We recently interviewed Dr. Sanjula Singh, who joined the McCance Center for Brain Health this month as a fellow.

Dr. Singh and her father in India, with greenery and mountains behind them.We are so excited to have you on board — despite your official start date, you’ve already been contributing to our mission, and have published an OpEd in The Lancet (“Brain health begins with brain care”) with other members of the team — very exciting! Can you backtrack and tell us a little about yourself?

I would love to! I am 27 years old, born and bred in the Netherlands, and I recently graduated from my MD and PhD at the University of Utrecht (for which I spent 6 months at Mass General in 2018) and the MSc in Global Health Science & Epidemiology program at the University of Oxford.

Before starting to work at the McCance Center, I was working in Oxford and spent two months during the summer traveling to Colombia and India.

Dressed in a white salwar khameez, Dr. Singh stands at the edge of a lake. The blue skies and desert mountains in the distance are reflected in the lake.Wow. That must have been wonderful. What makes this trip unique? I know you mentioned that it was the first time in many years you’d really had an opportunity to just stop and have time to reflect.

That’s true. After years of balancing three degree programs at the same time, living abroad, maintaining an active social life and trying my very best to keep myself (and my brain) healthy and happy — this summer of travel was not only very thrilling, but needed as well!

Tell us about some of the highlights from India. You’ve said this leg of your travels was focused on mindfulness and “re-centering.”

I travelled to India with my father, who was born there. We travelled for a month to the most northern part of India: the mountainous, breath-taking Ladakh. My father is a cardiothoracic surgeon in the Netherlands, and has not only been an inspiration for me during my medical studies, but also my primary confidante and supporter since I was born. It is a tradition in my family that once you have graduated from university, my father will take you to whichever place you would like to see in the world for a month — and obviously he is joining you as well!

A grinning Dr. Singh in a yellow jacket and white helmet, wearing a paragliding harness, with the paraglider strapped to her back.What makes this part of India so special? Everyone’s eyes light up when they talk about it!

This Indian region almost felt a bit magical: deeply embedded in Buddhist culture with one of the most dramatic landscapes, filled with mountain plateaus, that we had ever encountered. So which place could be more suitable to recharge and feel “centered” again than Ladakh?

On many occasions on our trip we were literally looking down from what feels like the top of the world, the skies were so clear and so was my mind. My father and I spent days talking and drinking chai in a little hut on a mountain without any phone service or contact with the rest of the world. We hiked for hours at 4,500m elevation. We meditated next to the largest Buddha statue in India. We went rafting on the Indus. We went paragliding at the world’s highest paragliding site. Most importantly, we allowed ourselves to just “be” and enjoy an astonishing place whilst feeling profoundly connected to each other and also to my father’s home country.

As an advocate for making lifestyle changes to improve brain health, this must have felt like a great opportunity to reduce stress and become more focused on mental health and well being, which contribute to brain health, of course.

That’s exactly right. As physicians and researchers at the McCance Center, our aim to improve our patients’ and communities’ brain care is primary - but let us never forget to assess our own McCance Brain Care ScoreTM once in a while, and to support each other to keep our own brains happy and healthy! It is helpful sometimes to ask ourselves to test what we’re asking of our patients. It is never easy to make any lifestyle changes, but “walking the talk” helps us experience through our patients’ lens — and inspire others to engage in brain care as well.

Well, what’s the verdict? Have you hit the ground running? Are you feeling refreshed?

Definitely — I’m ready to start! After what feels like about one million cups of chai, I do feel fully energised and inspired again by all the beauty and purity that the Ladakhi people shared with us. This in turn makes me even more enthusiastic about joining the McCance team this month.

We are looking forward to hearing more from you now that you’re on board, and look forward to following you on our Instagram page: @MGHBrainHealth