New Faculty Profile: Divya Sitaraman
Assistant Professor (since 2014)
Department of Psychological Sciences
University of San Diego
My long-term goal is to understand behavioral outputs at the genetic, cellular and circuit level. In unraveling these complex biological processes I exploit the genetic tractability of model organisms combined with in-depth analysis of simple identified neural circuits in context of quantitative behavior. Currently the lab is working on understanding sleep regulation and cellular mechanisms underlying spatial memory. To this end we have three independent lines of investigation:
Innate and learned behaviors: Nervous system plasticity is best manifested at the level of behaviors. An important focus area in the lab is to develop and validate novel classical and operant learning paradigms. In addition to developing these paradigms, the lab has an active interest in studying innate behaviors such as sleep and arousal.
Genetic basis of behavior: A variety of neurogenetic techniques in the context of learning and sleep have identified neurotransmitter and neuropeptide modulators that underlie these behaviors. Beyond these modulatory signals, circuit level interpretation of behavior in Drosophila is severely lacking. As a first step in cracking the neuronal pathways underlying the sleep circuit, the lab is invested in identifying the individual neurons of the circuit. To this end Dr. Sitaraman has an active collaboration with Dr. Michael Nitabach at Yale University and Dr. Gerry Rubin at Janelia Research Campus/HHMI ( Janelia Visitor Project 2014-2015) to develop strategies and test cell specific tools in the context of sleep regulation.
Cellular/ Circuit level dynamics of behavior: Cellular excitability and synaptic function in behavioral control networks of the fly can only be addressed with novel imaging and electrophysiological approaches. Using validated calcium imaging and novel voltage imaging approaches in Drosophila we hope to identify the properties of synaptic connectivity and plasticity underlying innate and learned behaviors
“For me the lab is my sacred space where I can be on my own and tinker around. Having said that I also love the lab community we build with fellow scholars and colleagues. Troubleshooting experiments, throwing out new ideas, testing the ideas really excites me. Once you have been in a research lab its hard to do anything else. You are hooked for life.” -Divya Sitaraman her favorite part about her work
How has being a member of GSA helped you advance in your career? Why do you think societies like GSA are important?
GSA has played a very important role in my academic career. The fly meetings are a great place to network and form future collaborations. The ability to give a talk at one of the sessions as a postdoc was a highlight as it gave me the platform to hone my scientific presentation skills. I have published in Genetics and really enjoy reading the articles. GSA is a complete organization in terms of career development, scientific exposure and building a supporting community for future scientists.
If your position involves teaching, which subjects or courses are you expecting to teach?
Introduction to Neuroscience (Biopsychology)
Advanced Neuroscience lecture and lab
Previous training experiences:
Yale University (2010-2014)
Janelia Research Campus, HHMI (2010-2015
PhD Biological Sciences (Neurobiology and Behavior)
University of Missouri (2004- 2010)
Indian institute of technology (IIT)
Bombay, India (2001- 2003)
BSc (Hons) Biochemistry, With Honors
University of Delhi (1998- 2001)
New Delhi, India
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
Experiment !!! I like to cook and try (eat) new recipes. Other than that I enjoy looking for new dance forms and learning them. This very moment I am looking at Flamenco classes in San Diego that work with my schedule.