Gitanjali E. Gnanadesikan

PhD Candidate, NSF GRF, P.E.O. Scholar

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I am a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona in the School of Anthropology. My research focuses on cognitive evolution and social behavior. I am particularly interested in exploring the biological underpinnings of behavior and cognition, including genetics, epigenetics, and hormones. I graduated from Princeton University in 2014 with a bachelors degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. My senior thesis examined differences in genetic regulation (DNA methylation) between dogs and wolves. After graduation, I spent a year teaching English and music in an elementary school in rural China. I have also worked as a freelancer editor, substitute teacher, and choral singer. Before beginning my graduate studies, I worked with Evan MacLean as the laboratory coordinator for the Arizona Canine Cognition Center, where I am continuing my graduate research as a student in biological anthropology, with a minor in cognitive science. My dissertation explores the biological bases of behavior and cognition in a working dog population, Canine Companions for Independence, with multiple behavioral genetic and endocrinology approaches. In addition to the basic research questions that this research addresses, it is also designed to inform breeding and training practices for Canine Companions, and potentially similar working dog organizations. In the process of trying to measure neuropeptides in study samples, I have developed and validated improved methods of measuring oxytocin in a variety of species (canines, mice, humans, lemurs & titi monkeys) and biological matrices (blood plasma, urine, saliva), working extensively in the Laboratory for the Evolutionary Endocrinology of Primates (LEEP). I also serve as a project coordinator for ManyDogs, where I've taken the lead on the experimental methods for our first collaborative project on the importance of ostensive cues for dogs using human gestural communication. I am planning to defend my dissertation in the spring of 2023 and am looking for postdoctoral positions exploring the evolution and development of social behavior!