Mitchell Singstock (Class of 2020)

photo of Mitchell Singstock

  • junior Anthropology major, with Neuroscience and Premedical Studies co-majors
  • from Cincinnati, OH
  • Undergraduate Summer Scholar (2018)
  • conducts research on neurobiology of addiction, end-of-life care & psoriatic arthritis, and mindfulness meditation
  • President, Miami University Climbing Club
  • Vice President, Threshold Choir Miami University
"The focus of your freshman year is to figure out what you truly care about and how you fit into the bigger community. It is a lot of pressure, and it tests your resilience and passion to work hard to accomplish something. During this time, however, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be willing to sit with the uncertainty and ambiguity."

Why Miami?

Mitchell Singstock (left) and Bryson Sanders pose in front of their research poster.

"I wanted a college experience that would be very diverse, so naturally I gravitated more toward the liberal arts. This educational philosophy allows you to delve into the sciences while still having an understanding of the humanities. When I toured Miami, I felt that this was a place where I would have ample opportunities to really explore a lot of different areas and to excel at things I was passionate about.

"I began my first year with bioengineering, neuroscience, and premedical studies, but right away I realized this would be way too many classes to do in 4 years. I changed my major to philosophy, but in spring I changed it again to anthropology because I realized I was more interested in what people actually believe. As someone who plans to go into medicine in the future, I particularly care about the beliefs people carry through experiences of illness and healing. Anthropology allowed me to study that.

"Even though I changed my major around a lot during my first year at Miami, the essence of what I wanted to do never really changed. My goal has always been to understand the healing process, not only on the biological level, but also on the psychological, societal, and spiritual. I want to get the full picture of medicine before I enter medical school to really round out my education."

Best Miami Experiences

Katherine Rodriguez (left) and Mitchell Singstock take a 'Cellfie' at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience Conference.

"It was awesome that I was able to get started with research from Day #1. Currently, I have three different research projects in three different departments at Miami — the Department of Psychology, Department of Anthropology, and the Mindfulness and Contemplative Inquiry Center. All are still ongoing! I felt very encouraged to pursue these at Miami, and I think I would have been lost if I had chosen a more restrictive university.

"Three main faculty have been fundamental to my success here. The first is assistant professor of psychology Matthew McMurray. Dr. McMurray runs a behavioral neuroscience lab to study addiction (McMurray Lab), where I've been working, and I also completed my 2018 Undergraduate Summer Scholarship with him studying the neurocircuitry that underlies addiction. Right now, we are exploring the neural circuits involved in basic decision making to better understand how these are changed through drug use. He has been an incredible mentor and support system throughout my time at Miami.

"Chair and professor of anthropology Cameron Hay-Rollins is one of the reasons why I switched my major from philosophy to anthropology. She's incredibly compassionate and is one of the few teachers who really challenges me to better understand my assumptions and to look deeper into what things I assume to be true. In anthropology, this is huge because you are trying to untangle culture and find truth in ambiguity. With her I did an independent research project in medical anthropology to understand resilience and patterns of thinking that help patients go through the healing process, especially those which chronic, debilitating conditions that have a profound impact on personal identity.

"Finally, in the spring of 2018, I worked with Suzanne Klatt, who is the director of Miami's Mindfulness and Contemplative Inquiry Center. When I came into Miami, I was very passionate about meditation and had worked previously with my high school counseling department to host guided meditation sessions for students. With Dr. Klatt I put together a mindfulness meditation program for residents at the Knolls of Oxford, a local nursing home, where I have been volunteering since I started at Miami."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"There's been a demand of late for doctors who are much more well-rounded and can see the bigger picture, which are key elements of the liberal arts. For example, the MCAT, an exam needed for admission to medical school, tests your understanding of humanities and social sciences in addition to the natural sciences. It's part of the recognition that to be a good doctor, you have to be more holistic.

"To that end, Miami has prepared me greatly for a future career in medicine. My hope is to go to medical school and specialize in some form of internal medicine. Only time will tell what area that is, but I feel particularly called to the fields oncology, rheumatology, and palliative care thus far. My classroom and research experiences have prepared me to do well on the MCAT and eventually in medical school."

Examining Benefits of Mindfulness-Meditation in Older Populations

'Just Hanging Out': Mitchell Singstock climbs a steep rock face.

"I started volunteering at the Knolls of Oxford, a local nursing home, during the fall of my freshman year. I spent a lot of time there talking with the residents one-on-one, developing a better understanding of the challenges they face on a regular basis. At the same time, I was taking classes with Dr. Klatt. Reflecting on what I had learned from the residents, I felt like some of the issues they faced could be ameliorated through holistic psychological and spiritual care. Thus, I felt like there was a potential to combine my two interests through a mindfulness-meditation program targeted at older adults.

"Carrying out this project, I began to better appreciate some of the different dynamics between my generation and older generations. In general, I found that older generations seemed to be less open to sharing their emotional states and the struggles they are facing, something that I think is more culturally acceptable in my generation. The older residents could be dealing with the loss of a spouse, loneliness and depression, or simply not being engaged in things like they used to be.

"In either case, it was important to understand and be sensitive to this difference as Dr. Klatt and I led various mindfulness activities at the Knolls. There was certainly hesitation as we encouraged the participants to try something new. Some of them had difficulty seeing how acceptance of the present moment was useful when they were not living in their ideal circumstances. However, I was impressed by how they embraced the activities once they felt comfortable.

"Most meditation research has been conducted in cities with young and predominately white participants. Older people, especially those in a rural, conservative area like Oxford, haven't really been studied before in this context. As such, a lot of the research hasn't really addressed factors that are unique to different demographics. My hope with my project was to begin making progress, albeit small, on that discrepancy. One key lesson I learned through the process was the importance of connection as a way to bridge this inter-generational gap.

"In one particular instance, I was spending time with an older man who was resistant with sharing his feelings. That day, we were exploring the idea of mindfulness through music and were discussing what music brings us peace. When it was his turn, he mentioned classical music and pretty quickly he and I launched into a conversation about Bach and Vivaldi, his two favorite composers. Luckily, I had been taking a Western Music class at the time, so he and I could really connect over the subject. This enabled us to talk about deeper things that had been troubling him and served as an important reminder that every person is unique. Even though I came into this program with certain ideas in mind, there is no carbon-copy way to connect with people; instead, I need to listen and understand them on a more personal level. All our individual experiences may be different, but as human beings we are very much the same."

Advice to Students

"A message I would give to pre-med students like me is that when you first come to Miami, you usually get told the classic line that only about 1 in 3 pre-med students in your freshman class will actually get into medical school. The reality is that it is very competitive, but I believe it's essential to live and study authentically as best you can. Focus on what you are truly passionate about — don't just try to fit an image that you think checks off all the boxes. If you are doing things you care about, the boxes will naturally check themselves.

"The focus of your freshman year is to figure out what you truly care about and how you fit into the bigger community. It is a lot of pressure, and it tests your resilience and passion to work hard to accomplish something. During this time, however, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be willing to sit with the uncertainty and ambiguity. Don't put off the hard work of getting to know yourself on a deeper level by assuming that it will happen eventually.

"This process, granted, can be very difficult. The summer after my freshman year, I studied at a Zen Buddhist monastery in California. I spent a lot of time there meditating and sitting in silence, and I thought a lot about whether or not I wanted to be a doctor. I wondered how I could live genuinely in the present if I guided my education around an image of myself in the future. I was forced to look at the uncertainty of my future honestly.

"What I eventually decided was that if this path I was walking took me closer to truth and compassion, and if it was one that I enjoyed and found fulfilling, then it was the right path. Even if this path takes a major turn I never could have expected, if I am made better through each step, then it was worth it. The future is uncertain, but finding that truth in myself was a major, life-affirming milestone. My biggest advice is to be willing to search out those experiences for yourself."

[April 2019]