This article was submitted by Barrie Shannon, a PhD student in Sociology and NUPSA’s LGBTI Representative.


To have a productive day of writing, you often need everything to line up. This has been my experience through-and through-since I got over the hump of data collection and have sat down to write my thesis.

For me, everything needs to be just right. It needs to be the right time of day. Ideally, mid-morning to very-early-afternoon. Studying too early in the morning makes me feel like I am too groggy to get anything done. Studying too late makes me feel like I am too tired, or like I am missing out on leisure time. It needs to be warm, but not too warm, or I’m going to fidget and move around. The air needs to smell clean and fresh, or I’m going to want to get up and procrastinate by cleaning up.

I need to be sitting in a comfortable chair, but one that isn’t too comfortable, or I’m likely to fall asleep. I need snacks on hand that aren’t going to make me too thirsty, and aren’t so moreish that I’m too busy picking them up to type. I need to be listening to good music too; music that is smooth, not too loud and just the right amount of catchy. Catchy enough to get in tune with, but not enough that I am singing along rather than doing any writing. It’s a tough balance to get, and it’s a state of equilibrium that is extremely rare, especially for someone as picky and precious as me. As you can probably tell, I’ve put quite a bit of thought into this.

In honour of our ‘music’ issue, I’ve identified five of my favourite albums that I like to put on while I’m studying or writing. I’ve managed to get a lot of writing done thanks to these artists – comment below and share which albums get your productive juices flowing!


1. Frank – Amy Winehouse

Frank is one of my favourite albums of all time. Amy Winehouse’s vocals are objectively phenomenal, and the smooth jazz and trip hop influence weaved through each song make for great ‘background’ music as you are trying to write something profound. Best enjoyed with a thick blanket and a hot drink while you are working on your literature review.


2. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morisette

I revisited Jagged Little Pill recently after getting Hand In My Pocket stuck in my head, and listened to the whole album in a sitting. I remembered every word to every song, as it was a favourite of my mum’s when I was a kid. She played it every weekend and I found myself singing along to each song, in perfect time, despite not having heard them in well over fifteen years. I would combine Jagged Little Pill with tonic water, dip and crackers. It’s best listened to while trying to weave my arguments together from forgotten caches of knowledge picked up way earlier in the PhD process.


3. Viva La Woman! – Cibo Matto

I came very late to the Cibo Matto party. The Japanese duo made an appearance on the first episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which Buffy returns to Sunnydale after sealing away an ancient evil and being thoroughly traumatised. She takes this out on her friends, treating them like garbage as the song Sugar Water plays in the background. From this brief scene, I was a fan. Viva La Woman! is an album about food and love. It plays like an airy, trippy fever dream, providing the soundtrack to a search through your mind for the best tangent to follow. Best enjoyed with a cheese plate while you are planning your chapters.


4. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill

Widely considered one of the best albums of all time, you can’t help but feel that you are listening to a masterpiece with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. All of the elements of this album go together perfectly, and there is rarely a boring moment. It is personal, powerful, well-produced, and there is no filler on this album. This album pairs well with a decent glass of wine (don’t overdo it!) and a cheese board, nibbled on while you are organising your data chapters.


5. The Velvet Rope – Janet Jackson

The Velvet Rope is one of my favourite albums for a range of reasons. It is stunningly raw and introspective, and it explores a range of issues, addressing domestic violence, sexuality, trauma and mental illness, and homophobia, racism and prejudice. The themes of The Velvet Rope are set against a backdrop of infectious, nostalgic 90s pop and funk. This album is best enjoyed with your favourite food, while you are digging deeply into yourself, drawing upon the reasons you chose to do a PhD in the first place to synthesise your argument in the final chapters of your thesis.


Comment below with your favourite songs and albums that get you in the mood for writing, and feel free to share any other tips you might have to achieve the best productive environment!

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