I'm in a bit of a predicament. I was awarded a small grant to pursue a research topic over this summer under the authority of a professor. I had worked with this professor previously (on a research topic that led to my summer research topic) and had great results.

This professor had very specific ideas as to what he wanted me to do and what goals I should accomplish. I was fine with this as previously this method had worked well with us. This is important; I'll explain in a second.

This summer, my professor (for lack of a better phrase) suddenly dropped off the face of the Earth. He stopped responding to my emails, and the few times he did respond (maybe twice in the span of three months) it was merely saying "I'm very busy; we'll speak eventually; I'm working on other things that are much more important".

This put me in a very bad place. I had done what he asked me and had at that point committed a fair amount of time to the direction he had asked me to pursue. I didn't have enough direction to keep going unsupervised, and didn't have enough time to go in a new direction that I could manage by myself.

I need to write up a summary that discusses what I did and my findings. What I have is a methodology that should solve a particular problem faster (in theory) than current methods (To be more specific, it's a faster implementation of an algorithm--unfortunately I couldn't improve the algorithm itself). I did not have enough guidance (or access to my funds for equipment) to actually test my theory.

Part of receiving the funds was a requirement that I present my findings in my school's undergraduate research journal. Is what I have really enough to present? I know it's an undergraduate journal so no one will actually read it, but I feel silly presenting something so small and trying to trump it up as an actual scientific accomplishment.

Do I try to present the small amount I found? Will I look like a giant idiot if I present a methodology that is completely untested as findings?

  • Does the professor have anyone (such as a postdoc or junior researcher) he could delegate the supervision to?
    – gerrit
    Aug 21, 2014 at 21:03
  • Unfortunately no, and given that I have to present preliminary results to the Provost in two weeks it's a bit of a lost cause at this point. Aug 21, 2014 at 21:04
  • To give you peace of mind: remember that research is never guaranteed to yield results, specially in such a short time span and without much experience.
    – Davidmh
    Aug 25, 2014 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


This question is rather difficult to answer without more information, and I believe one needs to have more details to actually judge things. I will do my best to address several of your concerns:

You are right that "a faster implementation of an algorithm" is not something very remarkable by itself. There are two possible interpretations:

  • Your algorithm does the same thing as the previous algorithm, but you have either changed the insides of the algorithm or performed a better analysis and you have got a better time bound on the algorithm. In this case, I believe it should be okay to publish in an undergraduate journal.

  • The algorithm is still the same, but you have discovered a flaw in some implementation of the algorithm and corrected this flaw, so the running time actually corresponds to what the original time complexity bound promises. This is more literally "a faster implementation of an algorithm", and by itself is not a large contribution.

The usual methodology in Computer Science for measuring complexity of algorithms is either worst-case complexity, average-case complexity or amortized complexity. You seem to suggest that you have some novel kind of methodology. If that methodology is more useful for some practical problem which you set out to solve, I believe this might be definitely something to include in the publication.

It is difficult for me to estimate the amount of novel work that you actually have, but you seem to suggest that it was a requirement to submit to an undergraduate journal. Therefore, it makes sense to me that you should write up your work regardless and try to submit it.

It is not the end of the world if a grant fails, but you should try and fulfill the requirements regardless. If you do submit, it may happen that your work does not get accepted, but if you fail to submit, this becomes a certainty.

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