About Janani Dhinakaran

I grew up in Bangalore, India except for five years during primary school when my family moved to Sydney, Australia. We returned to India for my high school and I attended an ‘alternative school’ called The Valley School (KFI). I took up a life science combination with environmental science as one of my subjects in 11th and 12th grade and worked on botanical projects; one of trees of the forested campus, and another of 114 medicinal plants in the campus including the creation of a herbarium, reporting their uses for various conditions, documenting home remedies know to my family and raising some medicinal plants in a small patch of land near the lab. My time in the Valley, interactions with the teachers, the excursions we were taken on, the sheer physical and mental space given in the school, all helped me to better understand myself.

While I did my undergrad in life sciences in Bangalore (Microbiology, Chemistry, Zoology). I enjoyed Microiology labwork. I also took up certificate courses in NLP, print journalism and a term paper on the individualisation of religion. I found the college system of education to be outdated, echoing British schools of half a century ago. The adjustment was hard at times. I relied on the few inspired teachers and the innovative English department who optimised on the newly found autonomy to keep me stimulated and sane. I also got involved with the youth wing of GreenPeace called SolarGen and volunteered with them for their active period.

I learnt vocal Karnatic music from the age of five or six, until the age of twenty and vocal Hindustani for four years in school. I participated in the college choir for a year during my undergrad. I sang as part of two bhajan albums with my Hindustani teacher. I really enjoyed the studio experience.

I moved to Edinburgh study neuroscience. That one year was intensive research training along with all the new learning and self-discovery that comes with living away from family for the first time. My research focus was on music-neuroscience, and how the brains of musicians differ from non-musicians both structurally and functionally.

I found myself in Oldenburg, Germany to do my PhD on different cognitive states that influence attention. After being used to doing well in school, the process of the PhD was a steeper struggle than I had anticipated. Over time and with the guidance of a very supportive supervisor and some very sincere post-docs, I learnt the ropes and managed the struggle better. Being in a place that spoke so little English, far from home for extended periods of time, in the cold and endless winters made the process harder, but I was part of the jazz/pop choir in the University and got involved in a band, vocal jazz class, recording with a German rap artist and other musical activities which restored my inner peace. Most importantly, the friendships I formed there with true, noble hearted people like I’ve met no where else carried me through with a full heart.

It was towards the end of the PhD that I met my soulmate. We got married soon after and now live in California. Currently I spend my time writing and being a mother. Check out riselife.org for more on my work focus.