Tackling the SAA Poster Presentation

For this guest post, we asked two SNAP members to share about submitting posters for presentation at the SAA Annual Meeting. The SAA Student Program Subcommittee will accept submissions for individual and student chapter posters through February 2, 2015. Visit the official Subcommittee announcement to learn more about submitting proposals for student posters and papers for the 2015 Annual Meeting.

Take 1: Guest author Steve Ammidown

I’ve already written down many of my general thoughts on posters in an article I wrote for Hack Library School last year. But that was then and this is now, and I’ve got some additional thoughts.

The trick to a successful poster submission (and ultimately presentation) is relevance. Whatever the project you want to talk about, there is likely some way to connect it to the big topics of the day in archives. The key phrase in that sentence is “of the day”- mine blogs and social media for ideas instead of relying on published literature. Poster sessions are your opportunity to make an impression on established professionals- they may not care about the specific collection you worked on, but if the project gave you a fresh take on a larger issue, you’ll grab their attention.

The most daunting challenge with a poster is time. First, know that it’s likely your views on the subject will change between when you submit the abstract in February and the Annual Meeting in August. Embrace this uncertainty and make it part of the discussions you have during the poster session itself.

Part of embracing the uncertainty of your ideas means not rushing to design and print your poster two days after you get your acceptance email. You heard me; I’m actually recommending that youprocrastinate. Not until the very last minute mind you, but long enough that you have a little distance from the project you’re writing about. I can guarantee that this will make your poster better. This applies even if you already had to make a poster on the subject for class- while it’ll stick you with more printing costs, it gives you a chance to incorporate some of the feedback you received in the meantime.

One last tip about the poster session itself- stay hydrated! It doesn’t take long before your throat gets parched from talking to everyone. Your voice is your most important tool during the session, after all!

Take 2: Guest author Morgan Jones-King

To be quite frank, presenting my student poster at SAA in New Orleans, 2013 seems like forever ago even though it wasn’t. But I went into proposing the poster with very different expectations of the presentation than the reality of the whole shebang. So emotionally and professionally, it feels like a significant amount of time has passed. I was in my first year of graduate school and a graduate assistant in University Archives when I decided to submit a proposal. I thought a poster would be a good opportunity to solicit the advice of other university and college archivists on my current work project: collecting student life materials.

My poster was accepted, and I was beyond thrilled. But I ended up getting a LOT more questions than answers during the poster session. Originally frustrated (why didn’t more archivists have pearls of wisdom for me?!), I realized that while I might not be getting answers, I was getting a lot of positive feedback. Other professionals told me it seemed like the program was on the right track. They asked ME how I was tackling issues unique to collecting student life materials. And they told me they wanted to stay in touch. It was a magical (if not tiring) experience. Explaining what I did at work every day, answering questions about collecting strategies, and offering advice of my own was a huge boost to my professional confidence. I sincerely believe that standing next to a poster for hours while I fielded questions, shook hands, and made small talk gave me the gumption to submit proposals for other talks and events. When I originally submitted my poster proposal I thought, “Great! I can’t wait to get my questions answered!” I still expect to solicit feedback, but now I also have the feeling of, “Great! I have something to share, and it’s important!”

The student poster forum at SAA is an incredible environment. It is a safe space to put your first foot forward and offer your own opinions. The archivists that come by your poster are interested in you and what you have to say. You, dear student, are important, and your opinions on and work in archives are equally vital. Submitting a proposal to present a poster at SAA was one of the best decisions I made as a student. That one experience gave me the confidence to actively participate in the profession. And being an active participant is so much more rewarding than lurking and watching from the sidelines.