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Poster awards

Tall Chai Latte


After waking up early to attend our annual departmental symposium yesterday, I was left feeling exhausted at the end of day.

The symposium is entirely run by graduate students in the department, starting from deciding who to invite as speakers, down to the location of the symposium dinner. Overall, it's a great thing to participate.

But one thing that really bothers me every year is the award session. Each year, the department gives out awards in best poster presentation and oral presentation to students. Although the awardees are either decided by faculty or student in an anonymous voting process, the students receiving these awards are often the students from Big Wig labs. Or the most popular student. Or the talk with the prettiest PowerPoint slides. The science we do is sooo diverse, that is now difficult to fully understand the significance of everyone's work. Everyone works hard, every lab does good science. But you can't give everyone an award- so what do you do?

This is a common theme in life science academia nowadays. I know my PI is trying to be encouraging and supportive on this issue. After all, my success is a reflection on her, and me working hard is in her best interest. But her own CV totally reflects the above situation- multiple Glamour magazine publications, trainee of multiple Big Wigs, etc. It's kind of, well, ironic. It's hard to accept her encouragement when you know she wouldn't be able to land on a faculty position without her credentials above as the icing on the cake.

Life is unfair. I work hard and I have no regrets. That's what I need to know at the end of day.


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I've noticed this a lot at conferences I've attended: whoever has the flashiest powerpoint wins the day. It's unfortunate but I'm still able to find pockets of sessions where there is no A/V equipment and it's all just about discussion and ideas. Those are nice.

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Get over it. It's a presentation competition. Being able to sell your science is a huge part of your job and funding your work. If you can't sell yourself now, good luck on the job market - most of your colleagues in a given dept won't be working on what you do and you need to convince the hiring committee that you do cool/important/relevant stuff. The reward for doing impressive science comes from citations and recognition within your field. The two (relevance and presentation) are not necessarily linked, but it sure helps if you can do both.

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I'm commenting way late, I know. I have noticed this at various poster seminars/conferences. They try to group everyone according to category but usually the same types of projects seem to win. I have noticed that if your project is not related to cancer, a "hot" infectious disease, or doesn't somehow include the words "therapeutic potential" you can forget about it. It's good that your PI has a good attitude about it. I have encountered numerous brilliant PI's with a sour attitude towards this issue, including one that says that when people heard what she would be presenting, they walked out.

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Thanks everyone for commenting. guttate, I agree with you--being able to present well sure is a necessary skill to get a job in or outside of academia. The poster presentation competition was based on student voting; the format itself is not entirely fair as students (especially the younger students) tend to vote their friends, regardless of scientific significance. I'm not really saying that my work is the most important in the whole department, but I'm not totally convinced the best posters were fairly selected (similar to best student talk selected on the same day).

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