Best. Referee Report. EVER.: The Making of "Time-Resolved Studies of Ultracold Ionizing Collisions" (part 2)

I said in the previous post that the time-resolved collision paper was one of my favorite experiences in grad school, even the paper-writing process. It's not so much that the paper-writing process was all that exceptionally good-- it was the usual "paper torture," arguing over every single word in an effort to fit everything into Physical Review Letters's four-page limit-- as because the refereeing process was surprisingly good.

We spent a month or so working on the paper, going through several drafts before sending it off. At around the time that we submitted it, the Physical Review journals had started using a web-based system to allow authors to check the status of their articles.

Standard practice at PRL-- thanks to Dan Kleppner, as I found out at DAMOP-- is to send submitted articles out to two referees, and ask for feedback within two weeks. I checked the status of the article somewhat obsessively, of course, and saw that Referee A returned their report very quickly, while Referee B didn't do anything until the two-week limit. A discreet day or so after the two-week deadline, I sent an email to the editors asking what was up, and the next day saw a status update saying that a reminder had been sent. A day or so after that, I saw the dreaded "Non-report communication received from Referee B."

This generally means that a paper has been returned by the referee, saying that they were too busy to review it. That sends it back to the editors to choose another referee, and the two-week window resets.

So I was rather surprised to receive a notice from the editors the next day, saying that the article had been accepted on the strength of Referee A's report only.

The report was included, but I've since lost the exact text. It was almost absurdly good, though-- the referee, whoever it was, absolutely gushed about the paper, saying that it was "sure to be a seminal work" in the field.

My favorite line of the whole thing was a bit that went something like "The only thing I take issue with is the authors' claim that many interesting issues remain to be resolved. It seems to me that this paper has completely covered everything."

I have no idea who refereed it-- the reports are anonymous, and they didn't leave any obvious terminological clues (there's some variance in the names of relevant quantities among research groups). As a couple of people observed at the time, I'd really like to be able to request that person as a referee for all my subsequent work.

Sadly, this didn't really turn out to be a frequently-cited paper-- the Abstract Data Service puts it at 16 citations, which sounds about right. The field as a whole really shifted away from cold collisions around that time, and there hasn't been much done that would follow up on it. Still, having someone speak that highly of your work is just amazing. It was a great boost to my confidence heading into thesis writing and my trip to Japan in late '98.

This was the part of my graduate career where I really got on a roll. Between July of 1997 to May of 1999, I was an author on two PRL's and a Phys. Rev. A article, gave invited talks at a conference in Austria and the APS Centennial Meeting, spent three months in Japan, and completed my thesis. I also started dating Kate during that span (she was in DC working on Capitol Hill).

Really, it doesn't get much better than that.


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