Preparing a Poster for the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference

A poster. That sounds easy enough, right? This year at the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference, hosted in Merida, Mexico on March 24-27, I decided to present an academic poster. It is only 30×40, and contains simple and concise words. The best part is I do not have to write a paper or give an oral presentation. Hmmm. One big poster with few words versus one big paper/speech with lots of words. Which one sounds easier? Oh, how I was fooled! The simplicity of creating a poster was only in theory, not in practice.

The poster I am presenting on behalf of myself, Luke Manley, Andrea Caivano, and Sonny Patel is titled “Stripping Humanity: Suppression of Uyghur Human Rights.” It derived from a group project in a public health course, PM 525 Culture and Health, at the University of Southern California. Our project entailed finding a cultural group in Los Angeles or vicinity, learn about and from them, and identify a health problem. Wanting to challenge ourselves and be unique, we chose Ugyhurs.

Who are Uyhgurs, you may ask? For a brief overview, they are a Chinese (nationality) Islamic minority group primarily in Xinjiang Province, or as the Uyghurs prefer to call it–East Turkistan, which is located in Northwest China. There are very few Uyghurs residing in the United States. Los Angeles is one of the more populous Uyghur areas, with 50-80 Uyghurs including children, living in a county of 10 million people.

Identifying and finding them was a challenge. Once we created a relationship with a key member of the group, everything went smoothly considering time constraints (us and them), small population size, and expected delays that come with every research project. After learning from them and the plight they experienced, our group decided to do more than present their story to a public health class. We decided to bring attention to their situation on a much larger scale—to an international and academic community. Thus laid the foundation for presenting at the Society for Applied Anthropology conference.

The poster-making process was long and tedious. A good portion of the work goes to formatting, styling, and overall presentation, and another portion to content. Luckily, most of the content was already formed in a PowerPoint presentation given at the end of the Culture and Health course, where choosing and picking words to concisely convey the message was done ahead of time. This itself involves a lot of thinking and correctly choosing few words that tell a big story. Think how you would summarize a lifetime, or generations, of health disparities with a handful of words for each topic.

Formatting is my favorite, yet frustrating, aspect of poster-making. This is where content is cut to convey messages to the point, text and graphics arranged for reading ease and user-friendliness, and layout displayed for balance and looks inviting. This is also where every detail is closely scrutinized, making sure every bullet or text is aligned properly, spacing is correct, font is uniform, and everything is in its place. This is sometimes the most challenging part because the most minute detail can be easily missed, yet has a huge impact on the overall presentation of the poster. Needless to say, I had numerous revisions., and am thankful for the input and help from my fellow co-authors.

After logging in many hours, my poster was ready for print. Printing is quite expensive! I went to pick up my poster and ready to take my poster home, but noticed the poster did not print out the way I wanted. The headings had an off-color boxed shadow to it that other texts on the poster did not have. This was not apparent on the PowerPoint (original program I used to create the poster), or at actual size on the PDF. Unsatisfied with the results, I worked with the printing employees on identifying the problem, fixing it, and submitting it for printing once again. Turns out, the shadow resulted because the (Calibri) font for the heading was “Calibri,” and not “Calibri (headings).” I also learned that zooming in the PDF at 500%, or as closely as possible, revealed the off-color shadow that was not seen when viewing at actual size. Changing this minute and important detail, the boxed shadow problem was solved. I was able to print a second time at no cost extra and I got to keep the first print for free.

So much work goes into creating a poster that one does not usually foresee. There is much difficulty in condensing and conveying information in as few words as possible, properly formatting the poster, and dealing with unexpected problems. Was this worth all the trouble? In the end, a product is created with pride that can be displayed many times and offer a presentation without preparing a long oral one. Given those outcomes, the trouble was well worth it.