Beating the competition: How to get the most out of the annual ASBMB Undergraduate Poster Competition

By Joseph Provost, Ph.D., Minnesota State University Moorhead and Weiyi Zhao, MPH, ASBMB


For those of you preparing for the 2013 ASBMB Annual Meeting in Boston, you’ve likely looked at the calendar recently with a jolt of panic.  Just a few weeks until the meeting kicks off!  You may want more time for that last experiment, but time is running out on getting your data ready for the poster.

This year, undergraduates attending the meeting will have a wonderful opportunity to present their work at the 17th Annual Undergraduate Student Research Poster Competition as well as during the main meeting.  At the poster competition, you will be joined by over 250 other undergraduates, each presenting their work to professional scientist judges who will be assessing the quality of your research, your understanding of the subject and your ability to communicate your work to your peers.  So, how is that poster coming along?

Having a well-designed poster is not only critical for the competition, it is also a tried and true method for scientists to share their work among peers, receive input regarding their research and see how their ideas relate to other scientists’ work.  Let’s not forget that how well your poster is constructed can also say A LOT about yourself, your level of professionalism and when well presented, can potentially create new opportunities for your future (think jobs, graduate school, medical school…).

Here are some basics to consider as you begin poster construction:

  1. Gather your data and begin working with your research advisor soon.  Don’t wait until the last minute. Put your data in a presentable form and schedule a time to talk about how the poster should look.  Be sure to study the Judging Rubric (   In a March, 2011 article of ASBMB Today, Marina Pazin, does a great job walking through beginners on how a poster should be constructed in “The ABCs of poster making” (
  2. The layout of your poster should be organized and well thought-out.  The font should be easy to read, and graphs and images must be large enough for those standing a couple of feet away to read clearly.
  3. Pay attention to your figure formats.  Some files types, such as PNG files, withstand enlargement better than others.
  4. Limit yourself to two or three colors and stay away from complicated background images for the poster.
  5. A light background with dark print works the best.  Stay away from dark primary colors for the background.  Colors that look brilliant on the screen (blue background and red type for example) do not translate well to the printed page.  They detract from the work you’ve done and are harder on the eyes.
  6. Use bulleted points to summarize your findings in the conclusion of section of your poster.  This will also help with your presentation during the competition.

The March, 2013 issue of ASBMB Today ( has an interesting article by Paul Craig and John Tansey.  While the target audience for the article is the judges, it provides information on what to expect at the event both as a judge and as a student presenter.  You’ll also get some hints on how to create an effective poster based on what the judges have said about past poster competitions.

Last but not least, for those familiar with the history of ASBMB Undergraduate Poster Competition, the University of Delaware always brings an “A” game.  Their students are always well prepared.  In 2012, Hal White, the faculty advisor for the University of Delaware UAN, wrote a nice article describing the culture at the University of Delaware and how it creates outstanding young scientists.  Take a moment to read what Dr. White wrote about his students and how they approach poster preparation. (

Good luck and hope to see you in Boston!

To learn more about the ASBMB Annual Meeting and the Undergraduate Poster Competition, visit

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