd do that.

588 Tweets were sent over the 3 days with the tag #ECCB12 (According to what I could download from Topsy). A further 17 tweets were sent with the wrong tag #ECCB2012

This word cloud was made using the tweets sent.  Data seems to have figured quite highly!

Might do some more analysis in a bit.  But this'll have to do for now.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Overcoming our own assumptions in scientific discoveries

I'm currently reading a really interesting book called Civilized life in the Universe.  It details the thoughts on extraterrestrial life recorded by early astronomers.

For a modern scientist, it makes for strange reading, these assumptions that there must be life on the moon / mars etc. and the assumptions they made because of it.  Herschel, famous for the discover of Uranus among many other things, was apparently so certain that there was life on the moon that he began classifying what we now know to be craters, as metropolis, city or village.

When thought about in the context of history these fairly large leaps of faith seem less ridiculous.  16th, 17th and even 18th Century astronomers can be thought of as living in the age of exploration.  People got into boats, set off for the unknown and found new land masses.  And when they got there, the land masses were populated.  America, Australia, unknown worlds, but with populations.

Astronomers began to realise that there were planets and moons, which when looked through early telescopes, looked remarkably like earth.  There were mountains, valleys and what looked like seas.  Some of natures more excessive structures could easily be taken for architectural wonders.  So it made sense that these worlds must be populated.  If fact when put in the context of these belief systems it seems almost ridiculous that there wouldn't be life (not knowing about the atmospheric conditions we find on these planets)!

Although I haven't got to the end of the book it seems fairly clear that at some point the author is going to lay into SETI.  We point radio telescopes at the stars in the belief that extra-terrestrial life will be just like us, another new land to find.  But we do it while steeped in our own social/cultural and historical beliefs.  In fact it is almost impossible not to.

Now, I'm not an astronomer and I don't know whether SETI will work or not, but its interesting to think about these issues in the context of some of the genetics discoveries that have come out recently.  Phylogeography, the great neanderthal sex scandal to name a couple.  Are these results clouded by our own assumptions and is it ever possible to over come them?

Monday, 16 July 2012

Funding Success

While I was applying for money, a couple of months ago, for a conference, I posted about why it's great for your future career to do so.

I just got funding from the Swiss Foundation for Excellence and Talent in Biomedical Research to go to ECCB conference in Basel in September.

So now I can add another reason to do it to the list : It makes you feel epic if you get given it!!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Quantity not Quality?

Academia seems to be more & more obsessed with quantity these days.  I'm no exception, I'm an avid fan of the new google scholar metrics page.  But recently a letter was published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution suggesting that this may not be a great idea.

One of the really interesting points from my point of view was that the increased pressure to have more of everything (papers, citations, grants etc.) leads to bigger and bigger groups, which causes more of the people, papers and funding to be concentrated on certain areas, which may not be the best areas for scientific advancement. These groups may not be doing the most exciting research, they're just publishing the most, drowning out the other papers.

The concept of big groups is always one that's irked me, mainly because you do so much better in a big group.  You can get your name on more papers, you have more colleagues to bounce ideas off and to use as contacts later on in your career. So from my point of view, always having worked in very small groups, it was mostly jealousy that set me against large groups.  But I'm beginning to think, after reading this letter, that there may be some actually good reasons for being anti-big group.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Back in 2010, dunkin’ donuts carried out a survey in the US to find out which professions need the most coffee to get through the day.

These are the results:
  1. Nurses 
  2.  Physicians
  3. Hotel workers
  4. Designers/Architects
  5. Financial/Insurance sales representatives 
  6. Food preparers 
  7. Engineers 
  8. Teachers 
  9. Marketing/Public Relations professionals 
  10. Scientists 
  11. Machine operators 
  12. Government workers

I couldn't find a comparative survey in the UK, but I have a feeling that tea definitely clouds the issue.
Nurses in particular are definitely all about the tea (my girlfriend being a nurse, I know about these sort of things).  This may be due to the disgusting coffee available in the NHS.

The other point I found interesting was that scientists were only 10th.  Maybe they just looking in industry.  In academia I would suggest it was way higher!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Conference Funding Opportunities in Bioinformatics

Following on from my previous post about applying for travel funding for conferences, I thought I’d do a bit of research into where you can get travel money as a Postdoc or Phd student.  And then I thought I’d share some of the results.


The International Society for Computational Biology has a number of travel fellowships for all its major conferences.
  • Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing (PSB)
  • Conference on Research in Computational Molecular Biology (RECOMB)
  • Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB)
  • European Conference on Computational Biology (ECCB)
  • APBioNet's International Conference on Computational Biology (InCoB).

A number of conferences are also eligible for the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) travel fellowship program
  • ISMB
  • Rocky
  • ISCB-Africa
  • ISCB-Asia
  • ISCB-Latin America

ColdSprings Harbour Conferences 

Funding is available for meeting arranged by Cold Springs Harbour, more details can be got from 

Societa di BioinfomaticaItaliana 

The Italian Bioinformatics society provides travel grants for members up to 35 years old to attend its annual meeting.  Priority is given to people who haven’t had one before.

It’s possible you have to be Italian to take this one up!


The European Molecular Biology Laboratory provides Registration Fee Fellowships for a number of their conferences and courses.    They are primarily for participants from countries in need of ‘scientific strengthening’.

International Conference on Bioinformaticsof Genome Regulation and Structure/Systems Biology

This Russian based conference provides travel funding for participants under 35 years old.  However, you also have to be a Russian citizen to qualify.

IEEE InternationalConference Bioinformatics & Biomedicine 

In 2011 travel grants of up to $US 800 were given by the National Science Foundation (NSF)  to 28 students. Unfortunately, this one isn’t available to Postdocs.

Feel free to add anything you know about that I've missed in my very quick search.

Applying for Conference Money

As a PhD student I was ridiculously well funded, as a bioinformatician I basically spent nothing, and yet was given the same amount to spend as those lab monkeys who had to spend it all on reagents.  So I went to a lot of cool conferences!

The down side of all this money was that I never considered applying for external travel money.  Now I’m a postdoc, I really wish I had.


  1. It looks great on your CV – someone thought you were good enough to spend money on.
  2. When you start applying for bigger grants e.g. fellowships and the like, one of the things they ask for is proof of independence.  One of the best ways to prove independence is to have received money that’s just for you, not funnelled through your PI.
  3. If you don’t do it during your PhD, you may find the boat has sailed.  Some places will still fund a postdoc (I’m in the process of applying for one from the European Conference on Computational Biology), but in general it’s much harder.

So in conclusion, I just want to say:  If you’re a PhD student and aim to stay in Academia, apply for money.  If you’re a postdoc, also apply for money, you just might find it a lot harder.