Tag Archives: medicine and literature

Rearticulating Medicine and the Humanities: An Undergraduate Perspective

By Shruti Patil

My strengths have always been in the hard sciences. I understood equations, tables, diagrams and graphs and therefore spent much of my childhood performing rudimentary science experiments. My windowsill was perpetually lined with salt crystals growing in cups and budding lima bean plants, and my floor had scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle of the human anatomy. While I excelled in my science and math classes, I suffered through my English and writing courses – an experience to which I think a lot of students in the sciences can relate. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school, when my English courses became more challenging, that I felt compelled to take them seriously. Up until this point, English seemed like a trivial subject, one that relied on fickle interpretation rather than on hard facts. My entire upbringing had championed the value of observable evidence, and the interpretative nature of the humanities struck me as a useless pastime. But I quickly learned that an insincere effort yielded less that optimal results in my classes, and so I was forced to seriously engage in the texts I was assigned in order to succeed. Eventually, I found myself invested in the things I was reading and began to grasp the power literature has to move and mold people. I developed enough of a passion in literature by the end of my high school career that I decided to double major in English and neuroscience.

When I entered UT this fall, I grappled with how best to integrate these two disparate fields. They simply were not areas I expected to see in communication with each other in academia. I desperately wanted to avoid the institutional silos that would have me to attending my science classes in one part of my day and my English classes in another. Through some idle summer research, I happened upon the faculty page of Dr. Philip Barrish, Professor of English, and noticed that he listed “medicine and literature” as a focus of his research. I was initially astonished by mention of this interdisciplinary field. In my past education, science and English had been isolated from one another and the thought that they could not only coexist but complement each other delighted me. Until this point, I believed that science and literature were incompatible fields of study, and I regarded my English major as combatting the stereotype that STEM majors make poor writers.

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