Incognito was met with initial disappointment after attending the Pittcon technical sessions, but was rescued from his gloom
by the range of poster presentations on show that stimulated discussion and gave him some new insights (and new hope!) into
developments in the field.
It was really, really cold in Chicago when I arrived for Pittcon (2–6 March 2014). I had travelled a long way and was looking
forward to a really scintillating conference to brighten my spirits. However, by the time I reached oral presentation number
five of the technical sessions on the Monday afternoon, I realized that I had heard four of the talks in the preceding three
years. Things were not looking good!
Photo Credit: Aaltazar/Getty Images
My first point is that it's pretty easy to create a really appealing title and then recycle some old content to hide behind
it, but it doesn't do any of us any good. For example: "A unique particle morphology to enable unsurpassed peak capacity in
HPLC" could alternatively be titled "Yet another core shell particle with a slightly different shell to overall particle diameter
ratio". I would have gone to this talk with high expectations, only to be disappointed. Note that this is a fictitious title
to illustrate my point. Yes, with a cleverly worded title you will probably draw a larger audience than you might otherwise,
but will they feel any better about you, or your company, or the subject of your talk? Please match the content to the title,
and at least try to talk about something new...
So, gripe out of the way and onto my main point.
I had forgotten what a joy and how wonderful poster sessions can be — I was very much reminded at the Pittcon meeting this
Traditionally, at most meetings, poster sessions are for early stage research or less developed theories or instrumentation,
and the audience are therefore more accepting of the "rough around the edges" content that often appears. I believe this is
a widely accepted view, and therefore Technical Committees are often willing to take more of a risk on what they accept for
inclusion and I think we all welcome this.
I had prepared fully for the poster sessions and marked all those that I had to see during the meeting. Of the 20 something
posters that I had marked, roughly 60% of them included content, ideas, or products that told me something new: A much larger
ratio than the oral sessions or symposia.
I'm not sure if it's the fact that I'm not afraid to look dumb, but I do tend to ask the poster presenters a lot of questions,
so that I can fully understand what they are saying, or to challenge statements or conclusions with which I disagree. This
can sometimes result in a dialogue that draws the attention of others, who may also like to understand more "but were afraid
to ask". At Pittcon I was involved in six "roadblocks". You know the situation, so many people crowding around the discussion
that they block the poster aisle and others have to navigate around — not all started by me I hasten to add! This was absolutely
In comparison to the often sterile, hackneyed debate that was happening "in chamber" during the oral sessions, these debates
were lively, multifarious, and, on occasions, argumentative. Absolutely what I needed to cheer me up during the meeting.