Johnna Swartz

Johnna Swartz

Position Title
Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies


I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Ecology. I received my PhD in Developmental Psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2013 and then completed a postdoc in the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at Duke University until I joined the faculty at UC Davis in July 2016. I have moved around a lot for my schooling (originally from Los Angeles, I’ve lived in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southern US) and so I have quite a bit of experience with the stresses and excitement of moving away from home or moving to a new location (and I have tons of tips I’ve learned along the way on making these transitions successfully that I’m happy to discuss with students!).

One of the main questions I ask in my research is whether we can use measures of brain function collected earlier in adolescence to predict future risk for mental health problems later in adolescence and young adulthood.  I am also interested in understanding how biological (e.g., genetic, epigenetic, immune) and environmental (e.g., stress, family and peer relationships) influences interact to affect the developing brain and mental health. I credit the excellent mentoring I received at three different points in my career as an undergraduate student, as a graduate student, and as a postdoc with helping me to get to where I am today. It is my goal to provide similar mentoring to my students to help them achieve their career goals. Some of the ways I help support my students include meeting on a regular basis (usually weekly) so that we can communicate regularly, helping with setting goals and prioritizing to make sure students are making progress while also maintaining a healthy work/life balance, and trying to foster a positive, supportive, non-competitive lab environment, which is the type of environment I enjoyed as a graduate student and post doc. I am very happy to talk to prospective students and provide more details on our lab activities, so please feel free to e-mail me if you are interested in getting involved in research as an undergraduate, graduate student, or postdoc.

Research Interests 
My research interests include identifying genetic and brain markers that predict psychological functioning, including the development of mood and anxiety symptoms, in adolescents and young adults. I also examine environmental factors, such as stress, that moderate these associations to determine the environmental contexts that increase or mitigate risk.

Diversity Statement 

I aim to create a welcoming and supportive work environment for all students and to provide support as a mentor to help students build on the strengths that they bring to the lab. It is my hope that like my undergraduate professor, I can inspire students of all backgrounds to pursue research and explore fields of study that they may not have initially considered.

Selected Publications 

A selected list of Dr. Swartz's publications is available here.