How did you become involved in this book?
I undertook for a summer placement with Russ [co-author Russ Kitson, Associate Professor at University of Warwick), helping with developing the teaching laboratory course. My job was to produce some fresh labs, go through the scripts and see how they could be improved in terms of communication for students to learn as much as possible. Towards the end of that, I asked if there was anything else I could do, and Russ mentioned the book. As a throwaway comment I said “do you want a hand?” and it turns out he did!
What roles did you take in the book?
Some chapters actually needed writing from scratch, so the first chapter in the book on alkenes is mine, while another student Mike Lloyd, currently at Imperial College London, did the introduction.
I really enjoyed the chance to write using a different “voice” from the standard journal article… The passive, neutral past tense is not very engaging at all!
I tested out ideas on my friends through everyday discussions, to see how different people approach the same topic. This was quite insightful for me, as approaches I thought were completely logical were suboptimal for others. I was also able to propose mock exam questions for the book that were based on mistakes people commonly made. As well as showing what to do, we have tried to explain what not to do throughout the book.
How did you find the experience?
Seeing proofs come in has been surreal. I’m really happy with how it has turned out, but I have read it so many times now that I’m really used to it. It’s taken just over two years in total to prepare – and I thought that it would just be a summer project!
It has really opened my eyes to how careful one has to be when writing a book. Conveying the information in the most effective way is such a challenge, and it takes a lot of time and effort to make sure it is as engaging and useful as possible. Over the two years I feel like I could have written an entire book just on my chapter. At one point, one single section on NMR was something like 28 pages – which is the length of an entire chapter – and it was boiled down to two. There is no need for that many pages of NMR in a stereochemistry book!
It has been a trudge at times, but I couldn’t be happier with the result. I want to do teaching at a high level and I dream about being a chemistry professor – getting to that point is a long, long ladder, but this is a great first step. I want to know enough to be able to write my own book one day and add my own spin to current educational practice.
How would you feel if you walked down a corridor and saw someone reading it?
I have no idea! I still can’t believe at times it is real. When I saw the front cover of this book come in I was showing all my friends on my phone, and when I get a physical copy in my hands it will be incredible just to know it exists.
I think if I saw someone reading it I would leave them to enjoy it, but might nip back a bit later and ask them what they thought of it…