Meet Ayoti Patra, the lady who busted the NASA scholarship hoax

Posted: March 4, 2016 in Indian Media, Indian Women, survival, Uncategorized, WPrightnow
Tags: , , ,
Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn't believe the NASA scholarship news

Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn’t believe the NASA scholarship news

Since Ayoti Patra wrote on her Facebook note that Sataparna Mukherjee, the girl from Kamduni in West Bengal, has possibly not got a NASA scholarship, she has been bombarded with abusive messages but at the same time she has shown the right path to the Indian media (here is the original story) who quickly took up her lead. But who is Ayoti Patra and what made her take this step?

Here she is in her own words:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a PhD student of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. I did my M.Sc from IIT Kanpur and B.Sc. (Honours) from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi. I have spent my entire childhood and did all my schooling from Hyderabad. Although I am a Bengali, I have been to West Bengal only to visit my relatives. I mainly spend my time on theoretical research on ‘Optimal Control of Quantum Systems’. Apart from that, I also listen to Hindustani Classical Music being trained in it.

Where did you first read about Sataparna Mukherjee and the NASA scholarship?

I subscribe to a couple of news channels on Facebook. I came across it in the Times of India, The Logical Indian, etc.

What made you doubt the credibility of the news?

The news article had not one but multiple flaws.

-Getting a single offer valid for graduation, post-graduation and PhD without even clearing the 12th boards is something that can NEVER happen in real life.

-One cannot get an offer for studying Aeronautical Engineering for a theory in black hole! To do research in black hole, you need to study Astrophysics which is unrelated to Aeronautical Engineering.

-She will simultaneously study English at Oxford University! This is impossible again.

-NASA, a federal agency of the US making an offer to an Indian for studying in UK! It has to be a big joke.*

* For the sake of completeness, I would like to mention that it is possible for an Indian citizen to work at NASA as a postdoctoral research fellow, as a contract worker or as a PhD student affiliated to a US university. My university is less than 10 miles away from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, where my husband works. He is a PhD student of Astronomy at my university and works on a project at NASA. This is the official page of the project he is working on (http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/bettii/index.html). If you click on the ‘People’ tab, you will find my husband Arnab Dhabal listed there.

 What did you do after that?

At first, I just commented on the news articles that this cannot be true. I did not use any foul language but I was abused by quite a few people. Without doing a basic search about NASA or about my background, they said things like “You are a fool”, “People like you who always find faults and cannot appreciate true achievements are a shame to the country”, “It is because you are so stupid that you are nothing today, and she will go to NASA in a few months”, etc. It frustrated me a little and I became curious to find out some more about the girl. I searched for her Facebook profile (https://www.facebook.com/sataparna.mukherjee.5), through which I got the links of the two videos. Once I watched them, I thought enough is enough. Being a physicist, I took the nonsense about black hole quite personally. I decided that I have enough evidence against this news and I must do something about it.

 Were you aware that you were actually taking on the entire Indian media when you wrote your facebook post? Did you think that your post might go viral?

Definitely not. I am very inactive on Facebook and have a dormant profile. I was not even sure if all my friends could see this post on their wall. I had no idea it would get noticed and have an impact.

Do you think Sataparna has been duped or is she lying?

When I posted the note, I believed it could be either of the two options. But since then, I am gradually inclined to believe that she is probably lying. Since the post went online, I got a few messages from people claiming that they know her and that she plans to file an FIR against me. Some also claimed that she was a poor student who does not have maths as a subject. I have no means to verify if these claims are true. But this morning I received a message (image attached in the email) from her friend (https://www.facebook.com/sangeeta.bauli?fref=ts) which was written in a very bad tone challenging me to meet them face to face if I have guts. If she was duped, she should have clarified that she made a mistake or in the least looked into it herself. Instead, I have seen news reports like this where she still maintains that she did indeed win some NASA fellowship: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-nasa-denies-selecting-18-year-old-west-bengal-girl-for-top-scholarship-2185132

 Does it make you happy that many people and a section of the media followed up your post?

Yes, certainly. I am glad I was able to make a difference.

 Does it bother you that many news agencies are not giving any credit to you but are going ahead with their own stories about the hoax?

My only intention while writing the post was to expose the hoax, not to gain fame. Since that has been achieved, my job is done. However, I did not expect to see my surname changed from Patra to Mitra as in this article: (http://www.deccanchronicle.com/science/science/030316/shocking-nasa-shrugs-off-west-bengal-teenager-s-gip-scholarship-claims.html)

 Have you done something like this before too? (getting to the bottom of a hoax that is)

I always do to the extent I can. The only thing I have done differently this time is to publish my findings, the response to which has been overwhelming. I would like to thank everyone who has appreciated my work. This has certainly motivated me to be more vocal and spread awareness. In fact, let me grab this opportunity to promote Bigyan – a Bengali science magazine for the general audience (https://www.facebook.com/bigyan.org.in/?fref=ts), which was started by some of my friends.

 Your message to the Indian media and young people…

The media is very powerful and should act responsibly. They should not indulge in the race of being the first to get a sensational news out. Proper verification of the authenticity of a piece of news should be done before publishing it. Readers should not blindly trust whatever they see on social media either. A simple internet search can go a long way.

Another matter that I would like to draw attention to is that in India, too much importance is given to personal achievements like getting admission into a top international college, getting a high rank in IIT etc. Even the highest salary package becomes news these days. These are definitely important for the person concerned, but should not be grounds of hero worship. I believe that instead of focusing on these type of achievements, young people should focus more on the actual impact that someone brings about, be it in art, science or industry. Invention of a new technology should be bigger news than someone getting a NASA internship. The reason we have Sataparnas and P.V. Aruns today is because of the glorification of the wrong kind of accomplishments by the Indian society.

 

 

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Comments
  1. vanyadhanya says:

    Kudos to Ayoti for what she did and for standing up to what’s right.

  2. Priyanko Mukherjee says:

    Ayoti – you took the pain to dig deep and reveal what’s true. Usually it is very difficult for commoners like us who are in India and have limited knowledge to cross check ourselves how really prestigious institutions like NASA or Oxford offer scholarships or internships to people outside US.

    Without such insights we would have left with no other choice but to accept such hoax to be the truth. Great job !

  3. Kaushik Sengupta says:

    Thumbs Uo for Ayoti…..indeed a great job, eyeopener in many ways, A big thanks to u also, Amrita.

  4. Kaushik Sengupta says:

    Thumbs Up for Ayoti…..indeed a great job, eyeopener in many ways, A big thanks to u also, Amrita.

  5. Ushamrita says:

    Shucks… I feel for the dubious claim! And I feel ridiculous about it now… 😦
    Anyway, Ayoti, thank you for pointing out what the facts are. The media is turning into a circus of late (a large part of it, not the whole of it). And being a former journalist, and now a writer, myself, I am terribly sad about what has happened. Certainly going to post a corrigendum to the original post I’d shared on the protagonist. Maane media na fulto maamu banaya! Don’t know whether I should laugh or cry for it. 😛

  6. Tannista Banerjee says:

    Ayoti, you spent your precious time digging up the facts. Thanks for that. Indian media did not bother to perform simple document verifications before publishing the story. After reading this interview by Amrita I looked at the original story and Sataparna’s Facebook profile. You can say very easily that she is not going anywhere. We all know how difficult it is to come to US and UK for higher studies with scholarships. And of course, you will not have time for a profile and doing hoax like this. This nonsense media is just annoying. Thanks, Ayoti and Amrita.

  7. Paromita says:

    Thank you for putting up this interview.

    Ayoti, I don’t know you personally. I came to know you through your post. But your clarity and confidence that has been reflected in the interview has really made me proud. I echo every word you said about the ‘hero worship’ in our country. You are a true scholar. Keep up the good work!
    Also, Thank you so much for sharing the weblink of ‘Bigyan’ magazine.

  8. Thanks Ayoti for your effort to unveil the truth, Since I am also Bengal and in US now it catched my attention . After 1st read I had some doubts , since why Scholarship is based on a Paper published on not based on entrance, ii) although not under estimating talent , its very diff for a class 12 student especially outside city to gather info required to publish paper without attending seminars or connecting with people who r in Astrophysics world.

    Even stephen hawking is uncertain how its possible make Time machine

  9. Journeyman says:

    Thanks Amrita, for bringing up this story. Your protagonist Ayoti, deserves big kudos, for playing the real-time snopes.com on this one. Surprising that the media will publish “kuch bhi” without any verification, possibly in a bid to win “you heard it hear first” race. Deplorable, if true, is also the folks who purposefully dupe the media.

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