Joshua Singer Named Chair of UMD’s Department of Biology for Five-year Term
Singer served as interim chair for the past two years.
Professor Joshua Singer will begin a five-year appointment as chair of the University of Maryland’s Department of Biology on July 1, 2022. For the past two years, he has served as interim chair of the department, which has over 76 tenured/tenure-track and professional-track faculty members and annual research funding of over $7 million.
The Department of Biology also supports, administers and/or advises students in the biological sciences, neuroscience, and environmental science and policy undergraduate programs and the graduate programs in biological sciences; neuroscience and cognitive science; marine estuarine environmental sciences; biophysics; and applied mathematics & statistics, and scientific computation.
“Over the past two years, Dr. Singer has distinguished himself as a trusted and respected leader and administrator,” said Amitabh Varshney, dean of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. “I truly appreciate his eagerness to continue serving in this important role.”
Over the next five years, Singer envisions hiring new faculty members with expertise in quantitative biology and disease ecology. He also hopes to hire new faculty members to strengthen existing programs in sensory neuroscience. In addition, he will work to improve the administrative structures for the undergraduate and graduate biological sciences programs, as well as support strengthening the ecology and evolutionary biology curricula. Singer is also eager to connect with alumni and friends of the department.
“Educational and research programs at a research university are inseparable,” Singer said. “I see undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate education and research as a continuum, and my primary goal as chair will be to ensure that programs are organized to allow students to access information at multiple levels and to progress from introductory to advanced courses seamlessly. I also want to help find common themes that link different disciplines and areas of research by promoting collaboration and the exchange of ideas.”
As interim chair, Singer oversaw the hiring of Senior Lecturer Sarah Lee, who focuses on ecology and evolutionary biology, and Assistant Professors Nikolas Francis and Juan Angueyra, who are sensory neuroscientists from groups underrepresented in science.
“I will continue working hard to create an environment in which my colleagues, particularly junior colleagues, can thrive,” Singer said. “I recognize that I have been a successful academic because of the help that I received from others, and, truly, I would like to ‘pay it forward’ and allow others to enjoy their time in academia as much as I have.”
The undergraduate neuroscience major, which launched in 2020 as a collaboration between the Department of Biology and the Department of Psychology in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, currently has over 200 students enrolled. The major launched while Singer was interim chair, and he sits on the steering committee of the major.
Singer joined the department as an assistant professor in 2012 and was promoted to associate professor in 2014 and to professor in 2018. Prior to joining UMD, he was an assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
He served for three years as director of the university’s Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, an interdisciplinary graduate program that includes more than 130 faculty advisors and nearly 50 graduate students.
Singer’s research focuses on understanding the principles of signaling within neural circuits. The majority of his work uses the mammalian retina as a model system for understanding how the output of a neural circuit reflects the behaviors of the individual synapses and neurons that compose it. In his research, he combines anatomical and physiological analyses and makes use of several methodologies for observing circuit organization on a large scale.
Recently, he expanded his inquiries to include circuits in brain areas that regulate behavior in a light-dependent way. Since 2002, his work has been funded continuously by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During his career, Singer has mentored 60 undergraduates, doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers.
He has served as a member of the NIH’s Neurotransporters, Receptors, Channels and Calcium Signaling study section, and he contributes to study sections that evaluate proposals for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University in 1993, Singer received his Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Washington in 1998. After that, he completed two postdoctoral fellowships at the NIH.