Education AGU News

Students Worldwide Share Research in Virtual Poster Showcases

A new program of online student poster sessions helps Earth and space science college and university faculty raise student engagement and retention and build students' confidence and career skills.

By , , , and Virgil Brown

Students generally need to attend an in-person conference to present a poster, but only a tiny percentage of them do. The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) estimates that there are 38,000 undergraduate geoscience students in 2-year and 4-year programs in the United States and 65,000 to 100,000 undergraduates in non-U.S. programs (according to the AGI’s “Status of Geoscience Workforce 2014” report). Yet a look at the annual conference programs of the leading geoscience societies shows that with a few exceptions, the number of posters presented by undergraduate students is less than 100, which leaves a significant gap.

This gap does not have to be the case. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) leads a group of societies committed to growing and developing the global talent pool. We believe that every undergraduate student doing research, whether field/lab based or literature based, should have the opportunity to present a poster. The Virtual Poster Showcase (VPS) achieves that goal by offering a platform that allows any faculty to couple research with a poster presentation opportunity. VPS can facilitate the building of skills to develop and present a poster and to review science. Providing these experiences to students can take retention efforts to another level of effectiveness and impact; research indicates that students who participate in research experiences have a greater level of engagement and retention in science.

After convening two proof-of-concept showcases in 2013 and 2014, AGU and a handful of professional societies as founding partners launched a successful Virtual Poster Showcase in 2015. The showcase included three separate events. The first included U.S. undergraduate students who partook in summer research experiences either in organized programs at research centers, in formal National Science Foundation–funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs, or individually with faculty from around the country. The second event included undergraduates who participated from the United States as well as from other nations. The third event brought together graduate students, with most participants from outside of the United States.

How VPS works

A Virtual Poster Showcase takes place in four phases. Students first register in the online platform and submit an abstract in one of five divisions: Earth sciences, ocean sciences, atmospheric sciences, planetary sciences, and environmental sciences. Graduate students submit abstracts by division and also choose a discipline. Registrants must pay an abstract fee of U.S.$35. VPS does not require membership in a professional society. Showcase abstracts, starting with those from 2015, will become part of a database, currently under construction, which will allow each student to have a citable abstract from the poster presentation.

As soon as a student receives a notification that his or her abstract has been accepted, the student can submit the poster about the research as well as a link to a video explaining the work. Students can access online guidelines for writing an abstract, creating a poster (including maximum dimensions), and making a video.

After the phase of uploading posters and videos ends, students participate in the peer evaluation phase, during which they view and judge three other students’ posters. Students use the platform to pose questions and receive feedback, as well as to score the posters using a rubric. The posters that score highest in the peer evaluation proceed to the expert judging phase of the showcase in which faculty and scientists use the same rubric and question and answer format to evaluate and score posters.

All students who participate in a showcase become eligible to receive a certificate of participation after they complete the peer evaluation phase of the event. Students who presented highly ranked posters receive other recognition as well. In each of the 2016 showcases, the grand prize winner who created the highest-scoring poster of the showcase can redeem a student travel grant to the 2017 AGU Fall Meeting and receive a free registration for the meeting as well. Other top-rated presenters receive plaques and 1-year AGU memberships.

Take Action

We have previously announced the showcases for 2016. The first one for undergraduates will accept abstracts until 3 March at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Encourage your students to participate or include the experience in your capstone courses in your program. If your institution or department would like to facilitate participation of a large class or a group of students, options are available to fund a block of abstracts. If you are a faculty member or scientist, please consider participating as an expert judge. Contact us at [email protected] to find out how you can get updates and information about VPS.

Highlights from the 2015 Showcases

Fig. 1. Undergraduate and graduate students in the United States and 12 other nations presented research in 2015 Virtual Poster Showcases. Credit: Kelsey Watson, Fall 2015 Education and Public Outreach intern, and Tess Reardon, Spring 2016 Education and Public Outreach intern
Fig. 1. Undergraduate and graduate students in the United States and 12 other nations presented research in 2015 Virtual Poster Showcases. Credit: Kelsey Watson and Tess Reardon

The Virtual Poster Showcase program launched in 2015 with three showcases in which 71 students from 13 different countries presented posters (see Figure 1).

Fascinating research from the feeding behavior of venomous red lionfish to influences on soil carbon storage in Puerto Rico received top awards from showcase judges. Here’s a listing of the awardees of each showcase and the titles of their posters. You can see their posters and videos at the link for each showcase.

Multisociety undergraduate VPS:

  • First Prize: Kaitlin Frei, a sophomore from University of Notre Dame; “You Are What You Dine from Your Fins to Your Spines: Pterois volitans Dietary Habits”
  • Second Prize: Hitomi Okada, a junior from Colorado State University; “Using Photosynthetically Active Radiation as a Proxy to Estimate the Impact of NEON’s Tower Infrastructure on Microclimate Measurements”
  • Third Prize: Emma Scott, a junior from North Carolina State University; “Freshly Falling Snow: Identifying New Snowflake Geometries from Photographs”

The American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, Council on Undergraduate Research, and American Geosciences Institute sponsored this showcase.

Second undergraduate showcase:

  • First Prize: Yuxi Suo, a senior from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); “An Open Source, Cross-Platform Tool for Implementing River Discharge Algorithms for the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) Satellite Mission”
  • Second Prize: Aldwin Vazquez, a senior from University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez; “Hunting for Ultra-Low Velocity Zones Using SKS and SKKS Differential Travel Time Residual”
  • Third Prize: Ariel Pezner, a junior from UCLA; “Drought Influence on Chlorophyll Fluorescence in Evergreen and Drought Deciduous Plant Species of Southern California”

AGU sponsored this showcase and the third showcase below.

Third showcase—for graduate students:

  • First Prize: Elliot Vaughan, University of Wisconsin–Madison; “The Influence of Land Use and Soil Order on Soil Carbon Storage in Puerto Rico”
  • Second Prize: Graeme MacGilchrist, University of Oxford; “Chaos in Ocean Ventilation”
  • Third Prize: Yu-Chen Ling, University of Melbourne; “Microbial Distribution and Activity in a Coastal Acid Sulfate Soil System”

When students were surveyed after participating in the showcases, some said VPS is helping them in their careers and that taking part in a showcase gave them a confidence boost.

Regarding the career impact, students made such comments as “[VPS] has given me valuable feedback on both my research and how I presented it” and “gave me more experience in showing the research I’ve done this summer.” Students said they gained confidence in both preparing and presenting research posters (see Figure 2).

Fig. 2. Students reported increased confidence with regard to preparing and presenting posters after participating in 2015 Virtual Poster Showcases. Credit: Kelsey Watson, Fall 2015 Education and Public Outreach intern, and Tess Reardon, Spring 2016 Education and Public Outreach intern
Fig. 2. Students reported increased confidence with regard to preparing and presenting posters after participating in 2015 Virtual Poster Showcases. Credit: Kelsey Watson and Tess Reardon

Students also reported finding the VPS platform user-friendly, giving it an average rating of 8.2 out of 10 on a scale of 1 (very difficult) to 10 (very easy). When asked if they would recommend VPS to their friends and peers, students answered with a favorable average score of 7.8 on a scale of 1 (highly unlikely) to 10 (highly likely).


We would like to thank all the students who participated not only in the 2015 showcases but also in our 2013 and 2014 proof-of-concept showcases. We are also grateful to all the faculty and scientists who served in the expert judging phase of the showcases. They include Eileen Herrstrom, University of Illinois; Andrew Whittaker, Niigata University; Colin Price, Tel Aviv University; Mark Behn, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Sean Elvidge, University of Birmingham; Marc Jolivet, CNRS University Rennes; Matthew Niznik, University of Miami; Lorene Lynn, HDR, Inc.; Nisia Krusche, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande; Rebecca Batchelor, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research; Suzanne Anderson, University of Colorado Boulder; Laura Guertin, Penn State Brandywine; and Kristi Foster, Central Caribbean Marine Institute. Our partner societies include the Council on Undergraduate Research, the Geological Society of America, the American Geosciences Institute, and the American Meteorological Society. Last but not least, we appreciate all the faculty mentors and advisers who worked with students on research projects and guided their students through the process.

—Pranoti M. Asher, Manager, Education and Public Outreach, AGU; email: [email protected]; Harry Furukawa, Director, Product Development, AGU; Bethany Adamec, Coordinator, Education and Public Outreach, AGU; and Virgil Brown, Project Manager, Project Management Office, AGU

Citation: Asher, P. M., H. Furukawa, B. Adamec, and V. Brown (2016), Students worldwide share research in Virtual Poster Showcases, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO046935. Published on 25 February 2016.

© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0