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Alumnus Sangbreeta Moitra: a passionate speaker with a background in neuroscience

Her plan was to obtain a PhD, but, during her master’s, alumnus Sangbreeta Moitra discovered that her true interest is in applying neuroscience in everyday life. ‘Why do we do what we do, and how can we use that knowledge in our daily lives?’

Sangbreeta Moitra grew up in India with fixed ideas of having a successful career. ‘As a high-performing student, you become a doctor, like my mother, or an engineer, like my father, or else a lawyer or accountant. I was interested in behavioural sciences, but at that time a degree in psychology offered little in terms of future prospects in India. So I chose a bachelor’s in the up-and-coming field of biotechnology. After that I was going to do a master’s abroad.’ And that’s exactly what she did. After her bachelor’s, Moitra checked out The Times list of top universities in life sciences and enrolled for a master’s in biology in Leiden.

Sangbreeta with friends

‘I felt as if I’d landed in a film set,’ Moitra recalls her arrival in Leiden in 2010. ‘My husband always jokes that I can never walk over a picturesque bridge without marvelling at the view. That’s exactly what happened then.’ Beforehand she was worried about how she would be received. ‘But, to sum it up in one word: it was wonderful! I met so many lovely people who were kind, interested and very warm-hearted. I had mentally prepared myself for spending Christmas alone with a pile of books, but I was invited by friends and even casual acquaintances to celebrate with them.’

New insights, a new plan

While studying for her master’s, Moitra gained a lot of new insights. ‘I specialised in cognitive neurosciences, an area that I think is really fantastic. It’s knowledge about the brain, why we do what we do and especially how we can apply that in our daily lives.’ At the same time, she realised that her calling was not in the world of science. ‘When I was fifteen, I had a great ten-year plan: I was going to study, get a PhD at a reputable American university and become a scientist. In Leiden I realised that life isn’t about a fixed plan, but following your instincts.’

After graduating, Moitra applied for a management position at a major company in the pharmaceutical industry. ‘The job involved neuroscience and people, communication and leadership.’ She advanced quickly in her career and enjoyed her work, but had the feeling that something was missing. Moitra: ‘So I started doing more speaking and consulting on leadership, change and development, beside my work. I love public speaking and have been taking part in debates, talks and competitions since I was five. In 2017, I won best open mic at TEDx Rotterdam.’

‘I’m going to carry on adapting and developing as life unfolds.’

Coffee culture

Since her success in Rotterdam, an increasing number of companies have been keen to hire Moitra to advise and speak on change and professional motivation. In 2018 she took the bold step of starting for herself. ‘That also had to do with the Dutch mentality. Here, we appreciate when someone takes risks; we call it “entrepreneurial spirit”. And don’t forget the coffee culture! Where in the world can you call someone you admire and say: I would really like to know more about your organisation. Shall we have a coffee sometime? It makes for rock-solid networking opportunities.’

Moitra has now been working in the Netherlands for over ten years. What are her plans for the future? ‘I’m happy here for the time being. My husband is Dutch and I work with major international organisations with Dutch roots. But I learned my lesson about ten-year plans, and am going to carry on adapting and developing as life unfolds.’

Text: Julie de Graaf 

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