Episode 3: Dr Lídia del Rio
What does it take to co-found a major new academic journal in quantum physics, while also being a leading researcher in the field? Take a listen to Episode 3 of insideQuantum to find out!
This week we’re featuring Dr Lídia del Rio, a a researcher in quantum information at ETH Zurich and co-founder of the academic journal Quantum. Dr del Rio did her undergraduate degree at the Universidade de Aveiro, followed by postgraduate studies at ETH Zurich, a postdoctoral position at the University of Bristol, and is now a senior scientist and lecturer at ETH Zurich.
🟢 Steven Thomson (00:05): Hi there and welcome to insideQuantum, the podcast telling the human stories behind the latest developments in quantum technologies. I’m Dr Steven Thomson, and as usual I’ll be your host for this episode. Today we’re taking a look, not just at quantum technology, but also at the way in which researchers communicate their work to the rest of the community and how the longstanding business model behind academic publishing might be changing. It’s a great pleasure to be joined by Dr Lídia del Rio, a researcher in quantum information at ETH Zurich and a co-founder of the open access journal Quantum. Thank you so much for joining us today, Lídia.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (00:38): Hey, Steven. Happy to be here.
🟢 Steven Thomson (00:40): So before we get into the journal Quantum and what this means for the academic community, let’s first talk about you and your career journey up until this point. So first things first, what originally got you interested in quantum physics?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (00:57): So, the first memory I can think of, I was 10 years old, I think. And so my…we were at lunch and my dad told me about atoms and it’s weird that this was the first time I’d heard about this. And he told me that there’s like electrons and protons inside and they attract each other. And then I went to school in the afternoon and I was so confused by this because I couldn’t understand. If they attract each other, how does it not just collapse or if there’s many protons, why don’t they fall away? So then I spent the next class - which was like a visual arts class - just trying to draw models of atoms and trying to make this work. And they’re all terrible. They were completely unphysical, but I think this was the first time I cared about quantum physics.
🟢 Steven Thomson (01:39): Yeah. Wow. So you started really young then.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (01:43): Not like that I picked it up immediately after this, but I trace it back to this. Yeah.
🟢 Steven Thomson (01:50): And so did this inspire you to want to go on to study maths and physics? Or was this something that stayed quietly in the back of your mind for many years and eventually you remembered it and rediscovered this interest?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (02:02): I think some years later I started reading science fiction, stealing books from my dad’s library and this started it a little bit. And then, and then I just, I just liked maths, right? I like the abstract and the, and the logic of it and physics was not too far from that, so that was a plus and, and it could explain something about the world, right? So, they say, I think this were the things that kept me interested in physics. I didn’t, I didn’t know about quantum physics back then. I mean, I knew about it from popular science books, but I didn’t know anything about what the research actually entailed.
🟢 Steven Thomson (02:37): So when did you decide that quantum physics was something that you wanted to pursue for a career then, as opposed to just, a vague interest, but when did you decide, okay, right. This is something that I really want to spend some serious time doing,
🟣 Lídia del Rio (02:50): Right … I’m not sure I’ve made this decision yet that this is a career, you know? It was just a thing that I really wanted to study and this, I can trace back maybe to my university days where I was doing physics. I didn’t like any of the more applied things. And I kept doing all these extra classes in maths and you know, kind of regretting, not studying maths for real. And then when I first heard about this quantum information fields, this is just perfection because it was, it had all the mathematical rigor, but it addressed important physical questions and it had some philosophy implications into this. And then it was like, it was clear from here that if I wanted to continue studying physics, I wanted to do this. And, and then, you know, there’s always just one more question to answer, or one more problem that I’m interested in. So I stayed for another four years. Here we are.
🟢 Steven Thomson (03:46): Nice. So did you discover quantum information during your undergrad? Or was it during your PhD that you decided this was something you were really interested in?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (03:54): So I heard about the field from my kind of bachelor thesis supervisor, Ricardo Dias. It’s not like we had courses in this at the time. But he told me about this new field, and then I read Renato Renner’s lecture notes about this, and I thought this was really cool. And then eventually I applied for a PhD here. So my PhD is already in quantum information theory.
🟢 Steven Thomson (04:21): Okay. I see. So I guess this is a good point then to ask for anyone who might be a little unfamiliar with quantum information theory, what is quantum information theory? What’s the, what’s the big picture that this field of physics is trying to address?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (04:37): Right. So I guess information theory treats how information flows, how we can encode a message. How we can encode, like communication, how we can formalize this, and then all sorts of questions. Like from how can we send a message securely or the cryptography part? Or how can we compress an image so that it can be sent on your phone very cheaply right? And then quantum information is like, oh, and what if we couldn’t code this information in the state of quantum particles of electrons? (For example, or photos or whatnot). And, you know, this could be, it could be a very simple question, right? Like, oh, why can’t we encode information in…I dunno, smoke signals, right? But what makes it different is that then the rules are really different compared to a classical information series. For example, you cannot just copy a message. It allows you to do more things that you cannot do classically and there’s like a whole new range of applications you can do from here.
And then this goes into many directions, right? One is quantum computing, which is what if we can write programs that run in, on quantum particles and does it give us any new power? And, you know, it does as far as we can tell so far. But also foundations of quantum physics, if we just now, Okay, so what if now we try to study physics from this information perspective, right? Instead of thinking of just modeling a system, let’s think about the information flows about … Even thinking like, oh, this quantum physics restricts our ability to communicate. And can we go from these kinds of information principles to derive all of physics from here? So that’s more the direction that I’m studying now.
🟢 Steven Thomson (06:25): Oh, wow. So it’s not just the case of trying to use this stuff to let’s say, to understand quantum computers or to figure out what they’re good for, but it’s also it’s really fundamental then. You can really build up a lot of other aspects of physics from information theory and from ideas of information theory.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (06:42): Yes. Yes, indeed. And, so one of the fields I work on is foundations of quantum theory, which asks like why is the world quantum? Or is it quantum? And how else could it have been? So in, in some of the approaches there is to think, well, let’s think about a framework that’s more general than quantum physics. And then let’s try to tweak it a little bit. So I dunno, what if when we measured systems, we, there was different statistics for the measurements. What kind of theory would this be? What, what power would this give us? And so on, try to formulate all these alternative theories to try to single out what are the basic principles that make the world quantum, for example, this is one of the things I like to play with.
🟢 Steven Thomson (07:23): So do you think this could be a route towards I dunno, a better version of quantum theory, something beyond the current version of quantum theory?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (07:31): Yes. Yes. This is one of the things that we hope to have. So I mean, even if we keep all of quantum theory, I think it would be already nice to have a better understanding of why, quantum theory? Because the way it’s taught currently is, you’re given these mathematical axioms about, you know, systems are represented by quantum stage, which are states in a Hilbert space. They behave like this and this. Which were discovered kind of ad-hoc right? You try different things until you find something that works. But we don’t understand why this? Right? So if only we just have some principles, some more intuitive principles that single out this as the right formula, this would be already good. But eventually we want to have something that, you know… Quantum theory, we know that it cannot be correct at all scales. We know that we don’t have, you know, a theory of quantum gravity yet. It’s not well integrated with general relativity and maybe taking this information theoretic approach would give us a better starting point to try to integrate these two things. Yes.
🟢 Steven Thomson (08:38): Wow. So then it, this is a really big and very, very deep fundamental question that you’re trying to answer here.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (08:45): Well, I play a small role in this.
🟢 Steven Thomson (08:50): Okay. So that’s the, that’s the big picture overview of the type of work that you do. Is there any particular bit of work you’ve done that you are particularly proud of? Let’s say not necessarily your highest impact paper or anything like that, but something that personally means a lot to you.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (09:09): So the there’s the research work and the, the non-research work. So in the research work, I’m proud of … It’s not a particular paper, but I’m proud of the way in which kind of we’ve managed to state in many fields that physics is always subjective. You know, if physicists have this grandeur of, or I’m trying to describe the world as it is, but in practice, whenever you make measurements from which you build your theory, you’re always making them from the perspective of an agent. It is very important, for example, in thermodynamics as well, where even like people who have different information to a system can extract different amounts from work from it. It’s also useful in, in quantum logic. If I’m trying to think about what you are thinking that I need to have a model of your brain also as a quantum system. So this kind of keeping this kind of considerations whenever we do research is something that I think I’m managing to do relatively well. And that I’m, , I’m proud of. So outside research and I guess you, you do want to talk about Quantum journal. I think this is the major feature of my career so far, which is managing to, you know, not alone, but co-found and maintain a journal that is community driven and is free and open access and is doing everything that we can write.
🟢 Steven Thomson (10:39): Yeah. So, okay. Let’s, let’s move on to that then. Can you tell us a little bit about what is Quantum what’s the, the mission statement behind Quantum and why is it different to the more traditional existing academic journals?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (10:54): Okay, so, so right now, at least in physics, people…researchers discover something, they write a paper, they put it on the arXiv, which is this open platform where everyone who has essentially an academic affiliation can upload papers too. But at this point, the paper is not peer reviewed yet. In practice within the community, people react to it as soon as it’s on the arXiv and build up on top of this and so on. But for, you know, you cannot go to a general audience and say, I discovered this it’s on the arXiv. Or I cannot go to a funder or to a committee or a job interview and say, oh, I did all these things. So to…to validate the, the papers beyond just this, you need a layer of peer review, right? This is what journals provide. So scientists submit a paper to the journal, the editors that are working for the publishers send it out to referees, and then the paper is published. Now the scientists do this for free. The referees are also scientists also do this for free. The editors sometimes are paid depending on the publisher and the publisher charges very high, either publication fees from the authors, or if it’s before the authors, then it charges reading fees. So, subscription fees so that the articles can be read.
🟢 Steven Thomson (12:18): Right? So the work is being done for the journals for free, the refereeing is being done for free. And then the journals are asking for money to do…what precisely?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (12:26): Right? And if you talk about this in, in any other field, like, this just sounds completely unsustainable, but this works because then, you know, having papers published in good journals is the in it’s incentivized by, by then, you know, what funding you get for your university or for research group or so on. Right. So, so it’s in the author’s interest to publish in these journals. That’s why they subject themselves to this process and cost.
🟢 Steven Thomson (12:56): Right? So it’s the prestige. Then it’s saying you have a…it’s the prestige, a paper in some particular journal, and then this can impress a hiring committee or can impress a funding committee and enable the rest of your career to continue.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (13:08): Indeed. Yes, exactly. Yes. I’m not exactly sure about what makes referees work for free for paid publishers. But, but sometimes it’s just, you know, you, you do like the paper, you want to see it published in a good thing. You, you want to, to do your part in, in science research, right? Although more and more people started boycotting for profit journals or refereeing for, for profit journals. Okay. So what Quantum does differently is that one it’s open access and two, the publication fees is completely voluntary. I can explain later when I talk about the finances, why we still need to charge a publication fee, but authors can say, “I don’t want to pay”, or “I cannot pay”. And then it’s just waived completely. The other thing that we do differently is that it’s completely run by a scientists in the field of quantum science broadly.
And we have a, a very broad editorial board covering many, many fields of expertise, which means…so in a traditional journal, say PRX or Nature, that everybody knows, maybe there’s a few editors for physics or a few editors is for quantum physics. So when you submit your paper, the editor will not be an expert in the field, right? That’s why you need to write, for example, a cover letter, trying to convince someone this that’s why they have criteria, like what must be of white impact for all fields and so on. Whereas here, because we have such a broad range of editors, the editor will be an expert in the field, right? It could be someone, they could be someone who could refer the, the paper themselves which means that we are able to have different selection criteria. We can say only select papers that you think are really, really good in your field. And that, for example, you’d recommend to a student to read or to a colleague.
🟢 Steven Thomson (15:02): Okay. So that’s interesting. So you’re not going for, as you say, Nature, as an example, you’re not going for something that will be of wide interest to people from all kinds of different fields, but you’re saying, okay, right. We have editors in all these different fields, all looking for the best quality, highest, highest quality work that they can find in their fields, and then you’ll publish all of it.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (15:22): Yes, that’s right. Yeah.
🟢 Steven Thomson (15:23): Okay. I see. I see. And the other point you mentioned there is that the publication fees are voluntary. So how, how does this work? How can this be a sustainable business model when other publishers have to ask these in some cases, extremely high publication fees, how does Quantum operate by having a voluntary fee system?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (15:42): So, one thing is that Quantum is running very efficiently, right? We started with no employees, so almost no expenses. And now at the moment we we’ve scaled … As we scaled up, we, we, we start needing to have, like, we have two part-time employees who help with all the peer review process and publishing and so on, but we don’t have type setting. For example, we don’t have printing, we trust authors to, to write the paper and use whatever templates they want. If the paper is not readable, then the referees will complain about this, but we don’t go after and try to, for the edit for them. So these are a bunch of costs, that we that we cut.
🟢 Steven Thomson (16:25): Okay.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (16:26): This is one of the things the other thing is that many authors are happy to pay the fee at the moment is… So in the first quarter of 2022, it was about the third asked for a waiver of the fee and two thirds paid it.
🟢 Steven Thomson (16:44): Wow. So you’ve been giving the option to not pay the fee, but two thirds of authors are voluntarily choosing to?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (16:50): Yes. And I can explain why this is . This is because of the way funding works, at least in Europe is the following, is that… So funding agencies like national funding agencies, they want to support scientific publishing, but the way they do this, they don’t pay the journals directly, but they allocate funding to universities, which is dedicated funding for publication fees.
🟢 Steven Thomson (17:14): Okay.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (17:16): So then authors from these kind of institutions can just take the money from those public, from this kind of bag of money and pay the submission fees directly. We know this because we ask these agencies for, for support and what they told us is that this is the only, the only path that they can…
🟢 Steven Thomson (17:33): Oh, I see. So the agencies, rather than sponsoring you directly, and then having a completely free model, they would actually prefer to give the money to authors and then have the authors pay per article.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (17:44): Yep, exactly. Yes.
🟢 Steven Thomson (17:45): See. That’s interesting.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (17:49): Yes. And, and I mean, the other reason why they do pay, even though it’s voluntary is because we are very, we are very open and transparent with our accounting and we say and, countries mostly run on, on publication fees. We, you can, you can even go and see the spreadsheet of all the money flows right now. And, and so, and because it’s a community led project and so many members of the community are involved, with about a hundred scientists at the moment between editors and steering board members that, you know, that people are more willing to support the, the project, I think.
🟢 Steven Thomson (18:27): Right. So people are choosing to voluntarily pay the fees because the, the ethos and the mission statement of Quantum is something they feel they can get behind as opposed to just, I guess, lining the pockets of, for-profit publishers.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (18:39): Exactly.
🟢 Steven Thomson (18:40): Yes. Okay. So I think that answers the question then of the need for Quantum, why there was a need for this journal and where the idea for the journal came from, but how do you go from having the idea to actually making this a reality? Because starting a journal sounds like a, a very difficult and daunting task. How did you do it?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (18:59): So I, I didn’t do it alone. That’s the key part, we are three co-founders. So it’s me, Christian Gogolin who is now at Covestro in Cologne and Marcus Huber, who is in Vienna. So I heard, I was in Bristol as a postdoc at the time. And I heard from a colleague that the two of them whom I knew had been discussing at some conference, maybe the need to create a journal. So I got in touch with them. This was kind of February, 2016. And then, you know, sometimes there’s good chemistry with people. So we clicked very well. We agreed on the basic principles. We found the platform for peer review right away. And then once we got the tour of this platform, we’re like, okay, we’re on, we don’t have any excuse not to do this . So then we started, it was, it was very quick.
So the first thing is that we had to set up all the legal and admin things. So we had to register an non-profit association, which would be the publisher of the journal. We created a website for a journal and then we were still preparing this a bit and just, you know, chatting with colleagues now, and then about this idea when suddenly it went kind of mini-viral in the community because someone leaked this to Twitter. Ah, and we were not ready at all. But then, but then we did … I think we did something clever, which was to, okay, we are gonna involve the whole community, the whole research community in this. So we, we published through various social media that we were preparing this project, and then we held kind of open discussions.
I think we even used Reddit at the time for… Look, here’s the proposal for the, the statutes of the journal. Here’s the proposal for the editorial policy. Here’s a proposal for the code of conduct. Here’s a proposal for the scope of the journal and so on. What do you think? Right. And then we held these discussions for about a couple of months. And after this, you know, not only we had a very good structure already to start from, but we also had a lot of publicity so so from here, so we had all the legal part taken care of. We had the bank account with nothing there. I think, I think Christian at the time put 2000 euros there as a starting donation. And then we, we ran an open call for editors. No, no. Before this, we, before this, we invited people… We wanted to have a steering board.
🟢 Steven Thomson (21:35): Mm. I see. Okay. So the steering board, they’re responsible for overseeing the, the direction that the journal is taking, I guess, for making sure it’s functioning in the way it should?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (21:43): Exactly yes. Yes, exactly. So this, they also suggest new policies. So we wanted to have separation of policies. So the founders, the three of us me, Christian and Marcus. We are the executive board. We take care of all the admin and more than this, but the, the editors are responsible for taking care of individual papers. So they have, they’re the only people with editorial power of any kind, right? We cannot influence them. And the steering board decide the overall policies. And, you know, they also select the new editors. Every time we have a call for editor, for example, they suggest new editors. When you say, oh, we need someone new in quantum optics, for example. Yeah. So first we invited the steering board and the way we did this was first reach out to people who are very senior scientists who know us, right? We’re all working in quantum thermodynamics, which is relatively niche, but, you know, then we invited and Andreas Winter and, and Rob Spekkens who are quite well known in the community. And that is reached to people also in quantum physics. But maybe that we did not know personally, but you could tell them, oh, look, these big shots are already backing this idea. So , do you want to back it to right? And, and like this, we, we, we got the steering board of 14 people, which was … We’re very happy because it had very good gender diversity and also some geographic diversity and, and also diversity in fields of expertise. So this is good. And then when we then launched the cultural editors, not only we had had already all these discussions in the community, so people were invested in the concept of the journal, but they also knew it had the backing of these, of these senior researchers in the field. So it was a serious thing.
🟢 Steven Thomson (23:23): Nice. So it started then I guess, mostly in the, in this specific research area that you and the other co-founders were well known in, and then it’s just grown and grown from there, I guess.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (23:33): So we wanted that from the moment we accepted publications, it would cover all of quantum physics, right? Maybe the people started from our relatively small field and then rapidly expanded by the, by the time we started, we opened for publications. It was already covering the whole field. So if, if the listeners know the arXiv, this is everything that’s published in quant-ph, which is quantum physics in general should, should be able to be published here.
🟢 Steven Thomson (24:02): I see. So we’ve talked a little bit about the, the prestige factor of journals and you know, why journals are able to get away with charging these incredibly high publication costs. And I can see why Quantum is a necessary and really interesting step, but did you find that a challenge to convince people to, to trust you to start publishing in Quantum, instead of publishing in one of these journals that already had a, a big reputation and had some prestige, because I guess particularly for early career researchers that feels like maybe a bit of a gamble, right? You’re taking a chance on this brand new unknown journal. Was it difficult to convince people to, to send you papers originally?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (24:41): Right. So at first, first, I mean, we talked a lot about the, the journal, but at, at, at first, for the first year, it was mostly senior researchers who already had tenure, who were supporting the journal by submitting good papers to it.
🟢 Steven Thomson (24:55): Right. Okay. That makes sense. Right.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (24:57): And then, and you know, we also had a decision, this was a big discussion about what would be the, the quality threshold that Quantum was aiming for. And, and we decided very early on that if you want this to be successful, we want this to be an example, to show that we can publish, we can create a good journal in the community. Then it needs to be a very high threshold of quality. So it, it was, it was decided it needs to be a selective journal so that, you know, it would already be, have some level of prestige. But indeed in the first year we would tell young post docs and PhD students, look, it’s still a gamble. We don’t know if this is gonna work. It’s still a gamble to, to publish in, in Quantum. So only do this if you have many other papers elsewhere, and it was mostly well established researchers who submitted their papers here and, and people who didn’t care. Right. And people really believed in the mission and, and didn’t care about … The impact in their careers.
🟢 Steven Thomson (25:55): Well, I guess it seems to have been pretty successful, at least from, from my point of view, I’ve never, I’ve never published in Quantum myself, but it looks like it’s done pretty well. I mean, you’ve had how many papers published now?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (26:08): Ah, let’s check is, I think it’s about 700 now. And it’s increasing every year by a lot. It, it’s looking a bit exponential, which is scaring us. Yeah! Seven hundred and one papers. right now. Yes.
🟢 Steven Thomson (26:23): Nice. So it’s really starting to take off in the community then.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (26:27): Yes, yes. In six years, and we have a … I think we have an impact factor. Not, not that we care about it, but it’s, it’s quite reasonable. And, and indeed now we have early career researchers, the papers to quantum, because it’s a good journal, right. Not just because they want to support the mission. So one thing is that quantum accepts donations. So this, this year we received two generous donations, one from the Unitary Fund and another one from Agnostiq. And so we are open to donations either from individuals or companies or, or institutions, just write to us email@example.com, and we’ll get back to you and make it very, very easy for you to give us money.
🟢 Steven Thomson (27:16): Nice. Okay. So quantum, isn’t the only journal of, of this type, right? Operating this space of kind of new community-led journals. I guess the other one that I’m quite familiar with is Sci-Post which does a couple of things quite differently. So one of the things it does is as I understand it, it’s entirely free and doesn’t have publication charges because they get their funding from a, a different source. But perhaps the, the biggest difference. And the one I’d like to ask you about is that Sci-Post practices completely open peer review -where the peer reviews can be signed, but they’re posted online in real time. Anyone can, can go onto the review history of a paper and see the referee reports and the author replies and so on. Quantum doesn’t do this. Is that right? Quantum still practices the, the more traditional, I guess, closed peer review.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (28:06): Yes, that’s right.
🟢 Steven Thomson (28:07): Are there any plans to move towards open peer review or is this more of a, a philosophical difference? Something that you didn’t want to explore with this journal?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (28:17): So this is an ongoing discussion. And ideally we would like to, at some point start publishing reviews. I mean, all the papers are on the arXiv. So one can see the revision history of papers on the arXiv, but what one cannot see is the, the replies from the, from the referee, right? At least you can see from before they submitted to Quantum and the final published version. So there’s several reasons why we don’t have it yet. One is that to start off, because we know we are competing with traditional journals, we wanted to keep some things close to that model. So that it can be more easily be perceived as, as, as the same kind of of journal, right? And that is something that now we could relax a bit. Then, then there’s, there’s other questions. So one, we don’t think we would ever want to publish the referee names except, you know, if it’s highly positive and the referees agree. And in these cases, normally we, anyway, we invite referees to then write a short editorial about the paper. But we’ve had a few, not so good experiences where authors were upset by a by decision. And, you know, sometimes now we even sometimes send rejection decisions anonymously because the editors might be more junior than the authors. I, I might fear repercussions.
🟢 Steven Thomson (29:47): Oh, that’s a really interesting dynamic, I guess. That’s not something I had considered because of course, as you said, the editors are practicing scientists. They’re not professionals employed by a publisher. Yes. Yeah. Okay. That’s a really interesting really interesting point.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (30:02): Yeah. So sometimes when, when it’s a more junior editor they can ask either one of the more senior people to send a rejection or even one of the admins, and then it just goes on the name of the editorial board of, of Quantum.
🟢 Steven Thomson (30:14): I see.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (30:15): Yeah. So for this kind of reasons, we would not want to publish the referees names. If we do want to publish, you know, the referee reports and responses and, and, and all these, or at least a curated version of this then there’s technical difficulties in implementation, which is solvable, but it’s not a priority at the moment. And, and the people doing the technical development, which is mostly Christian is a volunteer with a full-time job otherwise. So, so there’s a technical difficulty. There’s the anonymity discussion. There’s a discussion of how much good will this actually bring.
🟢 Steven Thomson (30:57): Okay. Yeah.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (30:58): And every now and then we do have these discussions and there’s been some evolution here, but because it’s not a priority yes. At the moment, there’s no short term plans to have it.
🟢 Steven Thomson (31:11): Okay. Yeah. That’s fair enough. So what are the future plans for the journal Quantum? Are you, are you happy with what it’s achieved? Do you feel like it’s achieved the goal you set out or is this just the beginning and is it going to keep, keep going, keep evolving in the years to come?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (31:31): You don’t imagine how scary those words are . So Quantum has been very successful. We think it, it, it did reach its mission. It has some issues at the moment that is not clear how to, how to solve it. And I ideally would like to, to work on this. So one is that we … Since the journal became very successful, we start receiving many, many more submissions and, and these kind of things don’t scale too well. So we can increase the number of editors which we’re doing now, so that we can deal with all the submissions. But in this, you can do it say for free for the journal, right? but to scale, for example, the number of employees who go and check when anyone is late, if a referee is late, or if an editor has disappeared, or if we just need to do some action.
So this, this costs, this cost money and our finances are kind of comfortably tight at the moment. So they’re stable, but, but we don’t have a lot of room to wiggle. And yeah, we think that to scale up more, it would really need to have more human power behind it, meaning that we’d need to have, you know, more prominent positions of people there working there. Ideally, you know, if we’re talking about wishlist, we would like to be able to pay referees and editors for their work, for the journal at the moment, editors get, again, prestige of working for Quantum and a satisfaction of this. And I mean, they all, but they say in general, that it’s a good experience. But, but, you know, referees, get, they get the experience of refereeing for Quantum, but they don’t get much career wise, much out of this. And if we had a stable way of, of rewarding these people, this would be very good. The other thing that, so the major problem with Quantum sometimes is delays in delays in processing of articles.
🟢 Steven Thomson (33:39): Is this on the side of the, the referees or the editors?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (33:42): Both. Both. And the problem is that both are both are volunteers, right? So people are doing this on top of their full time research job, the teaching, the life, the pandemic, everything. So, you know, if one of those things goes wrong, or if they’re ex-extra busy, of course, these volunteer tasks are the first to fall. And, and we don’t always attack this in time. You know, then it’s been two months and author start writing. These kind of things happen, they’re happening less. And we keep, you know, we keep updating the policies to make the journal robust against this because we don’t think it should be, you know, the individual responsibility of the referee to always be responsive, but inside it should be the system that is robust. And as a plan B, if the editor or referee is not responsive, but you know, this is a problem that becomes more and more evident as the journal scales . And if we had someone working full-time maybe this would, this could be addressed a little bit better.
🟢 Steven Thomson (34:39): Okay. So there’s still, still some room for Quantum to evolve in the future then.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (34:43): Yes. And, and, you know, there’s things we would like to do, like all these side projects. At some point we had the project with Chris Ferrie that was a lot of fun where we had high school students from Australia reading popular science articles written by scientists, and then they would have to read them. And the students were doing the peer review process, and then they gave a talk about this papers and their experiences, which is, was amazing. So we’d like to do more of these kind of outreach projects for example.
🟢 Steven Thomson (35:13): Oh, wow. Yeah, that would be kinda incredible.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (35:15): That’d be very cool. And, and the other thing would be, make it easier for other communities to follow the example of quantum. So we have at the moment, a page saying, these are all the tools we use, this is our timeline. This is what you can do. And sometimes people reach out to us individually from other research communities for help and advice on how to do this. But it would be nice to do this in a more systematic way.
🟢 Steven Thomson (35:40): Yeah. That’s one of the really interesting things about Quantum is that is so transparent. Everything that you do is, is out there for people to see and to, to check and to dig into if they, if they wish to. I’d like to maybe briefly come back to something you mentioned while talking about the steering board, you talked about the diversity of the steering board and that you were happy to have a relatively diverse group of people. This is something that I’m asking all guests on this podcast, and it’s that physics historically has been a very male dominated field. Is this something that in your experience has been changing for the better?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (36:16): Hmm. So it depends … On where, it depends on the field. It depends on the career stage. So I think it’s actually much better now at the stage of taking master students and giving them PhD opportunities. And even at the point of like from PhD to first postdocs, I think for a second postdoc I think this is working much better for, you know, women and, and gender minorities than it was even 10 years ago. But, but at the other two ends of the careers, so we have very few physics students that are not men to start with, to sort of and, and very few tenured positions, right? So we’re doing something right in the, in the middle of the career, but, but not so much at the start and ending at the moment. This is how I see it at least, you know, in Switzerland, in the UK, in the places where I’ve worked.
🟢 Steven Thomson (37:23): Yes. Well, I, I dunno if you saw, but at the time that we’re recording this there was some reports in the UK media a few days ago, some quite horrifying statements made to, I think, a parliamentary committee, which was extremely shocking to read in the year 2022.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (37:39): Yeah. The, the “girls just don’t like physics or maths”, right?
🟢 Steven Thomson (37:46): Yes. Yeah. It’s, it’s nice to think that we’re, we’re getting more and more equal as time goes on. And then every now and then there’s a story like this, that is a…I think a big, serious reminder that there’s still a very, very long way to go.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (37:59): Right. And, and I mean, and once you’re, once you’re even a Masters student, or even more, once you’re a PhD, now you enter this bubble where everyone likes the things you like, you like the physics and you think everything is okay. And, and you forget that like, like maybe like in high school you were the only girl taking physics right? In, no one else was, or that your colleagues are saying things like, ah, they already found everything. Don’t do this.
🟢 Steven Thomson (38:29): Yeah. In fact, I’m just, I’m thinking back to my own high school. I think when I reached university, we had a pretty good gender balance in my undergrad, but in my high school, I think there were, oh, I guess about 30 boys in the class and three girls in the class, something like this. So yeah. What you say sounds completely correct that once you get past a certain stage, perhaps it evens out, but at the, the very early stage, there’s still some work to be done there. I think.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (38:54): Making the environment friendlier for everyone will bring in more women and more minority groups. So one of the main things is just create more prominent positions or at least open ended positions. I think this is be so important because it’s one of the reasons why women drop out at a certain career stage it’s that they don’t want to keep doing another postdoc in another city. Especially if they have a partner or families or what, what not, this also happens to men, but because there’s so many more men to start with numbers do drop. The other thing is to really try to make this job positions less vulnerable, like, you know, less dependent on a single PhD advisor, making it much easier to report misconduct. One hears, you know, terrible stories, like even things that happened a couple of years ago, even like in I dunno the top universities, right? Where people need to report, for example, harassment several times before something is done. And then they are questioned … And, you know, makes people wonder why , why do I subject myself to this? Right? Just…
🟢 Steven Thomson (40:18): Yeah. So having a better support network in terms of perhaps always having a second supervisor or having close contacts at perhaps different institutes, even who, who you can go to for help and advice, that would be a, I guess, a step towards achieving this and making these positions a bit more secure, less vulnerable, at least.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (40:36): Yes, I think so. Yes. And, and the other thing is just in general, in physics, just especially to bring in more students to the field, we need to kind of cut down this culture of the cult of the genius, which is very common here, right? The lone genius, the Einstein, the Feynman, the John von Neumann because people, you know, I would read these accounts and be like, oh, I’m, I’m not Einstein. Why bother? You know? And, and then the people who survive are those who just don’t care, right? So just go, okay, I’ll try anyway. But, but we could attract to so many more people, if we, if we manage to, to convey that science is highly collaborative and so is physics, and it’s not about you being alone in your office with your blackboard. And it’s really a very, very social science, there’s lots of interaction. And there’s, yeah… You know, and it’s not, it’s not the product of a lone genius and you don’t need to be a genius to enter the field, which is, it’s just such a damaging trope.
🟢 Steven Thomson (41:43): I think that’s an interesting point because when I certainly, when I started out, I also, I would read these biographies of, as you say, Einstein, Dirac, people like this. And I always, even as a PhD student, had the impression that science was something done by small groups of people, or even by individuals, I guess being very theoretical. That’s perhaps a, a viewpoint that can survive a little longer than if you’re an experimenter, but you’re right. Like, nobody really told me when I was starting out that actually science is, is so collaborative that involves talking to as many people as possible and having all these sparks of ideas that come out of completely accidental conversations at conferences and, and things like this. And it’s yeah, you’re right. The, the way in which science is done versus the way in which people seem to perceive that science is done, there’s a, a big gulf between these two.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (42:31): Yes. Yeah. And I think really closing this, this gap would really help attracting more people to the field.
🟢 Steven Thomson (42:41): Yeah, definitely. I agree with you a hundred percent completely. Speaking of people, speaking of people who are at a very early stage, let’s say high school or university, and maybe want to learn a little bit more about quantum technology, quantum information, or might want to get into this field themselves. Would you have any advice for somebody that kind of career stage for where they could, where they could look for resources, the kinds of people, they should talk to the kinds of places they could look to get more information about career in this type of field?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (43:15): Right. So if you’re interested in quantum blah - blah being anything physics there - first of all, don’t, don’t worry about career at the moment. There’s a lot of money in the field. There’s lots of career opportunities, worry about what you want to study. So I would recommend people to attend summer schools. And, and I must say I have some conflict of interest here because I organize summer schools in quantum foundations or quantum thermodynamics or quantum computing. But it, but it, I do this because I think it’s a very good way for people to enter a field. First, they get a crash course. Second, they get a community. So they, they meet other people who are interested in the same things and they meet researchers who are active in the field. And this is a very good way to search into, you know, to form start forming a network, which I think is very, very important.
I think one of the major issues, especially during a PhD is how isolated one can get and forming a community is very important. And the other thing is like, be very careful with whom you choose as a PhD advisor, because, because, and, and this is another, I mean, if you want to talk about measures to get more women in physics, like I can talk for hours, but one of the things is just make this, this position less vulnerable. So if you’re, if you’re PhD student, student, you’re there for 3, 4, 5 years, you depend absolutely on this one person, who’s your supervisor. If anything goes wrong between you, you need to get out and start again. You just lost this few years of your career and you need to start from scratch, right? You’re also financially dependent on just one person. Really, if this … If they’re not very supportive and know what they’re doing, then, then you’re putting your, your career in their hands. So choosing the PhD supervisor carefully would be a good thing and, and the best … You know, talk to them, but also talk to other students of theirs to get a better feel of how they’re like.
🟢 Steven Thomson (45:13): Particularly when the prospective advisor is not around, I guess, to get a more objective opinion.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (45:18): Yes. Oh yes. Please. No, you should take them out for drinks after for an hour or so then be honest.
🟢 Steven Thomson (45:26): So one last question then before we end, if you could go back in time and give yourself just one piece of advice, what would it be?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (45:38): Right. so here, I don’t think I would give myself advice about career in general. But what I would tell myself is, look, it’s not, it’s not normal to struggle so much with the things you struggle with. And you should go and see a mental health specialist and get diagnosed. So I found out last year that I have ADHD and it’s like suddenly the last 10 years, the last 20 last 30 years makes sense. You know, it puts everything in context and there’s just so much suffering associated with work and work struggles that come from this, like, you know, I was a kid who never did their, their homework, but would always get away with this because, you know, I was smart and I’d get good grades. So it, it’s not something that was ever a problem. Like even at university I would study the night before the exam and then you know, still have very high grades.
So although I would always tell myself I shouldn’t do this and I would like feel guilty and all these things you know, it was never a big problem until, you know, until essentially the pandemic hit and all my coping strategies went out of the window. And there’s just so much that could have been avoided if I’d known what ADHD was before, what kind of problems it causes and what kind of, you know, management strategies and medication exists that really make your life better. So I wish I could have given myself this advice and I wish people who struggle. So like if you’re listening and you always struggle to meet deadlines, but you’re still very smart or, or not, or you think you’re not yeah. Maybe get yourself checked.
🟢 Steven Thomson (47:31): That sounds like good advice. Okay. That sounds like a good place to, to leave this and wrap this up. So if our audience want to learn a little bit more about you where can they find you online? Do you have social media or website that you’d like people to check out?
🟣 Lídia del Rio (47:45): Yes. So I’m still on Twitter. Let’s see for how long I’m @MarjBaldwin on Twitter, we we’ll write it down. And my website is currently butterflydust.net. You know, we all, we all, we all do cringy things in our youth, our internet aliases are like a tattoo or permanent recording of this . That’s where, where you can find me. Or just Google my name and you’ll eventually get my email address.
🟢 Steven Thomson (48:15): Okay, perfect. Well, we’ll make sure to leave some links to those on our website and if wherever we post the transcript of this podcast, so people can track you down and find you. So thank you very much, Dr Lidía del Rio for your time today and for joining us on this podcast.
🟣 Lídia del Rio (48:30): Okay. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
🟢 Steven Thomson (48:32): Thanks also to the Unitary Fund for supporting this podcast. And if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please consider liking, sharing and subscribing wherever you like to listen to our podcasts. It really helps us to get our guest’s stories out to as wide an audience as possible. I hope you join us again for our next episode, and until then, this has been insideQuantum, I’ve been Dr Steven Thomson and thank you very much for listening. Goodbye!