Having a ball with ballast

February 2, 1996

With Richard Branson due to take off with East Anglia's scientific experiment in his hot air balloon at the end of this week (page 6), we have stuck seven young scientists in our own metaphorical overloaded balloon (page 8).

Their debate about whom to jettison if the most essential is to survive marks the beginning of 1996's Research Service. On February 23 we publish the first listings of research degree vacancies and UK research jobs, plus features ranging from PhD supervision and tackling teaching to conference drinking. Listings will be updated in May and in September.

Meanwhile February is for ballooning. Before older readers berate us for ignorance of the world, the assumption behind asking academics, mostly under 30, to defend the importance of their discipline, is that, although much research is interdisciplinary, those who want to join in need a discipline to bring to the party.

In an age of interdisciplinarity, it is more important than ever to define and examine our basic ways of knowing about the world. It is legitimate to ask which of the building blocks of knowledge are the exciting, well-functioning ones and which are likely to provide the basis for new contributions to knowledge.

A second consideration in launching the balloons - scientists this week, social scientists and humanities to follow- is that as specialisation is pushed later and later, from GCSE into the first degree and possibly to postgraduate level, students may be in doubt about which research discipline offers most interest, the best prospects, the most enjoyable company.

And third, February is a dreary month. If the debate provides a bit of hot air, fun and fancy - and guides you to our Internet service, THESIS, to cast your vote - so much the better. Ageist rules apply to the balloonists only, suffrage is universal.

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