Lessons Learned From Winning a Poster Competition

Lessons Learned From Winning a Poster Competition

Competing For Eyeballs of Those Passing By

    1. You are competing with everyone for the attention of a few (1 minute of their time – MAX)
    2. Catchy titles! Lure in the reader with a title that stands out from the crowd
      • E.g., One title I used was “The Panic Disorder Patient who Cried Wolf.” Clearly, this is not the title for the manuscript I eventually published (which was about information-processing biases and auditory perception in anxious individuals), but, it certainly piqued the curiosity of convention-goers.
    4. Bullet-pointed text (similar to a talk). A few points of interest or “talking points,” but let the quality of your tables and graphs/images speak to the quality of your data!
      • No one has the time to read tiny text boxes (if the reader has to squint…you lose)!
      • Consider leaving out the abstract (so many words, and these words are redundant with what your poster will convey LOUDLY AND CLEARLY, also the abstract will be published in the Conference Proceedings anyway. On Cur?us, the title of your poster will be directly linked to your published abstract.  In essence, your poster IS the abstract plus some cool graphic design effort!
    5. What to include?
      • Background and Rationale
      • Specific Aims and Hypotheses
      • Methods/Design
      • Results
      • Graphs/Tables
        • Summarize results in bullet pointed text
        • Don’t add a single bullet under a point. What’s the point in the bullet if the bullet IS the point?
      • Conclusions/Discussion
      • Implications/Future Directions

Most of all, have fun with your work, have confidence in it, and BE CREATIVE!

Poster Sample (above): Spinal Chordoma by Stefan Norbert Zausinger

Medical Posters — Talking To Your Audience

Medical Posters — Talking To Your Audience

The Cur&#275us video team brought our cameras out to the Stanford University School of Medicine to start a conversation with students about why the process of creating Medical Posters is so important.

“For me posters are usually very useful for preliminary versions of figures and really to serve as a sounding board for ongoing research that will later be put into manuscripts —so it’s nice to be able to get that feedback.” Kail Miller, MD, PhD told Cureus.

Special thanks to Robert Lober, MD, PhD, Kail Miller, MD, PhD — MD canditates Abdullah Feroz and Marc Carmichael, PhD for participating in our video conversation.


Things I Wish I Knew When Creating My First Poster

Things I Wish I Knew When Creating My First Poster

I made my first scientific poster for the 2007 Society for Neuroscience Annual meeting in San Diego, which is recently enough to remember just how clueless I was about creating an effective poster for a scientific conference.

I was fortunate enough to have the guidance of my incredibly patient research advisor, Amherst College’s Professor Stephen George. Of course not everyone is lucky enough to have an advisor like him, and at every meeting I’ve ever been to at least one presenter shows up with a completely disorganized poster filled with cramped text, or a poster that is printed on a series of different pieces of paper. This is why I’m writing down a few things every first poster maker must know, starting with the most obvious.

A poster is a mini article, presented in bullets and pictures rather than text. Don’t re-invent the wheel; start by looking at successful posters and use their formatting and style as a loose guide for what works.

In time I hope that Cureus will become a resource for poster-makers to collaborate on poster design in addition to sharing scientific ideas. One of the most popular and basic poster tools is Microsoft PowerPoint, although many other software programs can be used as well. If using PowerPoint, make a 60 inch wide x 36 inch tall slide within the page setup menu, and use approximately font size 72 for titles and approximately font size 18 for body.

Organize your poster in a way that is broken down logically to tell a story and to sell a conclusion. Many posters break the presented information into “Background”, “Methods”, etc. In general you should be able to read all of the text in a poster in less than five minutes. Prof George once told me that if my college roommates couldn’t sit still long enough to understand what my poster was about, it probably had too many details and too much text.

Finally, give yourself lots of time to design your poster, even if all of your bullets and figures are ready to go. Formatting a visually attractive poster takes a lot of time.

Stylish Academic Writing – A Book By Helen Sword

Stylish Academic Writing – A Book By Helen Sword
Helen Sword

If academics write mainly to be published it’s no wonder that much of academic writing is difficult to read, full of jargon and unengaging. Helen Sword, associate professor at the Centre for Academic Development at the University of Auckland, has written Stylish Academic Writing  to help academics to “aspire to write more engagingly and adventurously.”

The Weekly Standard’s review of Stylish Academic Writing covers various reasons why academic writing is what it is today.

Academics in the humanities and the social sciences, it’s sometimes suggested, too often wish to give their fields the legitimacy and public authority of science, and so write in highly technical, jargon-laced prose.

Academics in the hard sciences, for their part, are too concerned with factual correctness to worry about making their productions agreeable, even to co-specialists. Then, of course, there is the really uncharitable interpretation: Many academics simply haven’t got anything useful to say, but if they say it in a sufficiently complicated fashion and use all the vogue terms, they’ll get credit for having said something without saying anything worth defending.

To get a closer look of what Helen Sword means by Stylish Academic Writing, here is a blog post in which she discusses “seven secrets of stylish academic writing” that is a useful guide to help your writing. The first one, not surprisingly, is

Start with the title

The titles of academic articles are typically abstract, technical, and utterly uninviting, such as:

“Social-Organizational Characteristics of Work and Publication Productivity among Academic Scientists in Doctoral-Granting Departments”

To send a more welcoming signal to potential readers, try phrasing your title as a question (“Why Are Some Scientists More Productive Than Others?”), a provocative statement (“Productivity Hurts”), a metaphor (“Productivity: Holy Grail or Poisoned Chalice?”) or other memorable phrase (“The Productivity Paradox”).

Wherever possible, opt for simple, concrete language.

“Snakes on a Plane” is an inviting title; “Aggressive Serpentine Behaviour in a Restrictive Aviation Environment” is not.

You can read the rest of the seven secrets here.

Overcoming The “Freeze Effect” Part III

Overcoming The “Freeze Effect” Part III

Matter your lightsaber size does not. How you use it will
–- Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Keep it simple for the reader; your own thoughts and ideas and statistics and theoretical ponderings can meander, but when you publish, simplicity and clarity always win out! Publishing an academic paper is simply not a junior high or high school essay test, where answers are memorized and expected to be regurgitated in a lined “blue book.”  Similar to Strunk and White (1979) [1918], your writing will prove most effective, when it is “used” efficiently!

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell
– Strunk and White, 1918

I will never forget the words of my graduate school mentor.  She wrote largely on a blank 4 x 6 index card, in all capital letters in black ink. She handed me the card in silence and told me to tape it to my computer; she then returned to working away at her own computer. I am quite certain she has never sat on her hands. The card read: 2) “LESS IS MORE.”

Stay tuned for Episode III: Using “The Force” for traditional peer review, Cureus differences are emerging…


Overcoming the “Freeze Effect” Part II

Overcoming the “Freeze Effect” Part II

“Matter your lightsaber size does not. How you use it will”
–Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

There may be several possible interpretations of Yoda’s adage; likewise, there are several possible interpretations of everything you are writing or are about to write!

Consider the following interpretation so that we may apply the quote to publishing:

How you use it.  Craft your manuscript as you would have others craft a manuscript for you.  Your thoughts are incredibly powerful!  And negative or worry-thoughts often lead to avoidance behaviors.  Therefore, if you worry about the size or length of your paper before you begin, you will very likely not begin!

Tell your story and do so in a way that others will learn something and not be distracted by fluff.  Make sure the goals and aims/hypotheses are clear from the “get-go”; and remind yourself as you write that every single section of the paper is meant to support those initially detailed hypotheses.  If you lose track of your principal aims, then there is no way a reader or reviewer can keep track of them.

Think about your paper as a story.  Your manuscript IS telling a story…a story of those aims you so clearly outlined; a story with a beginning, middle and an end.  Draw in your reader the same way you were drawn to pursue those goals and aims in the first place!

Write your aims/hypotheses clearly at the beginning of each section. You can always delete them afterwards, but this will make it implicit to yourself why you are writing each section. This in turn builds confidence and confidence bolsters momentum. Forward momentum pretty much negates the “freeze effect”!

Keep reading… Episode II, Part 3


Let It Go: Overcoming the “Freeze Effect” Part I

Let It Go: Overcoming the “Freeze Effect” Part I

“Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking cross the floor; put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out that door.” – Abominable Snow Monster, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

“You never will get where you’re going if you never get up on your feet.”  If you are planning to publish, then you are also planning to have others read your work. The only option, therefore, is to “LET IT GO.” (Use the coping/adaptive phrase that works for you; examples are: “Put one foot in front of the other,” “Just Do It,” “Baby Steps”). And Yoda adds insight:

“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” – Yoda, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Allow the world to read your paper.  And yes, “world” includes reviewers of the journal to which you have submitted your manuscript; know that, there will likely be changes to make.

  • In the “traditional” peer review system, some people will think your ideas are great, some will be indifferent, others will disagree entirely with the rationale for and methods of your work, and others yet will tirelessly try to convince you that everything you wrote was a complete waste of time.  This system is getting a major overhaul with the Cureus peer review process in which reviewers can no longer “kill” a paper, but rather are incented to help the author publish their best work.  Why? Because reviewers are also rated.
  • If you can spark a debate, consider it a major feat!  Copernicus was fearful to publish his heliocentric theory for fear of criticism from the masses supporting Aristotelian physics and Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the universe.  Grateful we are that he let go of the fear to publish and allowed the world to debate and ultimately learn! Is that not the goal of an academician? Not only to learn but also to allow others to learn in the process.
  • And grateful we are that Cureus is providing a platform for research to be unleashed rapidly and globally, without the associated fear which causes many scientists to remain in “freeze” mode way too long.

Why spend so much time wondering in advance, and trying to “fix” in advance?  Find out what the reviewers have to say AFTER you submit.

Keep reading… Episode II, Part 2

Questions? Comments? Email: rachel.pollock@cureus.com

Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

“When all is said and done, the processes of Cureus.com makes peer reviewed scientific publishing easier than ever. Therefore, get to work, publish your ideas and experiences, and change the world!”
– Adler, J.R., 2012

So, you want to publish a paper? I shall call upon the wisdom of the great Jedi-Master, Yoda, for “getting started.”

Yoda’s impregnated kernels of thought, spread across 6 “big screen” Episodes of Star Wars, 3 additional books, and approaching 3 decades of Cinematic terminology, are an ideal tool for shedding light on:

  • The goals and “feelings” of a new publisher (Episodes I and II).
  • The ups and downs inevitably experienced during the “present” system of peer review (Episode III).
  • The reality of an experienced publisher and utility in asking for help (Episode IV).
  • The overarching objectives of Cureus in “changing everything” (Episode V).

And seriously, who hasn’t tried to emulate Yoda’s voice at some point in his/her life (I am really hoping at least one reader nodded in agreement)?

“No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
– Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

Publish a paper AND change the world? Some might consider this a daunting task.  Alas, anything is possible.

Starting to Publish:

“Some physicians literally sit on their hands and data for a lifetime.”
– Adler, J.R., 2012

Step 1: GET OFF OF YOUR HANDS… and use them to type!
Some novice publishers become so focused on the end product, that they literally do nothing. Such “freeze” response is evolutionarily associated with the natural “fight or flight” survival instinct.  When “fight or flight” doesn’t seem like the best option, our autonomic nervous system plays “freeze” instead; we become “deer caught in the headlights” or “scared stiff.” When we’re facing a big time actual or perceived threat the “freeze response” might be the survival mechanism we choose as a final effort at self preservation.  Punching our mentors or collaborators (fight), or sprinting down the street in our pajamas (flight) doesn’t quite seem like the optimal course of action for the new publisher.

The following are a few examples of things that might cause a new publisher to sit and stare at the computer screen for hours, rather than getting those ideas out in the world where they belong!

There can be “grand scale concerns” including any of the following:

  • My paper will never be good enough to publish
  • I can’t write as well as X, Y, or Z, so why even try?
  • My statistics aren’t strong enough
  • I don’t have enough references
  • I’ll never get a tenured-track position at X University
  • X, Y, and Z already have 10 published papers, and I don’t have any

Notice all of the examples above are negative, all-or-nothing, or catastrophic thinking.  Words like “never” or “can’t” or “don’t,” particularly when they are self-targeted, are bound to create behaviors such as avoidance (including procrastination or designing a new paper or study). Or these can be “small scale concerns” which may include over-engagement in the minutiae (a different type of avoidance):

  • repeatedly performing the most sophisticated statistics possible
  • citing and reviewing every attainable source remotely relevant to the paper in the introduction
  • becoming over-analytical and self-critical of potential study limitations.

The bottom line is this:  You already conducted the study. Learn from your experiences and move forward. The limitations section grants you the opportunity to discuss the wisdom you have gained, grants an opportunity to explain what you have learned from the most recent study and how much this particular study will inform the future work of your own and others (and we will discuss the discussion section, too, in a later post).

For now, be humble and be willing to recognize where you might have been able to make your study stronger in some way.  But be grateful for this opportunity rather than approach it with dread.  No one wants to be stuck in the past.  No one wants to be “stuck” at anytime, anywhere, PERIOD! In the current peer review process, a reviewer will be plenty willing to thoroughly critique (OK, “criticize”) your entire paper for you (and yes, Yoda has some wisdom to impart about the “traditional” peer review process of a journal, too)!

These are YOUR innovative ideas, your creative design and there are no answers, even in the results section. There are only “findings” in the results section.  Allow your paper to lead to more questions, and insomuch, the forward movement and evolution of your research interests. Let it go!

“You will find only what you bring in.”
– Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

So, bring it in! Let the reviewers have at it. Be brave and press “send”…what’s the worst that can happen?

Stay tuned for Episode II: Let It Go: How to overcome the “freeze effect”

Questions? Comments?
Email: rachel.pollock@cureus.com

Common Mistakes When Writing Peer Reviewed Papers

Common Mistakes When Writing Peer Reviewed Papers

Writing a scientific paper invariably requires a lot of work.  Great science does not necessarily make for a great paper.  Having published and reviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of papers over the course of my academic medical career it strikes me that getting a few things right makes for a much more impactful publication.  Avoid the following mistakes and your paper will not be ignored.

1)    As a first principle, real science demands the scientific method.  Consequently, don’t forget to structure your manuscript around the scientific method.  Almost any topic in medical science can be explored through this process.  Nothing drives me crazier as a reviewer, than working through a paper with no hypothesis.  Ask an interesting question, answer it with your data and before you know it your paper will start to write itself.

2)    In junior high school you were taught to value your writing by the number of pages generated.  Now that you are a professional, break the habit!  Rambling introductions, endless discussions and ever more detailed descriptions of results lose readers and your message, as well as consuming your precious time.  Tell your story with the fewest possible words.  Wherever possible condense prose into appropriate tables or figures.  If you want your scientific writing to be impactful, less really is more.  From the famous book on concise writing: Strunk & White “Make every word tell.”

3)    By all means write about clinical topics that interest you, but tell the “science” from the reader’s vantage point.  Strip out extraneous stuff that your reader doesn’t really care about.  Meanwhile, statistics can strengthen your argument but a blizzard of statistical measures can actually obscure the central idea of a paper.  Sometimes it can be hard to see past a thicket of statistics and figure out the primary point of a paper.  What a waste!

4)    To the eyes of a reviewer and reader, nothing detracts from the quality of a paper, more than careless errors.  In this day of automated word processing checking tools, there is no excuse for spelling and grammatical errors.  If an author fails to invest literally a few minutes to clean up a manuscript, how can a reader/reviewer have confidence in the much bigger challenge of the actual writing?  Don’t be lazy!!

5)    Just because your immediate scholarly interest is not Nobel Prize material, this is no reason to not publish.  Most potential authors are much too shy about reporting findings that interest them, especially in the clinical domain.  Some physicians literally sit on their hands and data for a lifetime.  If a topic interests you, chances are it interests someone else somewhere in the world, and with online search, they can now find your report.  Therefore, write early, write often!!

When all is said and done, the processes of Cureus.com makes peer reviewed scientific publishing easier than ever.  Therefore, get to work, publish your ideas and experiences, and change the world!

Reviewing on Cureus

Reviewing on Cureus

Reviewing a medical paper is a big responsibility and reviewing can be a difficult process; but it is critical to evolving the field of medicine.  Cureus aims to make the review process as pain-free as possible.  Moreover, we actively feature and promote reviewers as recognition for their important contribution to the field of medicine.

Today we introduce a video tutorial to highlight our reviewing tools and process. I also want to share a few thoughts for reviewers in this post.

The Cureus.com review process is designed to help the author publish the best paper possible.  Except in the case of fraud or gross negligence, we do not reject papers.  Formidable papers over the decades have been buried by errant reviewers. We believe it is unacceptable that a reviewer looking briefly at the scientific work that has taken many hours, days, weeks or months can decide whether or not a paper gets published.  Only the author can decide whether his work is strong enough for publication or not.

Once published, our SIQ scoring process is activated and the wisdom of the network will determine the relative value of a paper in the form of a score.  Reviewers on Cureus.com are the first to score a paper (SIQ score) and their score holds the most weight….so a low SIQ score might result if authors fail to take reviewer feedback into consideration.  While an author is not under obligation to modify a paper based on the feedback of the reviewers, it is in their best interest if they want to maximize their paper score.