Introducing Aardra Chandra Mouli, one of our fantastic MRes/PhD students who joined us in September 2019.
Tell me about your time at UCL SoM.
I’m currently in my first year (MRes) of the 1+4 year MRes/PhD programme, where my research focus is female entrepreneurship. Prior (and parallel) to this, I have a 6-year-old environmental biotech start-up company back home in India. I am a qualified biotech and biochemical engineer, and hold an MSc in Management from Warwick Business School.
What’s it like being a Student Rep?
If I had to use one word – easy! We are a small cohort, and it is an absolute pleasure being able to represent our views at the SSCC (Student Staff Consulting Committee) or within the larger UCL community.
Tell us about your non-academic pursuits? I believe you are a keen environmentalist?
Yes! I’ve been passionate about sustainability from a very young age – hence the environmental biotech start-up. We make products for soil and water remediation. I’m also very interested in equitable access to opportunities, and have held several volunteer roles, working for youth education, social mobility, and access to STEM opportunities for young women. One of my fun non-academic pursuits is dancing. I LOVE to dance – I’ve been performing from the age of 6, and absolutely love the sensation of becoming one with the music.
You speak openly about Mental Health. What does the term Mental Health mean to you?
To me, mental health means practising balance – between working and taking time off, between the professional and the personal, and between pushing and resting. It also means giving as much importance to my well-being as I would to that of a loved one. Being kind to myself, so that I can smile, I guess. It isn’t easy! Over the past few years, I’ve had to work on my mental health, and learnt (the hard way) how important it is to our quality of life. I tend to be very goal-oriented, sometimes too much so, and as a result of this (plus a few other things), experience high levels of anxiety. Not fun, but very, very important. I struggled for a long time to acknowledge and accept that I was burning out, anxious, stressed and exhausted. I refused to educate myself on how to get through tough mental situations.
When I started opening up about what I was going through to close friends, and slowly to family and colleagues, I found so much help and love. This made me realise that people needed to hear about it, and to talk about mental health. It is a very important conversation to start, sustain, and encourage. I’m glad India is catching up to the UK promoting mental health awareness.
What advice would you give people feeling down during this time.
I don’t know that I would be able to offer advice, per se. There are a few things that helped me, and continue to help me: speaking up, asking for and accepting help from friends, family, colleagues and professionals (therapy is so very useful!), learning to recognise my limits, taking time off when I need it. Staying physically active – yoga really helped me.
Looking at the evidence when I start to catastrophise about the future – is there any evidence for whatever thought is making me anxious. Breathing exercises. Reminding myself that I’m not alone, that people around me are struggling with their own demons.
For right now, I’m reminding myself that the entire world has not been through what we are going through – this is an unprecedented situation, as the news reminds us. I’m not the only one without answers or a clear picture of what the next weeks or months are going to bring us. It’s only natural to experience many, different, sometimes unreasonable emotions. And these will change too. Clichéd, but true, as per my experience.
A really good tip that someone very smart gave me was to consume information about what is happening, rather than following the news and allowing media to affect how I feel.
Advice you would give to your younger self?
This one is easy - There’s no right or wrong way to do things. It is vital to allow ourselves to make mistakes; mistakes are good. And to be nice to myself – would I talk to a stranger, let alone a friend, the way I talk to myself?
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
For an imaginary dinner - Stephen Fry, Louis C. K., Hozier, Susan Cain, Adele. For real, my friends and family.
What is your favourite album, film, and novel?
Yikes, this is really hard! I don’t have a favourite album, so maybe I can substitute one of my favourite songs instead – Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah. Would highly recommend Mental Health by Billy Raffoul, and Secret for the Mad by dodie, for Mental Health Week.
My current favourite film is Jojo Rabbit.
I really will not be able to choose a favourite novel, but one of my frequently re-read ones is Cecelia Ahern’s Roar.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
Hm. That my big toe is as long as my little finger (which is decent-sized, by the way), maybe? Not sure.
What is your favourite place?
Of all the places I’ve visited so far, Muir Woods National Monument, California.