Tag Archives: music

Reblog: PhD – A journey to where?

By Bernie Divall

Pigeon hole

Bernie had to get out the pigeon-hole she was put in as a child

If life really is about the journey, then I should be very happy. Last night I went to my eldest daughter’s parents’ evening, and was (yet again) overcome with joy at the realisation that she really is a proper all-rounder in her abilities. She excels at music, literacy, history, languages, science, art… Really, the only thing holding her back is a lack of confidence in maths, but I feel sure we can all live with that. And her grandfather is a mathematician, so help is at hand.

I’m immensely proud of the way we’ve brought our children up in terms of their education. We’ve always told them that working hard in the subjects they don’t find so easy is really important, and ultimately massively rewarding. For myself, this has been a direct reaction to my own upbringing, in which I ‘became’ a musician at around the age of 11, and was pigeon-holed accordingly throughout my secondary school education. I excelled at arts and languages, and giggled my way helplessly through the sciences. I remember my mum telling me that I wouldn’t be any good at sciences, because she wasn’t. So I stuck rigidly to being good at what I knew, and never explored other options. I do remember having a bit of a fascination with human biology, but never tried at the subject because it was challenging. My dad said that if I was going to fail anything, I should get a ‘U’ – this stands for ‘unclassified’, and meant the exam result would not appear on my ‘O’ level certificate (yes, I am that old. Older than GCSEs). So I got ‘A’s and ‘B’s in everything except Biology. In which I got a ‘U’. So indeed, it never appeared anywhere.

Off I went to music college on a scholarship, and I had fun in my pigeon-hole for a while, until I began to realise that it might not be enough for me to spend 8 hours of the day playing the bassoon. There was definitely more to life than what I felt was like stroking my own ego for the rest of my life. And at some point after that, several years later in fact, I found my way into midwifery. In which, as well as large amounts of psychology and sociology, I studied elements of human biology for three years. And far from being rubbish at it, I discovered that it was interesting – fascinating, even – and I could do it! I expect this was because I was now at a point in my life where I actually WANTED to learn such things as the circulatory system. After all, I’d be a pretty rubbish midwife if I didn’t know that.

Then, when I was doing my Research Masters, I had to deal with statistics. Maths had been my other big fear at school (despite, or perhaps because of, having a mathematician parent), and I was convinced that statistics (one of the Masters modules) would be utter hell. Again, I was wrong – it was actually quite fun, manipulating numbers until they did what I wanted them to.

And here I am now, doing a PhD. Who would have thought I could travel from the life of a classically trained bassoonist to the kind of thinking and writing I do now? My husband sometimes points out what a journey this has been, and I do feel a bit amazed at times. When I was 14, or 16, or even 18, I would never have considered ending up here. I probably wouldn’t have even known what a PhD was!

So I’m glad for the journey I’ve had the chance to make. Because my children can see that making a career choice at one point in your existence doesn’t restrict you to a lifetime of living that career. And I can see clearly why it’s such a good thing to encourage them to work at and get enjoyment from all the subjects available to them. I don’t regret my journey to this PhD life, and indeed I think that for me, it has been a necessary sequence of events to get me here. But I’m definitely a big believer in not being limited or restricted. Not in childhood, and not in adulthood either.

So I wonder where the journey will take me next? I’ve always had a hankering to be a hairdresser, but I think I’ll leave that one alone. What I’d really like to be is a writer. The thing is, I’m left wondering which path I need to take to get there? Decisions I’m making now will have a big impact on my ability to get to where I’d like to be. But then again, as I’ve learned along the way, there’s no such thing as a dead end.

This post first appeared under the title “Tell me again – how did I get here?” on PhD Life, a blog about the PhD student experience run by PhD students at Warwick University. Bernie Divall is currently in the second year of her doctoral studies, having left the crazy world of the NHS to become a midwife researching midwives. She’s funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and NHS East Midlands, so is on a tight schedule to finish in the three-year PhD sprint – the NHS may have absolutely no money left by her fourth year! Bernie is loving the PhD experience, although she has a tendency to get lost in a pit of ‘think’ at times.


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Filed under Health, Psychology

Listening to Music as Pain-relief

By Diana Hereld


The death of loved ones pushed Diana into studying how music can ease pain

If one were to ask for my academic or intellectual rationale for choosing music psychology, I would most likely rattle off something matter-of-factly about how I’ve grown up around music and psychology. My parents were psychologists; my mother has two doctorates so academic achievement was always very important. Yet they always stressed the cultural and intellectual importance of music. Music is what I do, and I have a lazy passion for the more philosophical side of things, so it simply ‘made sense,’ as it were.

As to my intellectual rationale for music psychology, it started exactly a year ago. From the time I discovered Dr. Victoria Williamson’s research in the applied neuroscience of music, I’ve been completely enamored with the field. Since I was a young child, I’ve been devoted to the pursuit of music in any way possible. I’ve been involved in music theatre, music video production and engineering, music composition, and music marketing in radio and television. As my emotional intelligence developed, however, I found I also had an intense desire to understand people and their motives. In high school and college, I took classes in philosophy, psychology and ethics. My first emphasis in college was music and psychology. But as I was strongly discouraged from pursuing majors with such ‘different focuses,’ I chose music alone. In line with this, I never resolved to solely do one or the other, and eventually it was cause for a year break before enrolling in a graduate programme. I found I simply could not be happy studying only music or only psychology. Enter my absolute elation upon discovering the Music, Mind and Brain programme at Goldsmiths College, University of London. I believe that their programme’s careful integration of music perception, neuroscience and statistical methods combined with a faculty of such encouragement and expertise will be just the training I seek in preparation of a PhD and a career in the field.

If someone were to ask to explain or justify my ‘non-academic’ journey into exactly what I have chosen to pursue, I still find myself needing to pause and really think it through. One catalyst for this is that my rationale is not static but dynamic, changing and evolving daily into something slightly new and adjusted. I suppose that that should say something in and of itself – the pursuit of music psychology has become my life blood – it’s what I think about most moments of every day. The more I’ve reflected on my own listening habits over the years, the more I realize there are few times I am without music. I use it advantageously in every possible situation. As an ENFJ (extroverted, intuitive, feeling, judging) Jungian personality type, being able to calm and put people at ease is one of my greatest joys, and strengths. Music can turn a moment of happiness into a moment of memorable bliss that stays with you always. It can also turn a slightly vague and uncomfortable memory into a transparent lake of psychoanalytical outpouring. Music is in everything, and it has the power to heal people.

If one were to ask the truly cementing factor in my life that secured music psychology, however, it is most of all the following. Last summer, I lost my step-sister, my father, and my best friend within two weeks of each other. Though I’d dealt with a fair share of hardship in adolescence, I’d never gone through anything of this magnitude. Through the process of witnessing my family’s grief (and my own) in spending time in hospitals and hospice, I felt more than ever an acute desire to help people through their pain. I never cease to be amazed at music’s capacity to bring about a mental resilience. I know music to be a healing tool, because I am a living attestation. There are many who would disagree with my personal ethic, but I continued to teach my private music lessons to children in the morning after I lost my father, and missed not a single lesson until several months later. I’m finding my time now to be alone and to grieve, but I honestly believe that the joy of working with kids in music sustained me through the more terrible moments, and as I said, I’ve kept in reserve the strength to maintain my lessons and lead a research project at the university. I wish to practice music psychology because I know it works. I now desire to delve further into the why, and the how.

My long-term goal is to complete a PhD in using music as a therapeutic tool in those who struggle with self-harm. From there exist many options I’d like to pursue, such as research and music therapy in a clinical setting. Though I have many different interests in listening behavior, emotional intelligence and applied neuroscience, the concept of psychological resilience remains of the most consequence to me, and I’ve many ideas how to pair this with music.

Diana Hereld holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Communication. She works currently as a psychology researcher at California State University, music tutor in piano and voice, and teacher for an early childhood music company. When she is not working, she spends her time independently researching all things music psychology and neuroscience, and theology/philosophy when it pertains to the former. Her interest is particularly in the way varied personality types respond emotionally to music, whether that can change over time in consequence of plasticity, and the implications for psychological resilience. She has just been accepted into the Music, Mind and Brain MSc programme at Goldsmiths College University of London for Fall 2012. You can follow her on Twitter @christypaffgen and subscribe to her blog, As the Spirit Wanes: The Form Appears.


Filed under Art and Music, Neuroscience, Psychology