What have I got to lose?

It’s funny, my PhD is looking at what is going on in the brain when people are imagining music.Music-Brain-coloured

To do that I’ve had to design a task that gets people to imagine something (ie certain tones or rhythms) and then tests they have imagined correctly. It is voluntary musical imagery, because participants are willfully creating the tones or rhythms in their minds; so that I can then measure their brain’s activity.

But, whenever I share my PhD topic with others, the conversation almost always involves questions about why we get songs stuck in our heads – it happens all the time: in question times during talks I give, at parties, just about anywhere when I’m asked to talk about my work.

So rather than fight it, I decided to go with it……

During a moment of pure bravery one evening I saw a call-out on twitter for pitch ideas for articles on behavioural science. I thought… what have I got to lose?

Now I didn’t know a whole lot about earworms (a rather endearing term for the songs getting stuck in your head), but I knew that its obviously something other people can identify with and therefore would be interesting to a general audience. So there I was faced with an opportunity before me to write a freelance article for an online magazine. Even if I pitch the earworm article idea and they don’t like it, I could always post the article here. And if they like it then its a bonus…..

Is this really what your brain is doing?

In order to write the article I actually had to read more deeply into the literature than I had before and I was really surprised just how much has been done – and done really cleverly – in understanding earworms; how and why we get them, and how we get rid of them.

Long story short, the editor liked it and now its online. And I can tick “do a piece of freelance writing” off my bucket list …. (I note “learning to play the cello by age 30” is still sitting on there….well overdue now…. why did I think at age 17 when I wrote this list that I would ever have time to do that in my late teens / twenties???)…. I digress…

There was no “feel the fear and do it anyway” it was all “I may as well give it a go”…. That is,until the moment of panic that seems to always follow most of my acts of bravery, as I tweeted out the article and included several researcher’s whom I mentioned in the article and whose work I really admire.

Most Questions
Artist / Writer: Austin Kleon @austinkleon

What if they don’t like it? What if I’m all wrong and I haven’t understood  their work correctly? And, if I’m to be completely honest, the question probably boiled down to, what if they don’t like me?

What makes it worse is that all of these researchers were on the other side of the world and it was the middle of the night for them so they wouldn’t be seeing it for a while; so I went to bed that night with the sense of dread still present….

It was fine though; music cognition researchers really are quite a lovely bunch of people. And most people aren’t going to judge you too harshly when you are giving them free publicity, after all. In fact, if anything it’s had the unanticipated effect of strengthening connections I’ve had with these and other researchers in my field. That has all just been a bonus.

So yesterday at a conference when I was sharing with someone about my research and they asked me about earworms – and instead of saying “that’s not really my area”, I was able to point them to this.

pippi longstocking
“I’ve never done that before, so I’m sure I can do it” – Pippi Longstocking (illustrated by the amazing Lauren Child)

So what have you got to lose? Why not go for that job, write that article, contact that person, tweet that tweet, enter that race. You never know where it will lead. As Athene Donald recently said in her blog on Choosing your Path, Seizing Opportunities:

Life is uncertain and frequently does not go according to plan. But you have to live with the hand you’re dealt with and get on with it.


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