Physicist Catherine Crouch Cited as Outstanding Referee by Scientific Journal

“It was gratifying to be recognized as having done [reviews] well and contributed to the scholarly community in that regard,” says Crouch.

The editors of Physical Review have selected Associate Professor of Physics Catherine Crouch as one of their “Outstanding Referees” for 2016.

The journal honored just 146 of its 69,000 reviewers based on the tally, timeliness, and quality of their reviews, lauding “the essential work that anonymous peer reviewers do for our journals.”

“I was completely surprised and delighted,” Crouch says of receiving the announcement e-mail. “I have done a lot of work refereeing articles, and it was gratifying to be recognized as having done it well and contributed to the scholarly community in that regard.”

Crouch considers the referee process an opportunity for authors to receive honest and critical — but also supportive, when warranted — feedback on how to improve their work.

“I rarely recommend publication without revision,” she says, “but I try to look for what is good in the work and how it can be improved into a quality contribution to the scholarly community.”

She tries to clearly differentiate between the importance of the scientific questions asked, quality of data reported, and quality of presentation. Stemming from her undergraduate experience as a peer writing tutor at Williams College, she also strives to “clearly state the relative importance of my comments, begin with the few things that are the most important to address, and then move down through the less important.”

Refereeing is a crucial service that is done out of the spotlight. But Crouch feels rewarded when she receives an improved manuscript that reflects her input.

“I feel I have contributed to the scholarly community in a way that goes beyond the scholarship that I do myself,” she says.

Among the beneficiaries of that scholarship is Swarthmore, notes chair of The Department of Physics & Astronomy Mike Brown, in a recent email to notify community members of Crouch’s award.

“I know from the documents you edit here in the department and from your comments on lab reports and theses that this is a skill at which you really excel,” he says.