What do you listen to in the lab?

During long bouts of lab work, having good things to listen to is more-or-less essential for maintaining sanity. During grad school, I listened to a rather large number of audio books. I initially started out by listening to everything that seemed vaguely interesting in the two local libraries to which I had access (discovering along the way that abridged versions often make no sense), and then eventually got an audible.com subscription.

Now, though, I listen to either music (as I said here, I pay for a Pandora subscription for the lab) or podcasts. My favorite podcast is Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, followed by RadioLab, On The Media, and Marketplace. And, in Atlanta, I would often schedule my lab work for mid-afternoon, when I could listen to PRI’s The World while working. In grad school, I listened to many, many hours of the BBC’s World Service, which plays overnight on Michigan Radio. (I often had to stay up all night counting samples, since samples needed to be counted live, hence me listening to the radio in the lab all night.) And the Friday News Roundup on the Diane Rehm Show was also a popular choice (though I often would tune out once it got to the point where they started taking calls).

I realized that it would be interesting to know what other people listen to while working after my postdoc, Cat Searle, emailed the lab a list of podcasts that are well-suited to listening to in the lab. This list had originated with a friend of hers (who I also know from Georgia Tech), Rachel Lasley-Rasher. The list had some favorites of mine, some that I’m not as keen on (e.g., Ask Me Another), and many that I’d never heard of. I thought it would be worth sharing here, as I imagine my lab is not the only one looking for more things to listen to while working!

Their List:
This American Life
The Moth
Mohr Stories
Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me
How To Do Everything
Stuff You Should Know
Good Job Brain
The Dinner Party Download
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe
Car Talk
To the Best of Our Knowledge
Ask Me Another
A Way with Words
How Stuff Works
Mike and Tom Eat Snacks
Democracy Now
More Hip than Hippie
On Being
Hard Core History
The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy
Snap Judgment
Science Friday
TED Radio Hour
Hello Internet
The Naked Scientists
Pop Culture Happy Hour
The History of English

As I said above, a lot of those are new to me, and I look forward to checking them out the next time I’m back in the lab again. (That happens mostly during field season these days, so it might be a while.)

What do you listen to while in the lab? Any podcast recommendations?

Update December 16 2014: Slate has a list of the 25 best podcast episodes ever.

36 thoughts on “What do you listen to in the lab?

  1. BBC Radio 4’s “Just a minute” is also well worth a listen. Similar in ways to “Wait, wait don’t tell me”. Much of the data for our JEB and Am Nat papers was collected to the sound of this.

  2. Always
    The Bugle (brit humor – John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman)
    Slate’s Hang up and Listen: the *best* sports podcast out there
    99% Invisible (design, architecture, and how they influence our everyday lives)

    Tier 2:
    Men in Blazers (soccer, though focus on Premier and Champions Leagues)
    Slate’s Culture Gabfest – bordering (always) pretentious but some good segments
    Decode DC
    State of the Re-Union (I like it, but just don’t get a chance to listen as often as I’d like).

  3. PS those podcasts were for lab work and other such activities. For writing, for which I like minimal distraction but need something in the background, it’s SomaFM.com’s Drone Zone station or the Brian Eno station on Pandora.

    • I’ve thought that it could be interesting to see what sorts of music people listen to for different tasks. Mike Fowler lists his in a comment below. For writing, a Bela Fleck Pandora station is my go-to station. And I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I often listen to 80’s pop while working on figures.

      • I used to listen to a lot of 80’s pop (without embarrassment) and 90s alt rock while counting protists or writing. But I no longer count my own protists, and I’ve lost the ability to write while listening to music, or anything else. I need quiet to write.

  4. NPR’s Planet Money should definitely be on that list. Fans of This American Life will be familiar with their work as TAL used to have episodes produced by the Planet Money team. It’s economic concepts explained for the lay person. They address big picture stuff, like why having no deficit would be bad for the U.S., and small picture stuff, like why hosting a superbowl is often a losing venture for a city, or why colleges argue they spend more on students than they receive in tuition. The stories are only about 20 min each.

    I also noticed there weren’t many (any?) sports podcasts on there. That could be it’s own list for those interested–there are lots of great ones.

  5. I’d also add (from an admittedly British perspective… and from somebody with a terribly puerile/deliberately foul-mouthed sense of humour):
    BBC R4’s Infinite Monkey Cage
    BBC R4’s More or Less
    The Pod Delusion
    Probably Science (the choice language means that it’s possibly best to leave this on headphones…)
    Welcome to Night Vale [apparently this has long been the world’s most downloaded podcast, but I’ve only got into it recently. I’ve since completed trawling through the back catalogue whilst sat in the lab]

    • Yes, definitely! And now there’s “StarTalk” with Neil deGrasse Tyson, which also has a humorous tone with a comedian always present.

    • That is excellent! I hadn’t seen that one, but I loved his earlier ones for St. Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day.

      • “I loved his earlier ones for St. Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day.”

        Then you’ll be pleased with the posts I just put in the queue… 🙂

  6. I won’t add links, to avoid crashing the comment, but you’ll find any with a quick search:

    Doctor Karl, on the ABC or BBC (I prefer the ABC version, as it’s a bit snappier)
    Greg Proops
    Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe
    Kermode & Mayo’s Film Reviews (BBC Radio 5 Live)
    Friday Night Comedy on BBC Radio 4

    +Spotify for tunes I don’t already have in my mp3 collection. Grunge/Hard Rock/Metal/Gregorian chanting for coding. Funk/Soul for writing. Queen for submitting.

  7. So, given that Spotify and Pandora aren’t available in Canada (unless you pay for a US proxy server), anyone have music streaming suggestions for our Canadian readers?

    I can’t help with this myself as I’ve never streamed music; I listen to CD’s. You may commence mocking me…now! 🙂

    EDIT: whoops, my bad, Spotify is available in Canada. Clearly I’m too much of a Luddite to contribute to this thread. I’ll be over here if you need me, listening to my Sony Walkman. 🙂

  8. Podcasts for ‘commuting’, i.e. walking; dance music for data analysis/ArcGIS; quiet classical or silence for writing. Podcasts I download and I stream music using Songza (available in Canada).

    I have a huge list of podcasts I listen to but I recommend CBC’s Quirks and Quarks and the Australian Broadcast Corp’s Science Show for science-related stuff. Also Wham-Bam-Pow for silly action/sci-fi movie reviews. Hilarious group of unexpected hosts (not one white man).

  9. I love cooking and culinary history, and there’s a lot of great food related podcasts out there. In no particular order: The Sporkful, Spilled Milk, The Food Seen, The Alton Browncast, Go Fork Yourself, and there are many more.

    A fun example might be a recent Sporkful cast; it blended food, paleontology, archaeology, sociology with some natural history (and maggots!) for a really fun episode: http://www.sporkful.com/dinosaur-eggs-jane-austen-ice-cream-american-museum-natural-history/

  10. I find listening to science podcasts is too difficult while doing most experiments – too much concentration required. I prefer history podcasts. UCLA, Yale, and Berkeley all have lecture podcasts that I listen to (viz. Brad Delong, etc). Other great history podcasts are “The History of Rome” and “Hardcore History”.

    Other than that: APM’s Marketplace

    But really, mostly music that gets increasingly energetic as the day goes on.

  11. The Bugle with Jon Oliver is my favorite, though I get alarmed looks from my lab mates when I laugh with my headphones on…

    I remember Michigan Public Radio from long days in the lab at KBS! Atlanta public radio doesn’t compare.

  12. Leonard Lopate when I have something not requiring particular focus. It is a great podcast.
    Audiobooks of Sherlock Holmes’ sometimes when I want to space out, i.e. writing manuscripts.

  13. Risk! is like This American Life*The Moth, but uncensored. On their submission site they request stories:
    “A) High stakes (You felt there was a lot to be lost and/or gained in the circumstances.)
    B) Emotional investment (You really cared about the situation and were thrilled or crushed or frightened, etc.)
    C) An unusual experience (Your story features subject matter we’re not likely to have covered on the podcast yet.)
    D) Sharing this takes guts (Normally you’d only share this with a therapist. Or perhaps this shows a side of yourself you rarely show.)”

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  15. This is great — I have a rapacious appetite for audio and love new suggestions. I’ll add these:

    Slate’s Culture and Political Gabfests
    the Guardian’s Science Weekly
    NPR’s Planet Money
    KEXP Song of the Day
    Philosophy Bites
    Radio Open Source
    99% Invisible (warning: tweeness factor)
    Savage Love (warning: it’s uh…actually Not Safe for Work, so…headphones)

  16. I like a lot of the stuff already mentioned, but when I need some more light relief I tend to listen to a lot of stuff from the Nerdist & Feral Audio networks, in particular:

    Nerdist podcast
    This Feels Terrible
    The Indoor Kids
    Conversations with Matt Dwyer
    The Smartest Man in the World (Greg Proops’ podcast)

    Also Slate’s Lexicon Valley is really interesting if you’re a wordnerd.

    I’ve switched to Android now, but used to use iTunes U a lot – when I started my PhD then I’d never studied evolutionary biology before, so would listen to Stephen Stearns’ lectures on repeat while commuting / cleaning out cricket containers…

  17. Oh, and I should also recommend the ‘Breaking Bio’ podcast because I am one of the co-hosts of it! We have a different scientist on each week to tell us all about their work – primarily evolutionary biologists, but there’s definitely variation (we love variation, of course). It’s pretty lo-fi, but it’s fun and lets our guest enthuse about their research at length (well, within reason)…

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