Collaboration lies at the heart of Arts & Sciences at Washington University. It’s what binds together the seemingly disparate fields and researchers of this wide-reaching school. And medical humanities, a discipline which brings the insights of literature, history, philosophy, and the arts to the science of medicine, exemplifies these connections.

Mishka Narasimhan came to WashU with a laser-focus on medical school. Arts & Sciences has expanded her outlook to include the importance of the humanities.

Medical humanities was an unexpected focus for Mishka Narasimhan, a biology major in Arts & Sciences, Class of 2024. The San Francisco Bay Area native has her sights set on medical school, but her current project involves collaborating with Rebecca Messbarger, a professor of Italian in Arts & Sciences whose research on the Italian Enlightenment includes extensive work on the cultural history of medicine.

Their conversation started when Narasimhan took Messbarger’s course, “Disease, Madness, and Death Italian Style” as an elective. Before long, Narasimhan, who saw herself primarily as a scientist, found herself delving into the social, political, economic, and religious depictions of disease. She was intrigued by how much more multifaceted the study of medicine was through a humanities lens.

Rebecca Messbarger (right), professor of Italian in Arts & Sciences, says about Mishka Narasimhan: “It is so gratifying to be a professor at Washington University and teach high powered, intellectual, community-oriented students like Mishka, and hear that you’re making an impact. That’s what we live for.”

This interest evolved into Narasimhan and her professor joining forces with two other students in the class on a new podcast investigating the intersection of medicine, race, and ethnicity in St. Louis. Narasimhan is no stranger to podcasting: she co-hosts another podcast, “Master Minds,” which began as a COVID venture and grew to be a production with a large team behind it.

Narasimhan believes scrutinizing the past, present, and future state of public health in St. Louis is vital to understanding and making strides toward repairing racial and class disparities in the area. Using a podcast as the vehicle brings the discussion out of the classroom and into the local and national conversation. The collaboration itself, however, is a hallmark of both an Arts & Sciences education and the WashU experience: faculty and students engaging together to grapple with society’s big questions and to chart new paths.

The ability to have a collaborative relationship with a professor is something that I didn’t expect coming into college at all. Being able to tap into their wealth of knowledge and expertise in the forms of conversation and hands-on learning outside the classroom has been just the biggest joy of coming to college.

Mishka Narasimhan, Class of 2024

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