How to Play Music While Working in a Science Lab

How to Play Music While Working in a Science Lab

Working in a science lab may be interesting on paper, but the actual details that you have to investigate may not be that exciting right in the moment. Combine that with background noise that might distract you from what you’re doing, and your days in the lab can suddenly turn from worth it to “what am I doing here?” Many lab workers prefer to have music playing while they complete experiments so that they can tune out other sounds, but the music, believe it or not, presents its own issues. This is especially true regarding lab safety and how to actually listen to the music, but labs do make it work.

First, Follow Your Employer’s Rules

First, don’t just bring in a pair of huge headphones or a big portable stereo. If you’re new to a science lab, find out the lab’s policy regarding music first. Many forbid noise-canceling headphones, for example, as those make it very hard to hear safety alarms. Others forbid all music as they’ve had too many disputes between co-workers. Others have a lab radio and agree on a certain number of stations that everyone is OK listening to. If your lab has existing rules, start with those.

One Earbud in, One Earbud Out

One compromise is to listen to music over earbuds but with only one earbud in. That leaves an ear free to listen for alarms and calls from your labmates and manager while also giving you the background music you desire. This is a common strategy that many lab workers and researchers use, although it can be an issue for those who don’t process multiple competing sounds very well. You’d also have to be careful choosing what to listen to as many recordings rely on some of the instruments and tracks being on separate left and right channels, so one earbud might provide only part of the music. If you use one earbud, listening to the radio and not a customized playlist may be best.

Watching Noise Levels From Radios

If you don’t want to use headphones or earbuds, and you’re the only one in the lab (or your labmates have the same musical tastes that you do), you could try listening to a radio or other player with speakers. However, keeping the volume down is crucial. For one thing, you don’t want people in adjacent offices and labs to hear your music, and not all lab walls have the best sound insulation. You also don’t want to make it harder for your labmates to concentrate or hold conversations. You may actually want to hold a sound check of sorts and see if the volume you’re thinking of listening to is low enough not to bother your labmates. Another potential solution is modifying the lab design to better separate workstations and reduce noise, although the type of work, your budget and the layout of the lab equipment may restrict what you can do.

If you have suggestions for your lab manager regarding how to handle music, talk to him or her. It could be there are ways to block louder noises coming from your workstation, for example, and making those modifications would work. Overall, you’ve got a good chance of being able to listen to music somehow; it’s just a matter of finding the right way to do it.

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