This weekend I spent a whole day doing actual labwork, a rare occurrence. A student had left the lab and the reviewers of her paper wanted more experiments. Since most of my current lab crew is newish or absorbed in other projects, I figured that the fastest way to turn the paper around was for me to do the experiments myself. I was actually pretty excited –most people in my lab have families to tend to, and thus there's usually no one around on weekends– which means I had the lab to myself and could blast music while I worked. I had a lot of fun listening to The Clash, Coltrane and Monk at Carnegie Hall (awesome recording), and Celia Cruz ¡Aaaazúcar! And I got a ton done.
I think that listening to music is key to doing good bench work. It passes the time and you actually get to sit and listen to music. When I was a grad student, my lab had very eclectic musical tastes. One grad student she only seemed to like Bon Jovi, another he ranged in tastes from 70's stadium rock (e.g. Rush) to Hawaiian slack-key guitar and bluegrass. My PhD advisor had a thing for Tori Amos and some band named Veruca Salt (like my favorite character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). The British postdoc was always blasting some type of techno/rave music and the German postdoc liked Pink Floyd and some new-agey sounding thing that I never figured out what it was. I was on a Latin Jazz kick, and of course JamesBrown. Hot pants! Haah! The unspoken rule was that whoever got there first in the morning could play whatever they wanted until someone else would commandeer the lab stereo when the person left the room. While not everybody liked everyone else's music, we all expanded our musical horizons and tolerated whatever. But there was always music on and things were more or less groovy. There was occasionally some trouble though. Once, the Bon Jovi-lovin' student got into a kerfuffle with the older Russian technician. The student kept accusing the technician of coming in early in the morning and hiding the power cord of the stereo. The technician said that she did not want to listen to any more of this "jungle music." Apparently after she retired they found a bunch of power cords hidden away in a drawer.
In my current lab things are very different. If you walk in there on any given day when folks are working it is eerily quiet. Everyone is doing their thing, listening to their own iPods with their earbuds on, oblivious to everyone else. My very first postdoc would blast Black Sabbath or play her guitar while doing electrophysiology, but other than that, now it's pretty quiet. I can see how listening to iPods solves the problem of deciding what music to play, but it also cuts down on conversation and you don't get to know yur labmates through their music. One weekend I walked in the lab and one of my postdocs was blasting Chinese pop music, complete with electric violins, heavy synthesizer and some guy belting it out in Chinese. Embarrassed, he quickly turned it off when he saw me. I kind of wished that he hadn't.
In any case, I leave you in the good hands of the lovely Celia Cruz: