My supervisor encouraged me to apply for a conference presentation, as he had funding for me to go. The problem was that I had no results at the time, since the conference date was six months after the abstract deadline. At the time I thought I would have results in time so I wrote an abstract (stating what I plan to do and why it is important, but posted no results) and got accepted for a poster presentation.

Now it is 1 week before the conference and I have very poor results. I was able to complete the experiment, but the the results are much too poor to present. Unfortunately I have no time to redo anything and do not have any previous research (am a masters student). Which one of these is worse?:

  1. Presenting meaningless results just so you can present
  2. Presenting a vague poster (show the theory, methodology, importance, but no tangible results) to get around poor data.
  3. Not showing up to the conference and get a partial refund.

As so often, this may be field-specific, so I'm giving a CS perspective:

Posters are not full papers. Often, it is totally acceptable that a poster presents work in progress, or preliminary results. While a paper adds some vague hints to separate future steps in continuing the research after presenting a finished contribution, on a poster, that can well be the other way round.

Therefore: Use the opportunity to show what you have done so far and where you want to go from there on your poster. Reconsider what the gist of the poster is - you may have to give up the plan that the poster is about your results, and switch the focus of your poster to talking about your research process. That way, you can present the goal of your poster to collect comments and suggestions on how to retrieve some meaningful results in the direction you're interested in.

Like this, you are not presenting just so you can present, you are presenting because it is the best way to get concrete comments by other researchers.

Of course, it depends on what exactly you have written in your poster abstract. If you explicitly said there that the poster will focus on results, the situation may be more problematic.

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    Yes, that sounds like a good idea. I'm developing a simulation model to manage water resources. The poster was supposed to show the advantages of my model over other models that manage water. Unfortunatly my model does not run more efficiently, nor does it allocate resources more accuratly- therefor it is not what I| really hoped for. I guess I could just state how I developed my model, and show results as it currently stands. I can just mention in person if they ask how my model performs to other ones. – Jordan Dec 8 '14 at 1:33
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    @Jordan: I see. How about juxtaposing your expectations/hypotheses and your actual results on your poster? Even though it is just as valid research, unfortunately, negative results are often more difficult to publish than positive ones. You might use this opportunity to do just that, state what you expected to improve, explain how it did not improve, and at the same time suggest some possible further tweaks so there actually is an improvement and ask for more suggestions. – O. R. Mapper Dec 8 '14 at 9:06

I would recommend another option: present the current truth of your work and results. You can get feedback on the methods and approach and somebody may even be able to point out adjustments to your approach that may help the work. Even just talking to people outside of your lab can be an important part of developing as a researcher. Don't try to hide the state of your work or pretend you have more than you have: people will be able to tell and it will not help you. Instead present yourself as you are: an early student looking for interaction around these ideas.

Note, of course, that this is all subject to your professor's approval: they know your community better than random strangers on the internet.

Finally: let this be a lesson for the future. Don't give in to pressure to claim results that you may not get. It is always better to say "And here are some new results not mentioned in the abstract..." than to explain why you can't deliver what you promised.

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