David Sturman (2017)

I am originally from upstate New York, and attended Vassar College, a small liberal arts school. Originally more inclined toward literature and philosophy than science, I have long been interested in rhetoric, belief, and the ways in which people find a sense of purpose in their lives (or struggle to do so). While at Vassar, I became enthralled with the field of Cognitive Science, which takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the mind. I did a thesis project on the cognitive underpinnings of persuasion, in which I sought an intertheoretic reduction of phenomena that explain how people come to be persuaded (or not) by various sorts of persuasive information. While in college, I also enjoyed reading books by Antonio Damasio, V.S. Ramachandran, Oliver Sacks, and others who, through their descriptions of patients with fascinating deficits, nicely illustrated the central role of specific brain processes in the construction of all aspects of the mental experience—including the seemingly more transcendent ones like a sense of self, free will, and even consciousness itself. I needed to learn more about the brain!

After college I spent two years in the lab of Leslie Ungerleider at NIMH, and worked on projects using fMRI to study how attention and awareness modulate neural processing of emotion-laden stimuli (e.g. a picture of a face with a fearful expression). I subsequently enrolled in the combined MD/PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh, and completed a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. My dissertation was on neural correlates of adolescent behavior, which used in vivo electrophysiology in rats to compare adolescent and adult processing of salient information during a reward-motivated behavior. Adolescence is a fascinating stage of normal development, is a critical period of vulnerability to addiction, and it typically coincides with the onset of many psychiatric illnesses.

I finished medical school in 2013 and was very excited to join the MGH/McLean Adult Psychiatry Residency Program. The clinical training is outstanding and rigorous. At the same time, the Research Concentration Program affords protected time and flexibility to develop research projects (especially during PGY-3 and PGY-4). There is also an enormous community of outstanding researchers. I have viewed residency (in addition to the clinical training) as an opportunity to become involved in clinical research and more clinically-oriented basic research. I am interested in both the pathophysiology and phenomenology of psychiatric illnesses and biomarkers that may be clinically useful for predicting treatment response, diagnostic clarification (e.g., distinguishing unipolar from bipolar depression), and to identify useful endophenotypes.

As a PGY-3, I have recently joined the lab of Diego Pizzagalli at McLean, which uses various approaches, including fMRI, EEG, and behavior to study mood disorders. My current project seeks to relate negative self-referential feelings in patients with depression to brain (e.g., with EEG) and behavioral markers that could ultimately shed light on treatment responsiveness. A common thread with all of my work is an interest in the brain processes that underlie complex experiential and behavioral phenomena. I remain interested in understanding how beliefs are formed and maintained and view the phenomenology of delusions and the cognitive distortions, seen especially in depressed and anxious patients, as among the most fascinating puzzles of psychiatry and philosophy of mind. I hope to incorporate this interest in future projects. This is a very exciting time to be in psychiatry, especially as a physician-scientist, as there are so many big questions that remain unanswered and our tools to address them continue to improve. I also find the clinical work itself to be extremely rewarding and strive to find an optimal balance of clinical work, research, teaching, and other pursuits.


University of Pittsburgh, M.D., 2013
University of Pittsburgh, Ph.D., 2011
Vassar College, B.A., 2002


Sturman DA & Moghaddam B (2012). The striatum processes reward differently in adolescents versus adults.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109(5):1719-24. PMID: 22307637.

Sturman DA & Moghaddam B (2012). Neurodevelopment and learning in adolescence: relevance to staging of psychiatric disorders. Book Chapter in: Staging Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Implications for Etiopathogenesis and Treatment. Tomas Palomo, Richard M. Kostrzewa, Richard J. Benin (Eds). ISBN: 9781461407843.

Sturman DA & Moghaddam B (2011). The neurobiology of adolescence: Changes in brain architecture, functional dynamics, and behavioral tendencies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 35:1704-1712. PMID: 21527288.

Sturman DA & Moghaddam B (2011). Reduced neuronal inhibition and coordination of adolescent prefrontal cortex during motivated behavior. Journal of Neuroscience 31(4):1471-1478. PMID: 21273431.

Sturman DA, Mandell DR, Moghaddam B (2010). Adolescents exhibit behavioral differences from adults during instrumental learning and extinction. Behavioral Neuroscience 124(1):16-25. PMID: 20141277.

Sturman DA, Shakiryanova D, Hewes RS, Deitcher DL, Levitan ES (2006). Nearly neutral secretory vesicles in Drosophila nerve terminals. Biophysical Journal 90(6):L45-7. PMID: 16428282.

Pessoa L, Japee S, Sturman D, Ungerleider LG (2006). Target visibility and visual awareness modulate amygdala responses to fearful faces. Cerebral Cortex 16(3):366-75. PMID: 15930371


2013 L.W. Early, MD Memorial Prize in Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

2011 Honorable mention for Best Poster – Wiring the Brain International Conference

09/09-05/11 Andrew Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship Competitive fellowship (funding tuition and stipend) based on research proposal and productivity.

09/08-08/09 National Institutes of Health R37 MH048404-20S1 Competitive supplement to advisor’s R37 (MERIT) award to fund research in adolescent rats.

09/07-05/08 National Institutes of Health Predoctoral Training in Basic Neuroscience T32 NS007433 University of Pittsburgh Center for Neuroscience training grant.

2006 University of Pittsburgh SOM Excellence in Collaborative Learning Recognized by peers for being exceptionally helpful during small group learning sessions.

09/04-05/05 National Institutes of Health Medical Scientist Training Program T32 GM008208 University of Pittsburgh MSTP training grant.

09/00-05/02 Hager Award Awarded to four students for outstanding academic achievement (funded student tuition obligation).

2002 Phi Beta Kappa

2002 General Academic Honors, Vassar College

2002 Honors in Cognitive Science, Vassar College

2001 Psi Chi: The National Honor Society in Psychology

2001Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship

2000 Ford Scholar Fellowship