Don's diary

August 27, 1999

Sunday I am away for the next five weeks on a placement at The THES to find out more about how the media works and how academics can bridge the gap between the press and universities. It has been a frantic week.

I go into the department for a couple of hours and spend time with a masters student coming to the end of her research. To my huge relief, a temperamental piece of analytical equipment that measures the carbon content of sea water is working this weekend after doing nothing for the past two weeks. She will have her last data by the end of the day.

Monday Catch the 6am train to London. Arrive nervously at The THES offices, to be greeted by the deputy editor with: "Well, you must have lots of ideas to write about. Let us find you a computer and you can start." I have a desk, telephone, network connection and email account within two hours - amazingly efficient.

Grapple with ideas about Antarctic research, Vietnam expeditions and patterns in nature for a meeting the next day. Exhausted, find solace at the Albert Hall at a Prom.

Tuesday Meet the features editor and am relieved that she does not dismiss the ideas I have conjured up, even the one about patterns in nature and art. I am dismayed though when she talks about deadlines. With only three days until the first, it hits me how short my time is here.

Wednesday Do some writing before breakfast and save it on a diskette. I had not bargained for the fact that, to ensure no nasty viruses are introduced onto the company's network, most THES computers do not accept disks.

Plough on regardless. Soon there are telephone calls, web searches and emails covering six different topics. This juggling of several unconnected lines of research at high speed is a rude contrast to my normally restricted daily view of research in marine biogeochemistry.

Thursday Sit in on a meeting for future research stories. It is intriguing to hear the kind of research that is considered to "make a good story". Archaeology, red squirrels and viruses are all mooted.

Interview Peter Bentley, a computer scientist at University College London. We start by discussing patterns in nature and end up mulling over evolutionary design and computation. Fascinating stuff - but how will it all tie together as a feature article?

Friday Continue trying to reach people and start writing the first article. Academics are an infuriating breed (oops), they do not seem to let anyone know how and when they can be contacted.

David Thomas holds a British Association Media Fellowship at The THES. In his "normal life" he is a senior lecturer at the University of Wales, Bangor.

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