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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Poster Conference at the ISU

Communication is vital in the space industry. With so many countries, with such a variety of cultural and disciplinary background, working separately and together, it is very important to learn how to properly communicate across all necessary channels. Additionally, working in space is expensive and often the sciences have to reach out to the public, reminding them why their interest and funding are important. In keeping with this, the students at the ISU this week were asked to make conference-ready posters which effectively communicated one of several themes to entice and attract attention. Let's see how that went, shall we?
Separating into teams, we were assigned one of a variety of themes relating to the importance of space. The themes included: Women in Space, Commercial Spinoffs of Space, 10 Inspiring Astronauts, Ground-Breaking Science in Space, Pioneering Space Engineers, and a brief history of Human Spaceflight.

My team was responsible for representing 10 Inspiring Astronauts. Arranging a meeting, we discussed what we thought we should do for this assignment. What does inspiring mean? Is there a difference between popularity and an inspiring figure? Should we balance culture, nations, genders? Who was to go on our poster? How would the poster be arranged? What would be everyone's tasks? These were all questions raised and worked through on that first meeting, and it went well.

We created a list of 15 people we felt were inspiring, either for being the first to accomplish a major achievement or for working to promote the space industry. Some were obvious, and known to all, some were not. Our team of 6 consisted of a varied background; each member was from a different country and had unique contributions to the list, but we wanted to consult the opinion of the rest of the ISU. Deciding a poll would be an easy and fun way to interact with the others, we sent out our poll asking the students to name the top 10/15 we had mentioned and invited them to make suggestions in case we missed someone.

The timeline for making the posters was short, and thus our poll did not get as many results as we had wanted. However, the numbers coming in confirmed our thoughts and while there were some worthy suggestions, we had to narrow down our list. Discussing it at length, we finally decided on our list. We worked hard to make sure each person belonged on the list, fulfilling the criterion of being inspiring, and also that our list was culturally balanced.

One group member, an architect, had experience with poster making and volunteered to make the poster on his computer. The rest of us conducted research on the astronauts, collecting pictures and interesting anecdotes about them.

The next few afternoons/evenings were devoted to the layout of the poster. We agreed that a timeline would be the most functional and that it could help us organize the form as well. Editing, moving images, converting, and conversing, we all learned quite a lot and finished the poster well ahead of its due date.

I learned quite a lot from this exercise. The first thing I learned was the importance of communication. One member of my team was from China and sometimes became confused by our rushed, abbreviated English. I have worked in many groups and on many teams and I realized just how important and delicate the situation could be. While there are many benefits of teamwork, many can lose patience by having to submit to the speed/efficiency of every member. However, by keeping the atmosphere friendly and complimentary, I was able to help everyone stay on task without losing patience.

This is not to say that I was the only one promoting these positive attributes, which leads me to my second lesson learned.

Communication is a two-way street, meaning that if someone cannot understand you, it is partially your fault. It is all too easy to become confused or frustrated at someone's confusion, but it is wasted energy and a more productive practice to learn from the experience. Despite your best efforts, you may be misunderstood. The listeners may not have heard properly, they may have been distracted, or they may have been confused by the words you chose. By recognizing this, and by working to avoid and correct any problems which arise, you become better at communicating, and that leads to better understanding for yourself and those who listen. That last point is important; by learning how to communicate more effectively, you increase your understanding, as well as that of others.

My last lesson, not one I learned this time but rather enhanced, is to know your team. Like a good game of poker, it is just as important to know the players as the game, and this time, you are working toward making everyone a winner.

Observe your team, where their strengths lie, where they seem to be struggling, and recognize potential problem areas. I consider myself to be skilled in this practice. Like everything, it is a work in progress, but my usual process is to observe a group of people and see where I may be needed. Stepping up to help with communication, dividing, consulting, and eventually delegating tasks, as well as vocally reminding the team of problems, achievement, and deadlines, I became an invaluable member of the team and somewhat of a guiding factor.

The experience was enjoyable and by the end of it, we had accomplished something of which we were all proud. Finishing early, we congratulated each other's hard work and smiles were abundant.

That was the perspective of just one team here at the ISU. While the stories of the other groups may have been more or less positive, we are all learning and while this assignment was not very technical, it did help us with our teamwork and communication skills.

Now, on to the main event!

Our posters were printed and put on display on Friday, October 11th in the Pioneer's Hall. A large space, we had a chance to see the work of the other teams and have our worked evaluated by a panel of judges which included several members of the ISU staff. Among the criteria were measures of pedagogy (or the poster's ability to teach), attractiveness (in gaining and keeping a reader's attention), and ease of read (was there too much text? Font size too small?).

You'll likely have to click on the posters to open them in a new tab in order to read all of the text. I did not want to fill my blog up completely with each poster. However, the text was perfectly readable in the poster presentation and I was proud of that. My work included providing the information for Chris Hadfield, writing the Introduction, and Conclusion and advising the team as to the "flow" of the poster. I may not be in photography or graphic design but I understand how the eye can be directed by graphic design and that it would be important for people to subconsciously know where to start, where to go, and where to finish when looking at our work. I was a little worried that the number of astronauts would cause a problem but the team did a great job of balancing form and function and in the end, I was very proud of our work!

The first thing I noticed about this poster was the Earth. The picture is gorgeous and with the posters being so large, this poster definitely draws the eye. The text was large enough to read at a distance and the pictures and information were interesting. I had not personally considered the link between aircraft design and that of transport trucks (as you'll see in the lower left).

Unfortunately, the ISU symbol and the references, in the bottom of the poster, were too dark to read. I asked the group if something happened with the printing as I noticed the picture of the Earth was a little off. The picture posted above is the JPEG of their submitted work, obtained with permission, but the Earth as seen in person seemed more red at the north pole, and the blue seemed a little purple. I may be mistaken, but it almost appeared as if the colours were shifted slightly in the process, but again, I'm no expert. The main point to consider is how different things can appear from the computer screen to print.

However, they organizational layout was excellent, the text informative (as mentioned), and I enjoyed learning about space commercial spinoffs. Well done!

This poster is highly organized and presents its material clearly and effectively. The use of icons helps to visually distinguish each engineer and the use of a background image was effective while remaining non-distracting. I kept comparing this poster with my team's poster, notably because they had 7 people while we had 10. I think they made good use of their space. I cannot recall how easy the references were to read in person, but in my opinion, if you want to read the references, you will, and they should be added for reasons of completion only.  I did not get a picture of the team, but their names are at the top. Great job!

My initial thoughts regarding this poster were not exactly positive. I felt confused by the information and worried the judges would view it accordingly. However, very quickly after, my eyes focused on the main titles/points and moved along the information given. Many of the themes present the difficulty of narrowing the topic. How do you sum up the ground-breaking science of space in one poster? This team decided to focus on important questions and go into some depth as to how we have attempted to answer/explore these questions in space. With this in mind, I found the poster extremely informative and the points help draw the eye from the top to the bottom of the page. My first thought for my poster was a curved, more organic timeline, and I was reminded of this when viewing this team's use of the diagonal. Nice work!

This poster has a lot of information to cover and just like the previous poster, my first thought was a concern for its organization. I guess I was so concerned for my team's poster and the balance between informative and clearly presented that I extended this concern onto the other groups. However, like all the posters, this one has a style all its own and I enjoyed learning about its topic. The timeline showcases the excellent small steps and giant leaps women have made in the space industry, and the graphs at the bottom demonstrate a wider look at the participation of women over time.

The central portion is unique in its design, i.e. the use of orbits, and just this part alone would make an excellent poster. The pictures are inspiring, draw the eye and direct it about the page in a reasonable manner. Another job well done, as mentioned it was nice to learn more about this topic!

Last, but not least, we have a brief history of human spaceflight! I enjoyed the way this team organized three timelines, converging and moving apart. It was a clever way to approach the history and shows clearly some patterns, most notably the independent work the Chinese have been doing.

The colours are vibrant, the information was clear, and the pictures helped direct the content. As our TA pointed out, some of the photos seems to be aligned with the timeline itself, (see the arm of Alexei Leonov, the leg of the lander with Neil Armstrong, for examples). I did not catch the presentation so I am not sure what the presenters had to say, but like all the posters, I am sure they were impressed.

This assignment was quite enjoyable. I had an excellent time working in my team, learning new ways to be valuable in that setting, and I was very excited for the poster presentations. While an in-house demonstration, the assignment helped me learn a little more about real poster presentations. A good strategy for networking and exposure is to present a poster at a conference. It is a great way to show off some of your work while working under less pressure than someone who has to present. I think we all learned a little more about what it means to work in this industry and I commend everyone for a job well done! I hope none of any of my criticism came across poorly, I only meant it from a personal perspective and I intended it to be constructive. Honestly, I admired the unique directions undertaken by every team and I thank them all for giving me permission to post their work here.

For more information, feel free to contact me and I will redirect your request as it applies.

Our next assignment was a Remote Sensing Ground Verification field trip and I look forward to sharing that with all of you!