Connected Conversations | Neha Lalchandani

Public health has suddenly been thrown under the spotlight over the past year thanks to COVID-19 but, for Neha Lalchandani, it goes beyond the pandemic. Now in her second year of a Master of Philosophy (Public Health), Neha’s research blends public health and sustainability to hopefully create a better world for us all.

Image of Neha sitting at a desk with a textbook

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi, I am Neha! I am currently in my second year of studying the Master of Philosophy (Public Health). I am working on a research project that focuses on assessing the current food environment in South Australian public schools. This program of work is based on considering associations between school policies and programs, food and beverage consumption patterns, and environmental impacts of schoolchildren's eating behaviours.

When I first contemplated postgraduate study, I knew I wanted to be involved in solution-oriented research around obesity prevention. Given my food science and nutrition background, my focus at the beginning was solely on diet-related health factors. However, as I progressed in my degree, the environmental agenda organically came to light, which gave my project a whole new dimension of optimising and sustaining implementation of healthy eating through sustainable food choices!

I live in Rose Park with a lovely South Australian family, and I thank heavens for the Internet that lets me keep in touch with my family back home in Jakarta, Indonesia. I have made some amazing friends during the course of my study here, who gladly accept my hangout offers of going out for a meal together, catching shows and events, or doing something outdoorsy. You all know who you are!

Why did you choose the University of Adelaide for your studies?

I chose to study at the University of Adelaide because of the public health degree on offer. I appreciated that the MPhil (Public Health) degree can either be attained solely as a research degree, or as a combined coursework and research stream (a fantastic option if one would like to upskill in the field of study). Another awesome attribute is that students have the option to upgrade to PhD (after the qualifying period of 18 months). Win-win, I tell you!

What has been your journey to get where you are today? 

The journey to where I am right now has been nothing short of a long, windy path. I started working after my undergraduate studies but struggled to find what I truly enjoyed. I knew I wanted to do something influential in the health sector, but I was not exactly sure at that point in time! So, while being in liminal space, I tried my hand at working different jobs before I decided to pursue a postgraduate degree in public health. There were umpteen challenges I faced before finding my niche, but the cumulative experience made me realise that life is all about trial and error. There is never a rejection, but in fact redirection! And, now I am glad to be at the right place at the right time.

Name the top three defining moments of 2020.

  • Being able to find a whole lot of positivity and resilience within me when things were tough throughout 2020.
  • Having networks of interested policy makers in KESAB and the Department of Education that shifted the relevance and potential impact of my work to a whole new level.
  • Letting go of the imposter syndrome I had at the beginning of my degree.

How would you describe the student experience at Adelaide to a future student?

If you are contemplating Adelaide as your study destination, I highly recommend it! The University of Adelaide is future-focused and you will be well on your way to gaining practical knowledge, an armoury of skillsets, and connections to fast-track your career. Not to mention, the University provides fantastic support and services, and has oodles of events happening all year-round to keep students engaged. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the University has thrived to organise heaps of activities (virtual and in-person where and when suitable), which has been commendable and appreciated by many students.

Do you feel that now a great time to be studying for a career in health? 

Certainly! As Gandhi said: “It is health that is real wealth”.

I am aware that people are predominantly focused on the pandemic right now and for good reason eager for a permanent fix to present itself. But it is crucial to remember that public health is not just COVID-19; it is everything else that existed and will continue to exist beyond the pandemic. Obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, tobacco use, alcohol-related harms, HIV and AIDS, drug overdose, antibiotic resistance, motor vehicle injuries, and the list goes on. A career in health is absolutely worth considering!

What do you do in your spare time?

I love watching Korean dramas, going for a bike ride, and swimming. I was an avid travel blogger, but since this year has been devoid of that, I have delved into other opportunities focusing on professional development and personal wellbeing. I also take delight in online shopping, particularly discovering new companies that are Certified B Corporations or supporting family-owned local businesses!

How do you relax or switch off? 

To be honest, I had to Google how this is done! It is so hard to completely switch off as I am notorious to have random light-bulb moments. But if I want to relax after completing a chunk of work, I make myself a cup of spiced chai latte and chat with Pickles (the Shih Tzu Terrier cross I live with), who, 99% of the time convinces me to take her out for ‘walkies’ by rearing up on her hind legs!

What are your hopes for 2021?

Personally, I hope to get my data collected, and manuscripts written up and submitted. I’m so excited to see what my data will reveal and I hope to get it out there as quickly as possible, so it can start to make a difference. 

On a broader scale, while 2020 had been awful in many ways, there had been some lovely things too. We’ve learned to be more flexible with our work, more conscious of our mental and physical wellbeing, and more thoughtful about how we engage with our environment. I hope 2021 continues these themes and brings more mindfulness about the way we treat the planet, the way we look after each other (especially the more vulnerable in our community), and how conscious we are of the future we’re creating for the next generation.

Name three things you won’t forget about the past year…

  • The collective kindness of people during the pandemic and beyond.
  • I want to forget this, but I know I won’t for a while…that weird feeling when watching people shake hands or hug each other on TV, even if the show was shot decades ago.
  • Two discoveries that changed my life: The Tim Tam Slam and the auto-staple feature of printers!
Tagged in connected conversations