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College People: Meghan Puglia

College People: Meghan Puglia

Graduate Student Explores Genetic Ties to Social Behavior

Reported by Fariss Samarrai, Matt Kelly, and Molly Minturn

Meghan Puglia, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, has emerged as a leader in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences in the field of social cognitive neuroscience. The winner of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Fellowship for Collaborative Neuroscience, Puglia has published four articles, with teams, in leading neuroscience journals on how individual differences in genes and the brain shape social behavior.

Puglia has also worked as a mentor to undergraduate students in the College. In 2015 she and Jenna Van Dyck (Cognitive Science, ’16) won a “Double ’Hoo” research grant, which awards $5,500 to pairings of undergraduate and graduate students collaborating on research projects. The research grants are funded by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the Vice President for Research and the Engineering School.

Puglia and Van Dyck researched the factors that make individuals behave differently in social situations. “Because social relationships play such a critical role in our lives, impacting both health and happiness, we hope that the results of our study may one day improve the lives of individuals with poor social abilities by revealing specific neurobiological markers critical for successful social functioning,” said mentee Van Dyck, now a physician’s assistant student at the Medical University of South Carolina.

In 2017, Puglia was one of seven recipients awarded a prestigious Presidential Fellowship for Collaborative Neuroscience, given to graduate students conducting collaborative, multidisciplinary neuroscience research with the potential to generate transformative science. The fellowships are supported by the offices of the President, the Provost and of the Vice President for Research.

Puglia is studying how individual differences in genes and the brain interact over the first year of life to shape social behaviors. Puglia works with faculty in the cognitive, developmental and neuroscience areas of the College’s psychology department, and with the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“To innovate and remain on the cutting edge of brain science requires the integration of diverse scientific perspectives,” Puglia said. “Participation in the fellowship program has allowed my research to span multiple levels of analysis–from genes, to brain, to behavior. I am grateful for this invaluable opportunity to train and conduct research with a multi-disciplinary team.”

Puglia’s mentor is Christopher Deppmann, an associate professor of biology who oversees the fellowship program as director of Arts & Sciences’ neuroscience graduate program. Deppmann’s own research, focused on understanding how neurons pass information to each other, is complex and by necessity cross-disciplinary, so he is dedicated to promoting collaborative research projects for his students.

“Our goal is to challenge current research and clinical paradigms by enabling our students to conduct innovative cross-disciplinary research that they could not accomplish without the encouragement and support of the full university. We are in a position to perform transformative work that will distinguish and differentiate our research enterprise,” Deppmann said.

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