AAS Publishing News: An Interview with Christopher Conselice

We’ve recently welcomed a new face to our team of Lead Editors for the AAS journals: Christopher Conselice. Chris, who joined the AAS journal team in 2010 as a Scientific Editor, is taking over the role of Lead Editor for the Galaxies and Cosmology corridor from AAS Editor in Chief Ethan Vishniac.

Chris is a professor at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, specializing in the formation and evolution of galaxies. Read on to learn more about Chris’s background, his current work, and what he thinks is important in scientific articles.

Getting Started

Chris discovered astrophysics during his undergraduate studies. He originally wanted to be a physicist, but in his first year at University of Chicago, he applied for summer jobs at Fermilab and at the Yerkes Observatory. He got the job at Yerkes Observatory — “and the rest is history.”


M51 (the Whirlpool Galaxy shown above), as imaged from the Yerkes Observatory in 1902. [G.W. Ritchey]

His first real research project was in galaxies, and he’s continued in that field ever since. “I thought of some ideas based on that project, and one thing has led to another, and 20 or so years later I’m still looking into those questions and follow up ones. There’s so much to learn that it is easy to spend a career on even a few questions or mastering a few techniques.”

What Can We Learn From Galaxies?

Chris’s current research focuses on observations of distant galaxies; he uses systems at different redshifts to try to infer how galaxy evolution has occurred. He also studies how the reionization of the universe occurred and examines other basic properties of galaxies such as their number densities, mass functions, and the total number of galaxies in the universe. Looking to the future, Chris is preparing for the James Webb Space Telescope and Euclid space missions, which should both launch in the next few years.

When asked about the biggest open questions in the field of galaxies and cosmology today, Chris goes deep: “Cosmological questions are the biggest questions we have in astronomy. Did inflation occur, and if so how? Is gravity modified in any way? What is the nature of dark energy and dark matter? Very fundamental stuff, but very difficult questions to answer, which many brilliant people have grappled with for decades. Galaxies themselves can tell us quite a bit about these questions, and in many ways they are the ultimate experimental subjects, as they are sensitive to everything — the nature, makeup, and geometry of the universe, dark matter, black hole assembly and feedback, and baryonic gas physics and dynamics.”

An Editor’s Insight into Publishing

Chris argues that a “good, solid paper” is easy to identify. In his view, well-authored papers have clear, specific aims and goals, thorough analyses that include detailed accounting of errors and systematics, and well-made figures.

He offers two additional tips for authors:

  1. Avoid vague, general titles; these type of titles aren’t cited as much as they could be.
  2. Be sure to avoid repeating (and failing to cite) previous work. “Always be sure you know the latest work in a field you are writing a paper in. This is easy to do with ADS searches, but some papers miss some significant work and don’t put their results into the current, up-to-date context.”
Hubble Ultra Deep Field

This Hubble Ultra Deep Field image contains approximately 10,000 galaxies, extending back in time to within a few hundred million years of the big bang. [NASA/ESA/H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech)/A. Koekemoer (STScI)/R. Windhorst (Arizona State University)/Z. Levay (STScI)]

Chris also emphasizes the importance of referees to the publishing process. “If I can communicate anything to the astronomical community about the publication process, it’s that if you are asked to referee a paper and can’t or don’t want to do it, please let the editor know as soon as you can. There is no judgment here, and keeping communication open is important.” Unsurprisingly, this coordination between multiple people can be one of the slowest parts of the publishing process, and timely referee responses can significantly reduce the turnaround time for article publication.

Go Forth and Create New Knowledge

We hope you enjoyed this opportunity to learn more about Chris Conselice! You can expect hear from him if you submit to the Galaxies and Cosmology corridor in the future.

We’ll leave you with one final thought from Chris, which nicely sums up why we do what we do: “I was always impressed with my professors as an undergraduate, and I can recall seeing research papers being produced and thinking that was the most magical thing possible — creating new knowledge. That seemed like the most amazing thing one could do.”