Professor Indre Viskontas, Ph.D.

Professor Indre Viskontas
  • University of San Francisco; San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  • University of California, Los Angeles
The beauty of science is that with each question that is answered, many more questions are raised; each discovery helps us develop more refined queries about the world around us.
Dr. Indre Viskontas is a Cognitive Neuroscience Affiliate with the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, where she has studied the emergence of creativity in patients with dementia.

Dr. Indre Viskontas is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco and Professor of Sciences and Humanities at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training. Professor Viskontas received her Bachelor of Science degree with a Specialist in Psychology and a minor in French Literature at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She also holds a Masters of Music degree in vocal performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She completed her PhD in cognitive neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied the neural basis of memory and reasoning. Her post-doctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco explored the paradoxical facilitation of creativity in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr. Viskontas’ research is characterized by innovation and a focus on the ‘big’ questions in neuroscience: how do brain cells code memory? What brain changes foster creativity? How can neuroscience help us train musicians more effectively? Defying traditional career boundaries, Dr. Viskontas spends much of her time performing as an opera singer, with favorite recent roles including both Susanna and the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, the title role in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, Lazuli in Chabrier’s L’Etoile, the title role in Floyd’s Susannah, Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen and Beth in Adamo’s Little Women with companies such as West Bay Opera, Opera on Tap, the Lyric Theater of San Jose, the Banff Summer Arts Festival, Pasadena Opera and others. She often works with living composers and has created roles in three contemporary operas. She is the founder and director of Vocallective, a consortium of singers and instrumentalists dedicated to the art of vocal chamber music as well as Opera on Tap: San Francisco, a chapter of the nation-wide organization whose mission is to create a place for opera in popular culture by producing high-quality performances in non-traditional venues, such as art galleries, bars and cafes.

Dr. Viskontas’s dissertation was recognized as the best of her class. She has also been the recipient of numerous fellowships, including a 4-year Julie-Payette Research Scholarship awarded to the top 10 Canadian graduate students in the Life Sciences, the Ursula Mandel Fellowship, a UCLA dissertation fellowship, the Charles and Sue Young award for the top graduate students at UCLA, a McBean Family Foundation fellowship, and the prestigious Laird Cermak award from the Memory Disorders Research Society. She was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Assistant award at UCLA and served as the teaching assistant consultant in the Department of Psychology, instructing other graduate students on effective teaching from 2003-2005. In her very first term at the University of San Francisco, her students chose her to be the ‘Professor of the Month’. She has also received several grants from the Germanacos Foundation for her work on music and empathy.

Dr. Viskontas has published more than 40 original papers and book chapters related to the neural basis of memory, reasoning and creativity, in top scientific journals such as the American Scientist, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The Journal of Neuroscience, Neuropsychologia, Current Opinion in Neurology and Nature: Clinical Practice. Her scientific work was featured in Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia, Nature: Science Careers and Discover Magazine. She is a sought-after science communicator, co-creator and host of the popular science podcast Inquiring Minds, which reached more than 5 million downloads within three years. She also co-hosted the 6-episode docuseries Miracle Detectives on the Oprah Winfrey Network and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, major radio stations across the US, including several appearances on the NPR program City Arts & Lectures and The Sunday Edition on the CBC in Canada. Dr. Viskontas regularly gives keynote talks for conferences and organizations as diverse as Ogilvy & Mather, Genentech, and the Dallas Symphony. She is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and an Editor of the journal Neurocase.

In addition, she is a member of the collegiate faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training. She earned an M.M. in Vocal Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles. In recognition of her teaching and research, she has received numerous awards and honors, including the prestigious Laird Cermak Award from the Memory Disorders Research Society; the Charles and Sue Young Award for being one of the top graduate students at UCLA; and several fellowships. Professor Viskontas has published more than 35 articles and chapters in top scientific journals, including the Journal of Neuroscience and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Her dissertation, recognized as the best of her class, was a finalist for the Dissertation Prize from the New York Academy of Sciences. An editor of the journal Neurocase, Professor Viskontas also hosted the television series Miracle Detectives, which aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She currently cohosts the popular science podcast Inquiring Minds.
Testimonials

"Beautifully presented, clearly explained while avoiding condescending sugarcoating and oversimplification! This is real teaching!  A gifted scientist and communicator."

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