Astrophysics Graduate Seminar I - Week 1

Introduction. How to Read and Summarize an Article.

Back to Schedule.

How do I find a journal article?

Custom queries are used to SEARCH for articles with particular authors, title and abstract words. In addition, search results can be filtered by refereed (nor non-refereed) publications and publication date. Results can also be assigned custom weightings and be sorted to the searchers preferences. The ADS user guide can be found here.

'Wild' characters allow you to specify how the search is performed. For example, ^ and $, limit author searches to 'first', 'last' and 'only'.


  1. Find all articles first authored by Max Pettini on the 'interstellar medium' between 1975 and 1985.
  2. Find all articles that Mark Balcells and Peter Erwin authored before 2006 on 'galaxy bulges'.
Notice the "Score Title" ranks your results according to how closely the article matches your search criteria.

ADS provides a Bibtex reference (we'll return to this later in the course).

Most journals require an online subscription for you to read the article there and then. RIT does not subscribe to all online journals, e.g., Nature. However, some of these are available in the library, e.g., Nature. Failing that you can visit the UofR library, or if you are lucky, the author has also posted the paper to the Preprint Archive.

Preprint Archive

The e-Print archive allows authors to upload scientific papers to be viewed by their communities. The astrophysics archive is known as astro-ph. New papers are posted daily, and papers for Journal Club are taken from the previous weeks astro-ph postings. It is important to note that as the archive is free, the papers on astro-ph are...


Journal Club

Mondays, 2 to 3 pm, IT Collaboratory.

Journal club is a component of this course and will be administered by you!

Each 1/4 one graduate student will co-ordinate Journal Club.... volunteers?

Duties are:

  • Reset the Journal Club web-page.
  • Organize projection equipment (laptop, etc).
  • Remind astro-group of meeting.
  • Keep timing to 1 hour.
How to read an article
Reading papers can seem like a very daunting and, quite frankly, boring task. This is not surprising considering that before you read the paper you will not understand what is it about, nor whether it will be relevant to you. This is normal, but do not despair!

Getting started:

Do not READ the paper, absorb it. It is not a book. You do not have to read it word for word, cover to cover. You are unlikely to retain what you read like this anyway; it will be a waste of time.

Be aware of WHAT you are reading: Refereed? Letter? Nature? Poster? Conference proceeding? This has a large bearing on the style AND CONTENT of the paper itself.

Is the paper relevant? Do the abstract and title sound like what you are looking for? After reading the abstract you should know whether or not it will be worth continuing.

Who are the authors? As you read more papers you will build up a sense of authors you agree with, and those you don't.

The Meat:

Understand the figures and data. By looking at the pretty pictures first, you gain an understanding of the direction of the paper immediately. It is not always necessary to read the data reduction and results sections if the figures, tables and legends are presented well and are clear (this we will return to later in the course).

The Introduction. When you are reading an Introduction, you are really asking yourself 'why is this work important?' If you don't know by the end of it, the work is probably not important.

The Discussions. This is the most important section as it is where, typically, the authors will mull over their findings and relate it to the gaps presented in the Introduction, and to future works.

Final thoughts:

Just because it is a 'paper' doesn't make it 'right'. There are rubbish scientists, just like there are rubbish artists and politicians. Don't be afraid to be critical. There will come a time when you know someone is wrong, however, there are positive points to be found in most cases.


Can you write out the guts of the paper in 2 or 3 sentences?

Paper Review

Putting the above in context.

This page maintained by Michael Richmond. Last modified Sep 02, 2008.