Sounds to Accompany a PhD #4

The British Library, 96 Euston Road. Pack up your things, remember which locker your stuff’s in? Let’s get out of here before they close the gate at the main road.

Avoid the faster roads around Euston and let’s bury ourselves straight into the romance of Russell Square. The concrete melts away, notice the plane trees, the hanging baskets on the flats, the deep green of Coram’s fields. Let’s go back to the early twentieth century, we might bump into one of the Bloomsbury Group, or catch the whispers in English, French, Russian of local artists and political asylum seekers. Get the thrill of just passing the British Museum and imagining the treasures inside, the bones and feathers and fabric and stone all catalogued and ordered and ready to be consumed by thousands of eyes. Watch out for that cyclist. Continue reading

Sounds to Accompany a PhD #3

I must start this post with a disclaimer: I don’t really listen to music when I’m working on my PhD. I’m a silent writer and reader, someone who needs peace in order to become properly absorbed in my materials. Sometimes, I find the vague hubbub of voices and machines in a coffee shop relaxing whilst I reference. At other times, I have listened to just one song over and over on endless repeat to encourage greater focus. I can also admit to playing various RuPaul albums at max volume on those occasions when I’m either having a slump in productivity and confidence or I need to be reminded that I am a PhD ‘Glamazon’. These sounds, however, do not a PhD playlist make and, mostly, I prefer peace, quiet, and a strict lack of noise.

I do listen to music, however, when I’m travelling around the city. Commuting takes up a significant portion of my day, an experience which I’m sure many other London-based researchers can share. Long tube trips should be the perfect time to catch up on journal reading or compose a few emails but, as anyone who has caught the Northern Line at practically any time of day will know, personal space is usually at a premium and there is no room for outstretched arms clutching unwieldy tomes. So, for me, tube-time becomes music-time, and I block out the world with a little bit of determination, a stony ‘commuter’ expression, and my over-ear headphones.

It is also in these moments that I do some of my best thinking. As I travel to or from my place of work, I’ll often use my time on the tube to think about the wider project that I’m working on. When I research, I tend to work chapter by chapter, section by section, which is great for the depth but does mean that I am also in danger of ending up with a series of isolated, disjointed articles rather than a coherent PhD thesis. When I’m on the tube, I can stand apart from my work, gain a better sense of the overall shape of my project, and clearly articulate (in my head) why what I do matters.

I’m not sure if the thinking and the music are related. But the latter does help to block out distractions around me and so it must, in some way, be conducive to the former. With this in mind, I thought I’d share a playlist. I’ve tried to pick songs which help me focus, rather than just my normal daily musical fare (which tends to be a combination of The Hold Steady, Drake and, of course, RuPaul). To call it a ‘PhD Playlist’, then, is perhaps bogus, but these are some of the sounds that help me find a much needed ‘still point’ amongst the commuter chaos. Maybe it will do the same for someone else.

Briony Wickes is a first year English PhD at King’s College London, researching settler emigration, human-animal relationships, and global trade in the nineteenth century. Follow her @brionyjoy.

Sounds to Accompany a PhD #2


This playlist could be described as one of study interval training. I’ve been an advocate of the ‘pomodoro’ technique ( ever since my PhD supervisor introduced me to it during my MA. Its basic premise is that to maximise productivity, you work in 25 minute bursts with 5 minute breaks in between each work period. After four 25 minute sessions, you have a longer 15-20 minute break before starting again. 

I tend to use music to designate my work periods and this playlist follows this pattern, with intervals of 20 minutes of ‘study’ music blockaded by around 5 minutes of ‘break’ music. My work sessions are 5 minutes less than the usual pomodoro time, but I’ve found that I tend to work better with slightly shorter bursts. During my breaks I tend to pick songs that induce an internal 5 minute solo dance party at my desk to pull me out of work mode. Thankfully, I’ve only been caught during these breaks in public study areas once this year…
I have extended this playlist past the 4th 20 minute work session, just to give more of a taste of my study music preferences, but feel free to pause after 1hr 35m for a longer stretch (or more exuberant dance) and a well deserved coffee…
James Morland, @jameswmorland
James Morland is a PhD candidate in the English department at King’s College London, looking at the changing engagement with Lucretius in eighteenth-century poetry. 

Sounds to Accompany a PhD #1

This playlist is deeply dishonest. It is not, strictly speaking, what I play when I read or write. I play albums: long streams of steady tones with smooth transitions. I say “play” because I don’t want to listen. I want to induce certain moods in myself without paying too much attention.

I tend to work in two-hour blocks. But I couldn’t just offer you two albums. So think of the following collection of songs as a series of trailers for a larger playlist. The playlist I use is 61hr 21m. Nonetheless, even with a variety of artists and albums, disruption can be minimised and textures can be enhanced by careful selection.

But this playlist is dishonest in another way: these are the songs that did make me pay attention. The songs that made me listen. So forget what I said above, sometimes disruption is better. A few moments to suspend your thoughts. Enjoy.

James Daniel Fisher, @JamDanFish

James Daniel Fisher is a PhD candidate in his first year at King’s College London, studying the meaning of work in eighteenth-century England.

If you’d like to share your PhD playlist with us please email it to with a short introduction of around 200 words.