Vikram Gadagkar MS ’10, PhD ‘13 was recently awarded a prestigious three-year, $234,150 Simons Foundation fellowship with the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (SCGB). SCGB seeks to expand understanding of the role of internal brain processes in the arc from sensation to action, thereby discovering the nature, role and mechanisms of the neural activity that produces cognition.
Gadagkar is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, working with Jesse Goldberg, assistant professor and Robert R. Capranica Fellow. He is interested in how networks of neurons in the brain produce behavior and views computation as the key intermediate link between neural circuits and behavior. Using a combination of awake-behaving electrophysiology in singing birds, advanced cellular-resolution imaging, and network models, Gadagkar aims to identify computational principles underlying trial-and-error learning.
During his SCGB fellowship, Gadagkar will explore how performance is evaluated and encoded in the brain; i.e. why we get better with practice. He explains that in the classic neuroscience experiment with rats, the animals learn by trial-and-error to press a lever to get food. “In this simple case, the action-reward relationship is clear: press the lever, get the food. But what about cases in which the reward isn’t so immediately obvious, such as learning to speak or play a musical instrument? We're studying how the brain masters skills that are not learned for immediate external rewards but instead by matching ongoing performance to internal goals.”