Back when I started my job at UBC, I remember dropping by our student’s journal club. I was happy to see that the students took initiative and had a very active club, reading and discussing review papers once a week. Good for them, I thought.
I am a great fun of such clubs. Even if your department, like the one at UBC, offers introductory graduate courses in quantum field theory, and string theory, and particle physics,etc., it is still the case that most of what you need to know as a graduate student lies outside your coursework. Along the way you’d be frequently required to pick up new skills and new knowledge, which is precisely why being a theoretical physicist is the best job in the world. Since picking up new knowledge quickly and efficiently is one of the required skills for the job, may as well start early.
Only problem was, the review articles that club was immersed in, how shall I say it gently, were not of central importance to their futures. In fact, I was kind of shocked by the amount of effort going into completely marginal topics (no examples, I realize where we are). So, I started advising this group, and future journal clubs, on what they can benefit from.
In choosing a good review article to discuss in a journal club, or to give to a graduate student, I used several criteria. First, the topic has to be important and long lasting, still relevant for research in say, 5 years. In addition, it obviously has to be well-written, and have a good selection of topics, emphasizing the ones central to the community over the author’s favorite work. Finally, it has to be fun. If you need to know what that means, go read some of Sidney Coleman’s legendary reviews, for examples those collected in his “Aspects of Symmetry”.
These were more or less the same criteria we used in coming up with the curricula for our (ongoing) summer school series “Strings, Gravity and Cosmology”. At some stage, I started collecting those references in one webpage, what every student should know. This is one of those projects I took on and never finished, so the list there is far from being comprehensive, it is a good start but it needs many more additions. Since I now have a blog, I can ask our smart and informed readers, what should I add to the list? please let me know if you can think of topics that should be covered, or specific references that cover them well. If this generates lots of good responses, maybe I’ll try to update my list and post it here sometime.
(Also, one gentle reminder: references to your recent treatise on the theory of everything do not, sadly, count as something central to students’ future. Since I am trying to protect the establishment, I’m likely to be narrow-minded and delete references to any truly revolutionary work).