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Researcher Spotlight: Niny Rao on the value of early-stage research

April 27, 2021

When Niny Rao, an Assistant Professor in the chemistry department of Thomas Jefferson University, shared her poster on the impact of different roasting temperatures on cold brew coffee at the ACS Spring 2020 Meeting it caused quite a stir. A number of science news outlets covered her findings, driving traffic to her poster and causing it to be one of the most viewed on the Morressier platform. We caught up with Niny Rao to find out what this increased visibility means for her research and why there’s still a way to go when it comes to making conference content accessible. 


Morressier: Firstly, congratulations on receiving so much interest in your conference poster from the ACS Spring 2020 Meeting! Would you say that, as a rule, conference posters are a more accessible format for the general public?

Niny Rao: It was really exciting to see that there are a lot of people interested in coffee research! I think that, for the general public that wants to want to learn a little bit more about coffee, or other scientific topics in general, posters are a great format for them to access. 


Posters tend to be shorter, and they usually have some sort of specification in terms of size or content, you really cannot cram a lot of information into a poster. Plus you can include a lot of graphics and visual content to spruce up your poster and make it as understandable to the general public as possible. This way, the information is not overwhelming - everybody can navigate through a poster.


Morressier: What are the benefits of hosting conference content in an open access format online? 


Niny Rao: Any research that is freely accessible to the general public is going to encourage the people who are interested to take a look at what you're doing, ask questions critically or reach out directly for answers to whatever concerns they may have. For my poster, I actually received quite a few questions from the general public. I'm glad that people are interested in my research and I think posters are a great format for a lot of researchers who may only present these findings at a conference and never end up publishing it elsewhere. 


I just finished a book chapter on cold brew coffee. And when I was doing the research for this book chapter, I’d see citations of a lot of coffee research that had been shared at conferences and it was really hard to find these posters. Ridiculously hard. And once you do find them, very often they are behind a paywall. It’s not much money, maybe $5 to access two pages. I'm willing to pay that if it's something that is useful, but sometimes just by looking at the title, I don't know and then sometimes I waste $5 for no reason. I think it’s important that dedicated services exist as having our posters preserved online is a great way to show continuity with our research and gives the general public the access that they may not have otherwise received.


Morressier: So in the past you've actively tried to find these kinds of posters from peers in your field online? 


Niny Rao: I have. When you look at a research article, very often they cite that information is 'is from this conference in this proceeding'. And I would go to the conference website and see if I could find the proceeding. Some of them were good and well organized enough to find exactly what you're looking for, but others...  You have no idea how many pirate sites I went to just trying to get that one little article from 1999, because somebody mentioned something that sounded relevant. There's a wealth of information out there that people may not publish for whatever reason that should still be accessible so others can use it or learn from it.


Morressier: Do you see this changing and shifting towards making early-stage research findings more accessible and discoverable online?


Niny Rao: I think so. Authors often make their posters available through the library of their institution or through their own group website, because very often they did all this work for a project that may not be publishable at the time, but the information itself is critical. For those researchers, this is a great way to showcase content - even if they haven’t published a paper, they can point people to the posters they presented over the years. And I appreciate those folks who put the link to their work in their CV, so I can click on it and see if it’s interesting. So I think it’s important to have these kinds of platforms available for anyone working in scientific research.



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