The joy of journal clubs

Presenting papers in journal clubs is one of my least favourite things to do.

While I enjoy reading in general, I find reading academic papers a chore, especially if the writing is uninspired or the results obscured by reams of unfamiliar theory. However, papers are the currency of academia and, to stretch the analogy, journal clubs are the weekly market in the town centre to which we all trek from our little villages, hoping to ply our wares — or at least have someone explain a tricky point or busy plot in a recent paper.

So, I enjoy attending journal clubs. I’ve probably learnt most of the cosmology I know from attending them. Yet I find presenting in them to be extremely daunting — far more so than presenting my own work at a conference or seminar. Since I find reading the papers themselves difficult, I struggle to glean the salient points in the arguments put forth by the authors. I always feel like I understand papers on a very shallow level, and have to read and think about them a lot (perhaps over the course of months) before I truly get what they’re trying to say.

This painfully slow turnover means that preparing to present a paper in a journal club takes a disproportionate amount of time out of my calendar. Consequently, I don’t volunteer to speak often. The result is that I’m still just as reluctant to present papers now as I was as a fresh PhD student nearly three years ago.

I want this to change, and the only way to get better at something like this is practice. So, last week I presented Sesh Nadathur’s recent paper on cosmology with the void-galaxy cross correlation to the ICG Gravity journal club (in spite of the name, this club has a broad scope covering modified gravity, dark energy and inflation). Sesh’s paper was very clearly written, and I enjoyed presenting it. The result I found most interesting was their finding that using voids plus the galaxy BAO results in a measurement of ΩΛ = 0.60 ± 0.058, which is evidence for the late-time accelerated expansion of the Universe at a far greater precision than that obtained from Type Ia supernovae. And only using large scale structure data, with no dependence on the CMB or local probes! I think that’s pretty cool.

In other news, my first paper as first author was published today in Physics of the Dark Universe. I’m glad to say that the process of review and publication went very smoothly, so it was a nice introduction to first authorship. I can now turn my attention back to my forecasting project, and I’m also starting a new project with my supervisor Marco. We’re interested in studying a dark energy model with a Shan-Chen equation of state, as it looks like this type of model could have an interesting phenomenology. I’ve implemented a basic version of the model in CAMB and the initial results look promising, though we still have a way to go on understanding the theory.

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