In my institution, I see a lot of research students and staff members listen to music using headphones in the workplace. It is a matter of personal preference, and I cannot see a problem in that while it doesn't interfere with communications at work.

Is that behaviour acceptable for a professor during a time in which s/he expects students to approach her/him?

  • 33
    Yes it is acceptable.
    – Compass
    Apr 15, 2015 at 18:08
  • 6
    Sounds reasonable. Unless you are talking about playing Sir Mix-a-Lot over speakers.
    – Bitwise
    Apr 15, 2015 at 19:10
  • 9
    Once while I was student I had to meet a faculty member; I went to their office but their door was almost (but not quite) closed. So I knocked, and I was told to come in - they mentioned that they had been playing Diablo 2. I found that perfectly acceptable.
    – Aru Ray
    Apr 16, 2015 at 0:56
  • 1
    That depends. Are they listening to some kind of modern trash or something classical, like Zeppelin..? :-) Apr 16, 2015 at 21:45
  • 1
    True story: One of my professors asked a student to postpone their scheduled meeting later in the afternoon 'cause the professor was reading a novel at that time. Apr 17, 2015 at 7:24

4 Answers 4


Yes, of course. As long as they turn it down so that they can talk over it when the student comes by, why would it be unacceptable to have music on while they are waiting? If they are listening on headphones while waiting, it would be preferable if they could see the student approaching, but there's nothing unprofessional about it even if they don't. The student can knock on the door, wall, floor, desk, etc. in order to get their attention.

  • 3
    You assume that they use crappy headphones that let through ambient noise, or speficially by open ones (that annoy coworkers, if any) for the purpose. I think if you listen to music you should have a note on the door prompting an appropriate visual cue. Furthermore, I think cutting yourself off completely (i.e. no eye contact possible without entering the room) during visiting hours is unprofessional, but that's just my opinion. Not turning off music and/or putting down headphone when in a conversation, on the other hand, is clearly not only unprofessional, but also rude.
    – Raphael
    Apr 16, 2015 at 17:09
  • 3
    @Raphael, I think your standards of professionalism are too high and I think your are reading waaaaay too much into what I have assumed. If the professor has their back to the door and headphones on when waiting for students to come by office hours, I would find it mildly annoying if I had to knock, then knock louder, and then walk over and tap them on the shoulder. I agree that it's rude not to turn down music or take off headphones when actually talking to a student. But having a little light classical or whatever on in the background while talking is definitely not unprofessional.
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 16, 2015 at 18:49

There seem to be two issues in the question and the answers, one is if it is ok with headphones on and the other to play music in the office during hours when student contact is expected.

Headphones. Wearing headphones is not exactly inviting to conversation but signalling "I want to be undisturbed" so clearly not the best way to have students approach you during office hours without invoking some extra discomfort to at least some.

Music. Music is a personal taste. What is soothing to one person may be almost intolerable to another. During a meeting one expects full attention from, in this case, both parties. Thus having music on does not signal that focus is on the potential visitor but that it is divided and hence that the visitor is of less importance and maybe intruding. Turning it down when a visitor arrives, anything less would be rude but why insist on music when expecting visits? At other times, no problem.

A professor-student meeting is not less professional than, say meeting your bank representative or meeting with public officials. How would you feel if you were met under similar circumstances in business of public servants? that is the sort of question one would need to ask and sometimes even what other would think.

So, acceptable? Well, it depends on what signals one wants to send. It will be up to each person to figure out the optimal meeting atmosphere. As for the case portrayed in the question, I vote for far less than optimal.

  • 11
    Having headphones on is in general not a signal that I don't want to be disturbed. Having my door closed is, at least in France. At my Czech university, I'd probably simply lock the door to signal that.
    – yo'
    Apr 15, 2015 at 22:53
  • 3
    The point is not how you see it but how you are perceived by others. Having good intentions is one thing but how others see it another. Apr 16, 2015 at 7:09
  • 2
    This is my experience with one university in Prague and one in Paris. In both places, many people listen to music, either loud (if they're alone in the office) or in headphones. If someone walks in, you simply mute the music or put off the headphones,
    – yo'
    Apr 16, 2015 at 9:21
  • 3
    Headphones used to have that connotation, but I feel like that's gone away with the advent of pretty much everything under the sun being able to play music. I would wager that the millenial generation certainly does not find wearing headphones to be "do not disturb" more than a "I'm enjoying music."
    – Compass
    Apr 16, 2015 at 14:31
  • 1) Put a sign on the door. 2) Closed headphones don't disturb anybody, but also cut you off quite well.
    – Raphael
    Apr 16, 2015 at 17:10

To expand on Peter Jannsen's answer, it dpends a lot on the setting. If you are simply having office hours where students MAY come and ask you questions if they need, but do not have any specific scheduled meetings, then music seems completely appropriate, especially if you pause it when a student comes in. If you have a scheduled appointment, unless it is soft classical (you know, what they call "elevator music") it is most likely not appropriate. If you are working in a research setting with just the possibility that others may show up and want to interact, I would go back to the non-offensive music and pausing when someone desires to interact to show you are giving them your attention. Headphones are not a good idea unless you are working on a solo research project and don't really anticipate others or welcome interruptions, unless you are using a single-ear Bluetooth headset where they cannot even tell if you are listening to music or not, with volume set low enough that if someone comes in and speaks you can hear them clearly.


I have a different opinion: no. First, the academia is an institution, so everybody work for academia represent the academia in each ambit.

Second, on the web (blog, social network and so on) we protect our privacy and we try to show an upright behavior, even more so we must do it in the academic world.

For these reasons I think that is not a good picture for a professors to listen to music using headphones or not.

I am not contrary because I hate music, I am contrary because I think that a student that see a professor listen music (the headphones are only an aggravating) during his work might think that his work is not important as he say. Of course this is not true, but... if the student go away without that the professor can see him?

  • 4
    I didn't downvote, but I don't see how listening music on a lonely job is a sign of unimportance of the job.
    – yo'
    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:14
  • Maybe I have explained wrong: I think that when someone represent an institution he have to have behavior upright. Of course, during analysis of data laboratory, or other work of this kind, you can listen music. But if you are expecting students no. But this is only a my opinion. Apr 16, 2015 at 10:21
  • 7
    When I expect a student, I only have to make sure I don't overhear him knocking. This is done by leaving the door open so that he doesn't have to knock. As soon as he arrives, I remove the music. I don't see anything unprofessional in that.
    – yo'
    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:30
  • Yes, maybe you have reason. My attitude, maybe it's too rigid. And we close the doors only when we are absent. Like you. Apr 16, 2015 at 10:34

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