Feb 13, 2014

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing: Student Research Poster

This note is about my experience in Grace Hopper as a participant in the Student Research Competition. I was a student volunteer in first attendance to Grace Hopper, and that helped me to get familiarize with the organization of the conference and meet students from other universities. But that time I did not submit anything to the conference and realized that the best way to make a proper connection to other conference attendees is to present my research work (paper, poster, etc.). Although I did not take part in the Student Research Competition that time, I was very inspired by it, especially because Tanzima apu was one of the winners that year. Next year I submitted my own poster, and it was accepted! My poster did not win that time but due to the acceptance, I received the travel scholarship and free registration! Next year (my third Grace Hopper attendance) I submitted another poster and that one got accepted, too! To my utter surprise, at the end of the poster competition day I saw I am one of the 3 winners! Yay!! And another winner is Zalia apu! So 2 out of 3 winners were BUETians! Just imagine how it felt when we both were in the stage receiving the medals! I wish all 3 of the winners were BUETians at that time, hehehe. Anyways, apart from self-bragging, I want to share some experience here since the call for participation for this year came out recently.

Presenting a poster gave me the opportunity to talk to people: I did not have to go to people and find opportunity to introduce myself, rather I was just standing in front of my poster; people came to me and asked about my research. For an introvert like me this is a great advantage.  And they were people from industry and academia who were really interested in the topic of my poster. There is a career fair on Grace Hopper, so people from those tech companies looking for talents will come to your poster and talk to you if they find a match. Another benefit is that I got very useful feedback about the poster I presented, and I could improve my paper on that topic. And again, being accepted for the research competition means ACM will pay for the travel and registration.

One flexibility about Grace Hopper poster submission is it does not have to be previously unpublished; we can choose one already published work, so I could choose my best work as long as I am the main person behind that work. First we have to submit an abstract explaining the work. If that abstract gets accepted, they invite us to the conference where we have to present a poster, so no need to worry about making a pretty poster before that acceptance.

Step one: Abstract submission: Get an ACM student membership if you don’t have one, it is around $20 (I also got some concession using my BD address, rather than US address). I decided to present the work I was doing for my MS thesis. It was an iterative process to write it down in 2 pages, at the begining I had 6 pages, then 4, and then finally I was able to trim it down to 2 pages, and made the figures small but clear to fit in. Since my advisor and I already know about the work, so we cannot always tell if something is missing or unclear, so I got it reviewed by someone who is not that familiar with the topic (as if s/he is the reviewer). My grammar also fails me time to time, so I got it reviewed by native English speaker. There are some judging criteria, like clarity, contribution, etc., so needed to check if those met properly, though it’s hard to tell.

Step two: Poster session: I was indeed very happy when I got the acceptance letter from the review committee. That means I get to be in GHC! The review was very positive with a high score which boosted my confidence. Now it is time to get ready for the conference and design the actual poster. In Grace Hopper, people from many fields of computing gather together, we cannot expect that all of them are familiar with my particular type of research, I tried to keep that in mind while designing.

There are many online materials for good poster design guidelines. I will still reiterate some.
  • Do not use too many words: use key words rather than full sentence. Use diagrams, figures, screenshots with proper labeling.
  • Choose a nice layout: at first I decided to have a big central diagram and depict the idea around it, but my advisor suggested that as people read from left to right I should also follow that convention. Then I chose a three column layout, and arranged paragraphs and figures accordingly.Imagine how it will look from a distance (as if it is an artwork!).
  • Choose the correct color scheme, I used https://kuler.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/ for the color palette. 
  • Choose the right font (avoid Comic Sans as it is unprofessional, on the other hand Time New Roman is too old fashioned).
These little things can make big difference, everyone is doing excellent research, why not make yours look more professional and polished! You can also print out smaller one page version of your poster so people can take it with them like a flyer. Leave some of your business cards there,too.

After the poster is printed, it is time to present it at the conference. It started from 6 pm, so I had some time to practice in the morning. During the poster session, three or four judges will come one by one and ask about the work. Introduce yourself with a smile (my advisor always reminds me to smile). Then summarize the work in 5 to 10 minutes while navigating them through the poster. If talking about the result, then show them the result section of the poster. I practiced that before the poster session with my friends. After presenting the poster to a few people, I realized which part of the work is more interesting to other people, so I tried to emphasize on that. After that introduction, the judges will ask you questions about the work. They asked me who were my collaborators, what was my core contribution, how can I use it on other areas, what do the results indicate, etc. I also got feedback on how to improve this work (that really helped me for the paper I wrote on this). Talking about the same thing again and again can be tiring but that also helps to perfect the presentation.

Step three: Talk: At the end of the poster session (around 9 or 10 pm), they announce the finalists among all the participants. The finalists are scheduled to give a 15-20 minute talk about the poster the next day. For that I prepared some slides, and followed similar guidelines for the slides, too. Do not make them verbose, use text sparingly, use visual aid type diagram. No one is going to read the text on the slides, the audience’s attention should be on you, not on your slides. Make eye contact with the audience, make hand gestures, smile, and be dramatic with your voice!

Being a non-native English speaker, all of these are frightening to me, so I practiced with my friends before going to the stage. This talk session is the final judging step. There were 3 new judges in the audience. I was happy to see some of my friends in the audience, too. So I started my talk looking at my friends (as if I was making eye contact with the 'audience'). It was a relief to start the talk like that, then I moved my gaze around as if I am having conversation with the whole room. While showing something from the slides (for example, some diagram), point the mouse or the laser there, don’t just say things like “at the upper right corner you will see..bla bla”… my advisor always reminds me to engage with the audience, make them follow your lead; this is opposite to my character, but I force myself to do that and each time I present something, the feedback from the audience amazes me (that means I am a good actor!).

Always leave some time for Q and A after the talk, and have your email, URL, and Twitter ID at the last slide because that slide will be on display during the QA, so people can write down your info from there.

I feel that sometimes we fail to show enthusiasm about our own work, so the audience/judges also cannot relate to our work or underestimate its impact. Show them how excited you are that your work is going to change the world (even if you don’t believe that)! If I can do it, so can any of you.

The award ceremony was one of the most memorable days of my life! Being in the same stage with all these tremendous women is already a great honor in itself, and the winners get to submit their posters to the ACM SRC grand-final with all the other winners of all ACM conferences throughout the year (the grand finalists get to attend the Turing award ceremony!!!!). So start writing your abstract and be prepared for the submission.