The Wrong Poster, or, gate-crashers in the Halls of Scientific Academe

Oh, what a day it was. Oh, what times we had.

I got to the lounge early and stood in line for one of the presenter lanyards spread out on a folding table. The lanyard girl smiled at me. “Name?”

“Peppery,” I said.

She frowned. “Peppery? Um. Okay.” She pecked around under the table, then scanned the tabletop. “I don’t seem to have your name.”

“Really? I’m doing a poster. How about Em? She’s my co-presenter.”

“Nope.” The girl conferred with the symposium coordinator, who materialized at the first sound of minor aggravation. “I can’t find anyone’s name, Danny, why is no one on the list?”

To get my little blue lanyard, I eventually had to produce an email confirmation from Em’s and my absent co-presenter T-Dog, who is spending the summer home with his folks.

“Oh, T-Dog,” Danny sighed when I showed him the email. “Of course. Just write your name on that sticker and sign the sheet. You’re fine. It’s fine.”

Lesson One for All Future Symposium Presenters:
if it looks like it’s going south before it starts, it probably is. Get out immediately.

While waiting for Em to arrive with the poster, I fanned myself with a handful of our project pamphlets and found a symposium program. The cover was blase enough: pictures of trees, some dreck about national science and academic excellence. I flipped through the list of presenters, and felt a tiny, uneasy lump begin to formulate in my throat. The official List of Abstracts included phrases like “Estimated Wake Velocity,” “prokaryotic assemblages using protein,” and “exocyclic enol ethers,” all of them doing the funky with things like coagulants and glandularizations and meiotic silencing.

The lump hardened into a golf ball as I flipped toward the Poster section. There we were, with our innocuous, bouncy title: Does GX Corporation’s Book Projects Undermine Public Libraries? It was sandwiched between two other paragraph-long titles that mentioned genes and calcium and enhancing spatial data points from things with Latin names. I broke out in a cold sweat.

“Hey there,” Em said, coming up behind me. She lugged a huge plastic bag. “Here’s the poster. Where should we set up?”

“In the corner,” I croaked. “Behind that plant.”

She consulted her program. “Oh. Wow.”

“Yeah. Why didn’t they say something when we submitted our abstract? Isn’t this supposed to be about technology, too? We should ask T-Dog.”

Another lanyard-decorated student set up his sleek glossy poster with sticky-tac on foam board behind Em. It looked like Powerpoint Presentation slides printed out in rows, with lots of symbols, numbers and elemental equations.

“Well,” Em examined the schedule, “at least we get free lunch. And coffee, and – hey, dinner! Nice!”

Lesson Two for AFSP:
Need we reiterate that there has never been a free lunch, coffee or dinner in the history of edibles? Refer to Lesson Number One.

We proceeded to watch three oral presentations describe their research and thesis works, most of which involved DNA and something about soil. The presenters were nervous with their ums and too-long ties and erratic laser pointers, the last which served to distract more than emphasize. One woman’s slides seemed Frankenstein-influenced, with strange inexplicable animations vibrating the photographs of wetland bacteria. A Cowellesque judge reduced a theory to molecular shreds, while the presenter stood, shrugging and smiling.

Finally, it was time for poster session judging. Em and I stood in front of Does GX Corporation’s Book Projects Undermine Public Libraries, our hands full of pamphlets.

“It’ll be fine,” Em soothed. “We’ll just give our spiel and eat dinner. Free dinner. That’s worth it, right?”

“Right,” I said. “They may have science, but we have charm, charisma and style. Oh, and presentational speaking skills.”

“Maybe they have a Most-Out-Of-Place prize category? We may still have a chance.”

Lesson Three for AFSP:
Fake as hard as possible. For examples, see any of these

We spoke to several students and faculty, and had some nice discussions, until the first judge stepped up. She looked at our poster.

“Interesting. What program are you in?”

“Library and Information Science,” we chirruped.

“Talk about your topic.”

We did.

She smiled coldly. Her pen tapped her clipboard.

“So. Ahem. Whyever did you decide to enter this symposium?”

Lesson Four for symposium gate-crashers:
sell remaining poster supplies for plastic bottles of whiskey. Search said bottle for ethanol components, molecular structure, or anything remotely resembling scientific research.

Lesson Four-B:
Read up on the goddamn symposium next time. Repeat Lesson Four.


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