Semester of Graduation

Spring 2023


Master of Fine Arts (MFA)



Document Type



Medical testing is unethical. Essential. Exploitative. A moral dilemma. These are all considerations that have floated around my head since the first time I took an experimental drug for some extra money, more than a decade ago.

Today, at any given time, over one hundred thousand clinical trials are running in the United States alone. It’s an unavoidable, arduous, expensive, and crucial step in the drug development process, and it’s changed tremendously since the first-ever clinical trial, conducted aboard a British military ship in 1747. One thing hasn’t changed: lab rats make it all possible.

A hybrid memoir in essays, Lab Rat is a cultural history of pharmaceutical drugs told through gripping stories about human and animal experimentation. Anchored by my own extensive experience as a research subject, Lab Rat excavates the historical, cultural, and social legacy of the pharmaceutical drugs that have affected my life, inside and outside of the lab. The essays examine sites ranging from the testing facility to the doctor’s office to the FDA to the streets, with an interest in making meaning from the lived experiences of the physicians and research subjects that have made medical history.

Influenced by authors such as Benjamín Labatut and Eula Biss, Lab Rat aims to consider English writer Samuel Johnson’s claim that medicine is “the greatest benefit to mankind” by considering the Federal Drug Administration’s one demand for new drug approvals: that its benefits outweigh its risks. In searching prose that evokes both horror and laughter, Lab Rat grounds itself in historical narratives of medicine as it explores questions around sickness and health and the larger impact of drugs. Together, the chapters of Lab Rat tell the story of what I call the Pharmacene Era. That is, an era characterized by a hopeless dependency on drugs as well as human bodies for research.



Committee Chair

Wheeler, Joshua



Available for download on Monday, April 01, 2030