Portrait of an Academic at a Midlife Crisis

Citations are the currency of academia. But the currency of your heart is another thing altogether. With apologies to my co-authors, here is a plot of my paper citations versus my own subjective rating of the paper. Hover over the circles to see the paper title, citations per year, and score. Click to see the actual paper. (I’ve only included papers that appear on the arxiv.)

If I were an economist I suppose at this point I would fit a sloping line through the data and claim victory. But being a lowly software developer, its more interesting to me to give a more anecdotal treatment of the data.

  • The paper that I love the most has, as of today, exactly zero citations! Why do I love that paper? Not because it’s practical (far from it.) Not because it proves things to an absolute T (just ask the beloved referees of that paper.) But I love it because it says there is the possibility that there exists a material that quantum computes in a most peculiar manner. In particular the paper argues that it is possible to have devices where: quantum information starts on one side of device, you turn on a field over the device, and “bam!” the quantum information is now on the other side of the material with a quantum circuit applied to it. How f’in cool is that! I think its just wonderful, and had I stuck around the hallowed halls, I probably would still be yelling about how cool it is, much to the dismay of my friends and colleagues (especially those for which the use of the word adiabatic causes their brain to go spazo!)
  • Three papers I was lucky enough to be involved in as a graduate student, wherein we showed how exchange interactions alone could quantum compute, have generated lots of citations. But the citations correlate poorly with my score. Why? Because it’s my score! Haha! In particular the paper I love the most out of this series is not the best written, most deep, practical, or highly cited. It’s the paper where we first showed that exchange alone was universal for quantum computing. The construction in the paper has large warts on it, but it was the paper where I think I first participated in a process where I felt like we knew something about the possibilities of building a quantum computer that others had not quite exactly thought of. And that feeling is wonderful and is why that paper has such a high subjective score.
  • It’s hard not to look this decades worth of theory papers and be dismayed about how far they are from real implementation. I think that is why I like Coherence-preserving quantum bit and Adiabatic Quantum Teleportation. Both of these are super simple and always felt like if I could just get an experimentalist drunk enough excited enough they might try implement that damn thing. The first shows a way to make a qubit that should be more robust to errors because its ground state is in an error detecting state. The second shows a way to get quantum information to move between three qubits using a simple adiabatic procedure related to quantum teleportation. I still hope someday to see these executed on a functioning quantum computer, and I wonder how I’d feel about them should that happen.

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