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Interview with Jhanahan Sriranjan


📷 MacMedPlacebo

Journalist: Kian Yousefi Kousha


Kian: Welcome to SciSection, I am Kian and I'm bringing you this week's Scientist of the Week segment. We're here today with Jhanahan, a medical student at McMaster University and the winner of the poster presentation contest at McMaster's child health conference. Thanks for coming to our show Jhanahan!


Jhanahan: No problem, I’m happy to be here.


Kian: All right. So let's begin with some fun questions so our audience can get to know you even better. Who's your favorite musician or singer, or songwriter of all time?


Jhanahan: OK, this is a tough one, so before COVID, I went to a lot of concerts. I like live music. It is like a huge, huge hobby of mine. I just love going to as many as I can, so this is a hard question because I don't think I can pick just one, cause I have like one for each type of thing that I love. So I think, though, if I had to take a solo artist that for me musically was like most important would be Hozier, because he's the reason I started playing guitar, I think it was like six years ago or something. I started listening to music and I was like, this is really cool. And I really liked the patterns and styles of his music. So it was like a big thing for me. And then around the same time I started for some reason, it's like a complete 180, but started getting into house music. And so then it was my first ever live concert that I went to was Avicii back in 2014. It's been a really long time, but he was so mind blowing to me that someone could do all of that from just behind like this tiny little stage. So I thought it was really cool, the list goes on. I'd say some honorable mentions, I do like Coldplay, James Bay, Kodaline, so many different and amazing artists.


Kian: Awesome! So, what makes you laugh the most?


Jhanahan: My humor kind of range depends on who I'm with. So I guess the common factor there is, it's the people who make me laugh like I think so many people are so funny and don't realize that they're funny and like and they'll say things and I would say that was so hilarious and I can't believe you don't realize how funny that was. So it ranges from very intricate, nuanced, like humor where it's super sarcastic because that's super funny. I've noticed a lot like coming into medical school that a lot of people in medical school have really sarcastic humor and I think it's great because it's just so out of nowhere and it's so well thought out. And then it's also, I love the flat out immature, like dad jokes, those kinds of things, and it's a wide range, I like to laugh and I'll take every opportunity to laugh.


Kian: That's awesome! So you were selected as one of the winners of their poster presentation. Can you tell us about your research that was presented there?


Jhanahan: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I want to say, first of all, thank you to the Child Health Conference for letting me come out to it. I'd been kind of away from presenting research for a little bit, up to that point, I hadn't really done anything since my fourth year of undergrad, the year before. So it was nice to get back out there and I'm not going to lie. It was a pretty big surprise to even win, but the study I'm kind of working on now, it's been a long time, so I've been on the study for about three years now and I'm working with Dr. Cheryl Chow and Dr. Louis Schmidt in the psychology, neuroscience and behavioral department. So that's why I did my undergrad. And I'm continuing to do some work here on the study where we're kind of focusing on this pretty broad study that focuses on this concept of preoperative anxiety, which is the anxiety that children can experience in anticipation of surgery, and it's a vast number, so in North America, it's estimated around six million children going to surgery, experiencing this type of anxiety every year.


And it's been shown that experiencing that anxiety is going to affect the post surgical outcomes and so things like having sleep disturbances, recovery time overall tends to be increased, that sort of thing. So like I said, the lab focuses on social emotional development and so one of those concepts is temperament, which is like a personality trait that relatively over time is stable, and we kind of looked at two different ends of temperament.

So we look at shyness, which is typically what we see very kind of reserved, introverted type children and sociability, and previous research in our lab has shown that those are pretty distinct traits and that they can reflect different ways, children interact with their surroundings. And so this is a really interesting part, I guess, of the study is it focuses on that aspect in conjunction with neurological measures.


Your brainwaves are essentially five different frequencies that kind of overlap over each other and what we look at specifically, for my portion of study, is we look at the correlation between your delta and beta waves and basically what we've kind of been able to see in the past is that these frequencies or these waves are pretty asynchronous when you're not in a stressful situation. But as you anticipate a stressful event, they can synchronize and so you start to see them kind of move in synchrony together. I was able to kind of look at if different individual differences in temperament are able to kind of predict that activity.

We did some work with children aged 8 to 13 when we used a couple of measures. There's also a few parent measures, like a CCTI or the EATQ which looks at things like shyness, sociability and inhibitory control. inhibitory control is like the concept of can they limit themselves in a situation of stress and so on. We are really lucky, we work with MUSE pretty closely to develop like a child sized one that's very flexible and easy to kind of take into the operating room. So we would follow these children with the headband on, then record kind of their behaviors as well as their neurological activity about a week before their operation, as well as leading into their operation room so that MUSE stays on until they are given anesthesia, and then we take it off.


We also follow up the children in post op recovery and that sort of thing, and so what we were able to see is kind of this concept of Delta Beta correlation, which is where those two waves kind of sync up in anticipation of stress, we saw that it's it's typically associated with children with low self rates of shyness and high self sociability in the right hemisphere.But it was interesting, because it wasn't the children who are particularly shy that we're showing this, it was the children who are rating higher on sociability. that's an interesting concept because you would anticipate. when you look at shy children, they tend to be more reserved and kind of withdrawn from the situation whereas sociable children in the operating room, you see them there talking to people, cooperating, playing games, that sort of thing. But the neurological activity is very different. What we think this might reflect is this kind of idea of self modulation and being able to kind of self regulate in the face of novelty. So with children who are constantly facing these anxiety inducing situations, they may have developed better kinds of modulating abilities over time and are able to regulate themselves a little bit better than sociable children who were thinking ‘this is a totally novel event’ and they don't know what to expect. It can be a little bit different. And so we're still working on the study. There's still lots to do, of course, it's a very long term study. We're looking into kinds of things in the future, like comparing this data, using more continuous measures to separate them into groups. And is it like the more sociable you are, the more you experience this event and so on? So lots to work on. Still very exciting research. I love it. I think it's probably the coolest thing I've ever worked on. But, yeah, that's like the full kind of explanation of what we're doing right now.


Kian: It's really interesting. I was wondering, you know, are there any environmental factors that can be manipulated within the operation room that can lower this anxiety in children?


Jhanahan: Yeah, absolutely. And that's a really great point that you brought up, because whenever we're thinking about research, we're thinking about the applicable nature of it and one thing that's in development currently is an application, where children will be able access things before their operation and it'll show like the different tools that are involved, kind of a 3-D simulation of the room that's available, because we're hoping that knowledge of the event can help reduce the anxiety. Even if it is a novel experience, at least some kind of pre-existing knowledge might be able to help mitigate those effects. We're still working on that, and we're hoping to continue with this, I hope to continue to be part of it for a pretty long time just to really see where it goes. And yeah, the environment is definitely a factor to consider, too. Personality is influenced by a number of different things, it's influenced by parental attachment, it's influenced by the general environment of the child, their social circle, like all those sorts of things, and so it's not just an inherent biological thing, but I thought it was interesting that we could compare biological and these kinds of social and interpersonal comparisons as well.


Kian: That is really cool. So we're going to talk more about yourself and your educational path. So as we mentioned, you are currently a medical student at McMaster University. So tell us about the significant changes that you noticed between undergraduate studies and professional schools.


Jhanahan: Well, it's interesting. So I'm officially a second year as of the beginning of September, which is pretty crazy because McMaster is one of the only schools in the country where it's a three year program, and so I'm very close to being done medical school and after that starting residency, even though there's still so much to do. But I think there are a couple of big differences. I think I want to attribute this to the kind of a story I had from my first day of class, so I go from PNB and being an undergrad and knowing it wasn't a particularly large program. There's about a thousand people in it. But knowing so many of the administrators and knowing so much of the many of the graduate students and professors, to come into this, which is way bigger and a lot more people involved and not knowing anyone. And that was a huge jump. It felt like the first year again. And I was like, well, don't we get some sort of a welcome week like you had. We're starting school, too, and the pace is a big difference. What we learn is very applied. And I thought that was a huge transition for me. And I didn't realize I was going to love it so much. Like I've always kind of thrived in the aspect of theoretical science and like that kind of thing, because it's something I've grown up with. It's something I've known for a long time. It's something I can think about well. And all of a sudden I get tossed into medical school, which is you learn a bunch of theory, but you also have to know why that theory is important and you can't just forget it. Like, I can't just forget these things I learned because, you know, that it's very likely that something I see is going to show up again in clinical practice and clerkship and all those sorts of things. So it's very interesting that that's a big change. I think one of the other interesting aspects is that the evaluation process has been a little bit different. So in an undergrad, you're studying for a test. And again, this goes back to the real life application. You study for a test. But, you know, I guess we're all guilty of that. We all kind of memory dump once that test this time and then come back to it for the final. But in med, it's not like that. You learn things and you make mistakes. Because those mistakes are so important for your learning, like something like nothing sticks, like for me personally, more than a mistake I make, like I will always remember that that was the reason that it was wrong. And it's the next time I see him. I know I know how to catch it. And so that's been a big difference.


And I guess like the one final kind of thing I would consider is there's a little bit of a shift of focus on kind of self-learning and focusing on learning, learning things myself with my own schedule McMaster is like a problem-based learning program. And so we do a lot of learning outside the classroom.


Kian: That sounds awesome.so you mentioned your experience in medical school. You were also selected as the valedictorian of McMaster University the year that you graduated. A lot of us as students usually get fascinated by success without knowing all the challenges that we face along the way. I'm sure being in your position right now, being in medical school, being selected as valedictorian and doing research did not happen easily. can you tell us about some of the challenges that you faced along the way as a student?


📷Dailynews McMaster


Jhanahan: Yeah, absolutely. I think I'll say that undergrad was the four best years of my life, but far and away, the four most challenging. It was a huge shift in terms of balancing my own interests with commitments. I found as the years went on between second, third and fourth year, my life became meetings and commitments and that sort of thing and I had a bad reputation in the psych department as being like the last person in the building all the time and it was because I was just constantly there, essentially, I lived in that building and I was there up to like 18, 19 hours a day sometimes, which is not the greatest. But it's a challenge and I think there are many times where I overextended because I think it's with undergrad. It's so important to try to find the things that you enjoy and that involves quite a bit of exploration and being involved with different things and seeing if you like them or not. And I think that was a big challenge by fourth year. I was very tired all the time and it took quite a bit to remind myself that as much as these four years are going to conclude, there's like there is a whole world after that, like it's like there's no finish line at the end of undergrad. There's a lot to do and so it was a big challenge to kind of learn to pace myself and I think that's been a big focus for me in medicine so far, was finding, again, my interest in hobbies that I like and having COVID was in that regard actually a little bit helpful for me personally, just because right before COVID hit, I was at a point where I felt, again, very overextended and I felt that I needed a little bit of a break to come back and re-evaluate. And also a lot of times there's a lot of luck that comes into play. I will say I'm very lucky with a lot of things. I got very lucky to find the supervisors I found who still are so supportive of everything I do and I am very lucky to find groups of friends who understood that I had a goal in mind. And there are times where I wasn't available and that sort of thing. And sometimes it's just remembering that you have all of those challenges and it's OK and you're not going to be able to do every single thing right or every single thing great. Just do what you can and take care of yourself because it really comes back to bite.


Kian: thank you for sharing that, I'm sure students would appreciate hearing that from you. It's really easy to get caught up in assignments midterms, but at the end of the day, it really matters what our passion is for sure. So what advice do you have for students who are listening to this show right now and are interested in being in your position, pursuing research, hopefully medical school or being a valedictorian?


Jhanahan:[After joining McMaster’s PNB program], I kind of just went through the department list of professors and I looked them up and Dr. Schmidt's name drew my attention right away. I saw the work he was doing and I was like this is where I hope to end up. This is the kind of thing that I want to be doing. And I guess what it really came down to at that point is I realized I don't settle for research and I've had a lot of friends who pursued research that they love. And you can see it in their work and you can see it in the way they talk about their work. And I think that's what makes the most valuable research, whether it's significant results or not. If you can learn something and truly appreciate all the fine nuances of it, it's going to be rewarding in and of itself. And, you know, it was a really important thing there for me to realize not to settle. But then also kind of like you were saying, the aspect of medical school, you know, there's no perfect medical school applicants. And I'm very fortunate to be here. And I realize so much of this comes down to luck and the many different things you didn't think we're going to help you, That really did help you in the end. Right. And so a lot of it comes down to luck. And being a part of the admissions committee this year as one of the admissions reps. I've learned that there's so many candidates that are able to get there and there's no perfect one. There's hundreds, possibly even thousands of well suited, like well deserving people. And you just have to keep doing what you want to do. And if you have a passion for it, just keep trying and don't be afraid to take those extra steps and those extra risks that you think might pay off in the long run, because they honestly might and they might not. But either way, it's a learning experience.


Kian: That's awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that. We also have a tradition here at SciSection where we end our interviews with another fun question. So if you were a novel, what would you be called and why?


Jhanahan: I think this is a bad name, but I like the name The Passion Pit just because I'm so big on this idea of doing things that you like to do, because I don't think that's an inherently selfish thing. I think it's something that produces its own results.

When you like something and when you really enjoy it, you're going to put in more effort than if you're not motivated to do something.

And internal motivation is a big aspect for me. It's like there's so many things that I just love doing that I never thought I would enjoy. For example, I never thought I'd pick up a guitar. I heard Hosier play a couple of times and all of a sudden I'm like, I need to learn this and now I've been playing acoustic and electric for like six years, just teaching myself and things that I didn't expect that I'd enjoy. Now I'm working on cars, that's the thing that I've started to pick up again. I had a little bit of time working with my uncle at a body shop after my first year when I was going through a little phase of not knowing what I want to do with my life right now. And I realized I loved it and so now I've got a little project in my garage that I've been working on and I think the reason I call it the passion is because just toss all your passion into everything you do, right? Do the things that you're going to enjoy the most and find career choices and people that make you happy. And so I think I think that's what I'd go with.


Kian: That sounds awesome. Thank you so much again for coming to our show. We were really honored to have you on this episode. Make sure to check out our social media @scisection to get updated on the latest events, episodes, and interviews. See you all next week.


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