March 2012

Doing your best at the ASBMB Undergraduate Poster Competition

By the time students present posters at the ASBMB competition, they usually have two years of research experience and have presented and revised their posters several times. They have interacted with faculty members and judges, who have critiqued their research and their posters. In addition, those students who plan to attend the Experimental Biology meetings receive final rigorous critiques of their posters and are expected to revise them once again.

Amy Styer, an undergrad at the University of Delaware who won an honorable mention at the 2010 meeting, describes her work.

Among the issues we address are the following:
• Posters are about visual communication. They are not manuscripts of linear text tacked to a board. Minimize text and make the text you have visible.
• Titles should be brief, readable, understandable, interesting and informative.
• Headings such as “Introduction,” “Materials and Methods,” “Results” and “Conclusions” are discouraged. Every poster has those topics. Why waste space? Instead, substitute headings that say something unique and informative about what you did or found.
• Include attractive conceptual visuals that provide focus and highlight your work. If the report addresses several issues, they can be color-coded and connected by color to data on other panels.
• If you are a cell biologist, be sure to include molecular interpretations and structures.
• Sections on future work can be eliminated, and citations can be in small print as needed.

With regard to the actual presentation, here is the advice we give to students:
• Dress appropriately.
• Greet the judge and find out his or her area of expertise so that you can adapt your presentation. Judges are not experts in everything. Remember, your judges are smart, but they may know less about your subject than you do.
• Don’t give a long speech. Give a concise summary and let the conversation be driven by questions.
• Know the background and history of your research. Read and understand relevant textbook chapters.

Certainly, there are faculty members and other schools that have been successful with their students at the ASBMB Undergraduate Poster Competition, and there are other schools that have excellent undergraduate research programs and would do well but choose to participate in other national venues.


Hal White ( is a professor of biochemistry at the University of Delaware and director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute undergraduate program there.


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Here's a link to the 2012 winners:


Who won the awards for 2012? -Sara Lynn



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