You’d think that a person who sets out to write a book on immunology would be an immunologist. A professor, perhaps, or a medical doctor specialising in immune disorders, or anyone else who’d spent some time involved in the field.
For many books that does turn out to be the case – but not in mine. I studied some immunology at uni, but my sum total of hands-on experience in immunological research is one year when I worked as a student/ research assistant at a university lab, after which my lab head suggested gently, firmly, and rightly, that I should seek my scientific future in another field. “Perhaps molecular work would suit you more”, she suggested, because for immunology work you need to be good with your hands as well as with your brain. I wasn’t such a hot thinker, but my handiwork was even worse; everything I touched turned out crooked, blotched, spilt, contaminated or all of the above at once.
I left immunology – and, some years later, scientific research altogether – with a feeling of resignation. Like two lovers who know they are not meant for each other, we said our farewells and went our separate ways. I knew it was over between us, but I bore no resentment, and checked up on immunology sometimes to see how she was doing without me.
Then I wrote an immunology book. I’m not formally the most qualified person to write one of these, but I tried hard to make up for that by reading up on research and gathering information from reputable resources until I reckoned I had enough to go on. Still, I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t making a fool of myself somewhere along the line. Perhaps I was missing some important advance or theory that somehow slipped past me? Perhaps I misunderstood what I was reading and couldn’t even tell? Perhaps anything. If you’re an active immunologist, even if you’re not sure of something, you have labmates and other colleagues you can ask. I was going it alone, and that’s scary.
With WAWDY well on its way to publication, the jitters were getting worse, and I was asking around whether anyone knew a good immunologist who might be kind-hearted enough to read an entire manuscript and see whether it was scientifically sound. Time was growing short and I was getting actually rather worried, but then two friends came forward almost simultaneously with two possible contacts – and lo and behold,a short time later I had people who were willing to devote time and energy to telling me just how off the mark I was.
The feedback from both volunteer reviewers is now in, and I’m feeling better. I received a number of comments and suggestions for improvement, of course, which is lovely, but I was relieved to see that I didn’t get any comments along the lines of “you’ve obviously never heard of…” or “that’s not how T cells work at all” or “what the hell gave you that idea?!”.
So off I go now to edit the third draft and insert some scientific corrections and additions, but I do it with a feeling of a weight lifted off my shoulders. Whatever people think of the immunology book I’ve written, immunology itself at least will recognise its face within the pages, and to me, that’s important.