By Sam Grinsell and Virginia Calabria |

Summer is both silly season and music festival season. Being big fans of music and silliness, this got us wondering whether researchers might be like musical instruments. After all, they each have their own characters and contribute particular things to the development of music/academic knowledge. Perhaps thinking of ourselves as instruments might help us understand what it is that we bring to our work that makes us valuable.


You come across as someone well suited to the academic system, at ease at conferences and when teaching, comfortable in the clothes of a scholar. You can take on a wide variety of roles in group projects, but are perhaps most comfortable when working alone when you can demonstrate the full range of your abilities. At times you wish you had more of the originality of some of your colleagues.


You’re a big character, and bring a unique edge to group work, but not everyone is up for the individuality of your vision. At the same time, you need others around you to really bring out the best in your work. When you find the right team, you will shine as one of the most enthusiastic and fun academics around. At other times you may worry that academia is not the right world for you.

Electric guitar

You are an impressive communicator of your research, and can make people enthusiastic for it even if they don’t fully understand what it is that you do. When working in teams, your colleagues look to you to guide all aspects of public communication, as you are the master of the presentation, the abstract and the summary. You sometimes worry that your work lacks the sophistication of others around you.


You have deep expertise in an especially challenging field of scholarship. At first people are baffled by your topic, but when they listen to you speak they are awed by the depth of your knowledge. You are an excellent leader of teams, but can be uncomfortable in groups that don’t centre around you. You are sometimes concerned that this makes you seem controlling.


You’re a collaborative researcher, you work well in teams and everyone wants you in their lab. You bring specific skills that few others can provide, and lay the foundation for a lot of what your research group achieves. You sometimes feel that your colleagues take you for granted and don’t fully understand the limits you work under.


You are versatile and able to contribute to lots of different kinds of research. You are capable of leading or taking a support role in groups, and make every role look easy. Your fear is that this makes you too useful to others’ projects, and you can’t spend as much time as you would like taking the lead and having people support you.

Whatever instrument you are, we hope you find your tune, and have fun finding the best people to play it with!

Sam Grinsell is a PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh and the Deputy Chair of Pubs and Publications.

Virginia Calabria is about to start the second year of her PhD in Linguistics at KU Leuven (Belgium).

Image by b1-foto via Pixabay / Photo by Gavin Whitner