Friday Weird Science: Poster presentation fashion

Oct 12 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Today's Friday Weird science isn't so much weird as it is Society for Neuroscience-themed. Though I suppose it could be considered weird in the sense that it was done very badly.

The question is this: when standing at your poster this year at SfN...what WILL you wear? Forget the question of suit vs slacks vs jeans vs dress, we know the answer to that one*. No, the question is, what COLOR will you wear. Perhaps you haven't thought about it. Perhaps you have and are obsessively trawling the internet for a shirt tone that will exactly compliment the odd blue of the powerpoint-generated poster background. But the consensus of this paper? Well...don't wear the shirt on the right.

Keegan and Bannister. "Effect of colour coordination of attire with poster presentation on poster popularity" CMAJ, 2003.

Note: Dr. Zen covered this paper a while back at the Better Posters blog, and did a great job with the drawbacks. I'll also be delving into them, but if you want full color diagrams, go check out his post!

The authors asked the age-old question: what SHOULD you wear to your poster? They had two posters, a control and a test. The control wore neutral colors.

The other presenter wore two different shirts (switching halfway through), one which matched her poster, and one which did not.

The one on the left is supposed to match the poster, the one on the right is supposed to clash.

The authors hid (or at least hung around trying to look non-creepy), and looked at how many people came up to the poster during the two shirt episodes as compared to control. The poster presenters were instructed to stand in the same manner, and not to strike up conversations, but instead wait for people to come to them.

The authors found that more people came up to the test subject when she was wearing a shirt that matched her poster, as opposed to the one that clashed. The authors also noted that "5 people were overheard by the observer during the clashing-attire phase to say that the presenter’s blouse did not match her poster, and none visited the poster."

Buuuurn. Never wear rust to your poster, right?

Not really. Alright, class, what's the first thing wrong with this paper? Can I get some hands in the air?

1. Only one test subject and only one control. And they were different people. It would be very easy to present this poster at several venues, say, with someone wearing different clothing each time.

2. The two people were presenting different posters. Who can say whether they were both the same amount of interesting?!

3. There were FOUR different colors on the test person's poster. FOUR. They "matched" one, and I use that term loosely because I'm sorry, but that lavender didn't match. A better way would have been a single color poster that was one color ALL OVER, and then dress the person to match.

4. You call that clashing?! I've seen WAY worse. And in fact, as Dr. Zen points out in his post, the rust color they picked is actually complimentary to the green on the poster. Not very clashing.

5. One subject? One? What if she looked like crap in rust and brilliant in lavender? What if it was the other way round?

6. The one subject is female. That's got loads of its own issues right there.

...I could go on, but you get the idea. I'm pretty sure this paper says basically nothing about whether complimentary or clashing colors work best for your poster. And honestly, if the poster itself is awesome...well it won't matter what you're wearing.

So wear what you feel best in, stand proud, and have a great SfN!

(For those of you not at SfN, don't worry! Sci will have posts ready for you as usual! See you on the other side!)

*The answer is that the formality of dress is inversely proportional to the status of the presenter. An undergrad or first year grad student will be in a suit. A more advanced grad student will be in nice slacks and a nice top. Postdocs are identified by the fact that they're usually wearing jeans. Young profs often still present posters, but they usually dress casually. If a big bad prof is presenting a poster, they will be in frayed Bermuda shorts and a sweatshirt with holes in it, and will not have bathed since before last night's rowdy drunken mixer. Or, more likely, they just won't show up at it.

3 responses so far

  • Bashir says:

    Two words: Socks & Sandals.

    I've seen it from older tenured folk.

  • Andreas Johansson says:

    In my line of work - aerospace and defense - stereotypical dress is more determined by your role than your status. Sales and similar are in suits, engineers in casual shirts and chinos, programmers in t-shirts and sweatpants. The blue collar employees are in their eponymous dress, but they don't have a choice about it.

  • Research Assistant says:

    The variability in attire was incredible, as was the sheer volume of posters at SfN. While presenting my poster, I wore a black skirt and purple zebra-y top if that's of any interest. I agree with Andreas that vendors are the best-dressed. Hope you had fun in New Orleans, Sci!

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