Welcome to the hotly demanded spin-off of The PhD Playlist – The PI Playlist! The format is similar, with the spotlight being put on a group leader here at the Norwich Research Park to pick three songs: one song for their current research/job, one song for their life as a PhD student and that final much needed motivational song. So turn the volume up and discover the soundtrack to a science career.

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 16.12.49Right now, I’m in the middle of destroying 38 years of paperwork from my time at JIC, but my career started back at the University of London doing a degree in Biology. In London, getting to gigs was expensive for a student unless they were in one of the Students’ Union bars. I was a folk and blues fan then and had a Dansette mono record player (yes, I am that old)  that I’d modified to play stereo. You could make it repeat play if you swung out the autochanger arm. You could also stack it with records using the arm and play through the whole stack. It was a method I used to get me through exam revision and maybe represents a first playlist.  My favourites then were Pentangle, Al Stewart and John Mayall, which I have on vinyl; I even have an original pressing of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, the first album released by Virgin Records.

The PhD Song – Can the Can by Suzi Quattro

“I was inspired to start research on plants ironically by the eminent animal biologist, Lewis Wolpert, who lectured to us on embryo development and positional information. He replied to a question from me over a cup of tea by saying, “Don’t ask me about plants, they’re a complete mystery to me”. (I may be paraphrasing here as it is a long time ago.) I had to follow that up didn’t I, so from there, I went on to work with Philip Wareing in Aberystwyth on plant hormones for my PhD. Aberystwyth was very self-contained for the arts (it had to be as it was several hours from civilisation) and regularly had top bands playing there, Status Quo visiting every year during my time. From my PhD, I could pick a memorable track from parties on Aber pier like the Stones’ Honky Tonk Women, but I think I’ll choose a track from one of those visiting bands as it never fails to get an audience on its feet and that’s Suzi Quattro’s ‘Can the Can’. I then went to Leicester to work with Herbert Street of tissue culture fame, and then to Leeds to work with David Cove on Physcomitrella, but I have no memorable music from either of those periods. And then I came to JIC. It was my second attempt, as I’d first applied unsuccessfully straight from my PhD. So, from extreme west to extreme east – it was a day’s travel from Aberystwyth to Norwich and still is!”

The Research Song – King Herod’s Song from Jesus Christ Superstar

“From my research time here, I guess I have plenty to choose from over the years.  However, I would associate my most enjoyable times not with a research theme, but with the irreverent Christmas shows that I ran with others on and off for more than10 years.  While at Aberystwyth, a final year PhD student in our lab challenged me (as a joke it turned out) with “all first years have to run a show at Christmas” and naive me took him seriously. That started my venture into such antics. Our signature tune for several of the shows at JIC was our finale taken from Jesus Christ Superstar’s Herod’s song. We modified it to fit the Director and the time. The original 1981 version we wrote for Harold Woolhouse who had been Director less than a year at the time and the show was performed in the Rec Centre Hall (the relevance of this will be apparent shortly). Just in case any of you ever wish to pick up again on undertaking such endeavours, here’s a taste. (Perhaps the BBSRC would count taking part as a Life Skill for students and the DTP could give credits!)

So you’re the Director

The John Innes Boss

Show me how things have advanced

Make my compost grow some plants

And, kill all my aphids, my red spider too

Show me what you can do!


Harold you came here from Leeds University

You’re at the forefront of this high technology

Cloning genes and making protoplasts

Everyone one around you only hopes that it will last


So, you are the boss

Yeah, the John Innes Boss

Prove to us that you’re no fool


And if you go under, it’ll be your first blunder

Show us what you can do!

The audiences became too large with the increase in the size of the site to continue safely with these shows and accommodate the numbers; we couldn’t get approval to temporarily modify the auditorium so we could erect the theatre-style ‘wings’ that we needed. Although putting on the shows was very hard work, it was great fun and the camaraderie was brilliant. Some of the performers (in addition to myself) are still here (but I will not embarrass them by providing their names) The shows that were recorded are now on DVDs in the archives, so if you like, you can go see whether you can spot them!”

The Motivational Song – Bring Me Sunshine by Morecambe and Wise // The Laughing Policeman by Charles Penrose

“Millie asked for a motivational song as well, but Billy’s already pinched my favourite ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ by Monty Python, so I’ll leave you with another, or rather two so you can choose. These are to cheer you up when you need it rather than motivate you perhaps, but they could work in both ways. The first is Morecambe and Wise’s signature tune, ‘Bring me Sunshine’. If you’re too young to remember that, unlucky, because the second is ‘The Laughing Policeman’ by Charles Penrose, an old music hall song and a memory from my upbringing where, for a penny (that’s an old one), you could play it from a slot machine on the piers in Brighton and Hove while watching a mechanical policeman gyrate in a glass box. Laughter will always raise the spirits and is a cure for most ills. Try them on You Tube.

Listening to music took a back seat for me when research and then family took over, but I still have my collection of vinyls; maybe I’ll copy them to my PC now that I’ll have plenty of time on my hands.”

The PhD and The PI playlist is the brainchild of Millie, whose obsession with making playlists is almost as great as her obsession with science. Follow her on twitter: @milliestanton and drop her an email if you’re interested in being featured!

Millie wishes Trevor all the best on his retirement!

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