I just emailed off my contribution to a children's book on which I was asked to do some scientific editing. The book is an outgrowth of some work I do with middle-school kids.. Part of this year's program focused on ***** (obtuse I know, but pseudonymity calls)- a topic that the non-scientist would expect me to know something about, but that is almost totally unrelated to what I do. I didn't develop this year's program, and I remember being somewhat confused by the results that the kids were getting when they ran their experiments. It didn't gibe with my sense of "how things should work" based on my observation of natural phenomena and some really elementary physics.
So anyways, a few weeks ago I got an email from the woman writing the book looking for help with the science in the ***** section. She had three choices for help, a biochemisty who had designed the experimental apparatus, an outside expert with no idea what the kids actually did, or me. I was pleased that she chose me for help and terrified that the biochemist would give her an answer that was simplified to the point of wrongness. So I agreed to edit the 7 pages of the book.
Well it turns out that ***** are really complicated. Maybe simple in the pure sense, but awfully darn complicated in the real world - especially where there is complex topography. I literally spent several hours on the internet and with basic textbooks trying to find the "correct" answer to the question the kids had been experimenting with. I had to resort to the Journal of ***** Mechanics, which is filled with all sorts of gobbledy gook equations.
Finally having something of a handle on the topic myself, I then had to translate what I had learned into language that worked for a 7th grader. Keep in mind, that the average 7th grader knows absolutely nothing about physical science. And then, I had to think at least a little about my writing. And then, I had to go through the author's writing with a fine toothed comb to purge it of things like the unneccesary mixing up of terms like "area" and "volume."
But I did it. Thank goodness I asked to be paid for my efforts. I'll get about 150 bucks and a bit of an education out of the deal. In the end though, was it worth it?
Probably not for the money, probably not for what I learned about *****, but probably yes for the experience of working on such a project. And definitely for making sure that at least one kid's science book is at least somewhat correct.
Have any of you ever done any consulting work while in grad school? Was it worth it?
How about any science writers out there...is what I experienced your everyday challenge?