The Art Of The Science Presentation On Display At First SoE Grad Poster Contest

What makes a good research poster presentation? How much text should you use in comparison to graphics? How do you provide enough information, without losing your audience’s attention?

These are the questions that more than 50 graduate students grappled with in the first School of Engineering competition this month.

Grad poster

The winning poster by Kelly Bertolaccini of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Held at the Student Union Ballroom, 15 of the posters were selected as finalists. These were presented to three judges: Madelyn Filomeno, UConn alum who has worked in the STEM world for the last 10 years, inspiring young students by consulting, teaching math in various capacities; Kathy Rocha, managing director of UConn’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Consortium; and Kevin Bouley, a UConn alum and president and CEO of Nerac Inc, a global technology and IP advisory research firm.

The other posters were judged by representatives from the Student Association of Graduate Engineers (SAGE).

In this particular competition, conveying the message was all the more tricky because the participants had to present their posters to people outside their field.

“Our goal for the competition is to enhance communication between graduate students of different disciplines,” said Mei Wei, Associate Dean of Engineering. Wei and Outreach Director Aida Ghiaei organized the contest.

Judge Kathy Rocha said the posters did a very impressive job of communicating complex science to a lay audience – “and that’s a very difficult thing to do.” The quality was consistent enough that the judges had a tough time selecting just three winners. In the end, they made a last-minute decision to award an honorary mention to a fourth presenter.

The judges awarded first place to Kelly Bertolaccini’s poster and presentation. “Keep it simple” proved a winning strategy.

“I tried to use as few words as possible,” said Bertolaccini of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Too much text distracts the audience from her own verbal presentation, she said. “And I try to avoid jargon whenever possible.”

The title of her poster “Using General Transit Feed Specification Data to Measure and Map Transit Accessibility” doesn’t promise a lot of excitement to the lay audience, but with deft use of graphics and an easy-to-read layout, Bertolaccini’s poster took home the top honors.

The design ended up a fruitful combination of aesthetics and practicality.
“I wanted enough colors in there to catch the eye, without draining my printer,” she said.

David Wanik of Civil and Environmental Engineering took second place and Sapna Gupta of Materials Science and Engineering took home the third-place prize.

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