I am interested in understanding how cognition is encoded in the brain. Current advances in technology has allowed us to record activity from tens of neurons in the brain simultaneously. The rich datasets obtained from these modern techniques like multi-electrode array recording and calcium imaging allow us to understand the neuronal mechanisms from a population dynamics stand point. I would like to use advanced mathematical and statistical data analysis technique on such rich neural datasets to better understand aspects of cognition.
For my PhD, I wanted to study how population activity in prefrontal cortex changed with the presentation of distractors during working memory. Therefore, I recorded neural activity from lateral prefrontal cortex and frontal eye fields in macaques using multi-electrode arrays while they performed a spatial working memory task. Prefrontal neurons are known to encode information in working memory in a persistent manner. However, using mathematical tools I found that with the presentation of a distractor the persistent activity during working memory delay changes from one stable pattern to another. This change in stable activity was facilitated by neurons that change selectivity to a spatial location before and after the presentation of a distractor. These results suggests that the prefrontal neurons can flexibly alter its activity in the event of distraction.
For my post-doctoral training, I wanted to extend my understanding about neural mechanisms driving cognitive flexibility. Specifically, I am interested in studying the neural mechanisms driving flexible switching between different decision making strategies. The strategy of arriving at a decision can be a fast and error prone process (heuristic) or slow and deliberate process (deliberate). Based on the situation at hand, we can comfortably switch between these two strategies to arrive at a decision. However, the neural mechanism behind this switching is unclear. To achieve this, I will be using fluorescent calcium imaging to monitor the activity in rat medial prefrontal cortex. As decision making is impaired in most psychiatric disorders like compulsive behavior, studying the neural mechanisms behind decision making will help us better understand the underlying pathologies in these psychiatric disorders.
I am a data enthusiast and am always looking for patterns in everything around us. Therefore, I was automatically drawn to neuroscience as our brain is the most efficient and complex pattern generator that drives everything around us. Through an internship during my undergraduate years, I was able to pursue this interest in neuroscience by working on a theoretical model describing spike time dependent plasticity. For my Master’s thesis, I used my expertise in theoretical models to build a patch clamp setup that could drive a biological neuron in slice using an artificial biophysical model of a neuron. As I enjoyed the process of building a hypothesis and answering questions, I decided to enroll in a PhD to understand the neuronal patterns that drive behavior. I got an opportunity to do this at National University of Singapore using non-human primates as an animal model. My interest in neuroscience peaked during my PhD as I got to interact with peers who shared my interest in data driven approach to understand neural mechanisms. I hope to spend my time here at the Willuhn lab untangling these complex patterns that are generated by neurons to better understand our everyday actions and intelligence.