Alumni Success Story

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Name: Kishore Chandra Patra

Country: India

Pestalozzi Scholar: 2011-2013

“Educating ‘Head, Heart and Hands’ at Pestalozzi equipped me with the basic tools necessary to make a difference in the world. It was at Pestalozzi that I saw my interest in physics and astronomy develop into an organized passion through the IB physics and mathematics curriculum. I am actively contributing to research in space sciences.” 

Kishore (’13) is the son of an Indian Army officer and housewife. After graduating from Pestalozzi he spent some of his gap year working as a high-school instructor/ teacher at an international school in Kolkata. Kishore then gained his undergraduate degree in Physics from MIT before embarking on a PhD in Astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I am the first person in my community to study for a PhD and my achievements have inspired many parents in the community to send their children to schools in the hope for a better future.  Through my journey, people have discovered government funded educational opportunities for their children.

I grew up in a small village on the east coast of India, bounded by the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Eastern Ghats on the other. Most villagers are small-time seasonal farmers or labourers. My mother couldn’t complete the third grade before she had to help take care of her large family. My father fared a little better—he at least got a taste of high school before he too had to leave to join the Indian army as a soldier, thus becoming the first person from my village to have a small but stable income.

My parents realized the importance of educating their children early on. My early education was at a school run by the Indian army. I remember many times when my siblings and I would help my mother learn to read and write after coming back from school. Since my father moved around the country quite a bit with the Indian army, I got to live in several states in India, learning local languages and customs along the way. When my father was transferred to the northern state of Punjab, I won a place at a government-funded boarding school for much of my middle to high school education.

 

Kishore with fellow Pestalozzi alum Ishwar (’12)

In 2011, I was awarded a Pestalozzi scholarship. The time I spent at Pestalozzi were hands down the best two years of my life. I received an excellent education, and living among a multinational and multicultural group of people helped me develop a global perspective on many matters. The Pestalozzi mission of educating the ‘Head, Heart, and Hands’ influenced my own learning and teaching philosophy. Pestalozzi’s timely mentorship helped me chart a path to pursuing science. Before coming to Pestalozzi, I had not even heard of MIT, and yet, three years later, I found myself in Boston, Massachusetts, conducting cutting-edge research on extrasolar planets.

After graduating from MIT, I went to the University of California, Berkeley, to pursue a PhD in Astrophysics. I finished my PhD this Spring, becoming the first from my village to earn a PhD. I will soon start as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

I received the Pestalozzi scholarship at a particularly uncertain time in my life. I was performing well in school and aspired to pursue a career in science, but I had no clear path to achieve this goal, nor the financial means to support it. In India, high school students typically pay hundreds of thousands of rupees, often through burdensome loans, to attend expensive programs designed for college entrance exam preparation. Just before receiving the Pestalozzi scholarship, I was deeply concerned about how I would manage to pursue my dreams under such financial constraints.

Considering the educational needs of my siblings, my parents simply could not afford to put me through a coaching program for these entrance exams. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would have to take the exams without any coaching and hope for the best, despite being at a significant disadvantage. I had also accepted the possibility that if I did not succeed, my aspirations might end there.

Fortunately, this dire scenario never materialized because I received the Pestalozzi scholarship, which allowed me to move to the UK and study for the International Baccalaureate Diploma. Without the Pestalozzi scholarship, I truly do not know what path my life would have taken, but it is clear that the scholarship was a pivotal turning point in my journey.

Kishore with fellow Pestalozzi alum Surya (’13) at their MIT graduation

As a scientist, I dedicate a substantial portion of my time to outreach and education activities aimed at supporting underserved communities. This commitment includes teaching at local schools and mentoring students, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented groups in the STEM fields. Throughout my journey, I benefited greatly from excellent mentorship at various stages, and I deeply understand the crucial role good mentorship plays in personal and professional development.

To pay it forward, I actively encourage young students to pursue science, fostering their confidence in the belief that anyone can engage in and succeed in scientific endeavours. Some of my outreach activities include giving educational talks at schools to inspire and inform young minds about the wonders of science, delivering presentations to general audiences to make science accessible and engaging to all, and even participating in radio interviews aimed at reaching economically disadvantaged populations.

My future plans, for now, include continuing research in astrophysics and teaching college-level courses, hopefully as a professor.

I am currently learning about the complicated relationship between poverty and education. This year, with the help of my sister, who is currently living in my village, I am planning to conduct a free tutoring program for the bottom-performing students in the village. In a resource-strapped community, students from this group are left behind as no one pays attention to them. By providing them remedial classes, I hope to improve their reading and basic math skills, which will go a long way in making their lives better.”

Kishore and Nkole meet Patron The Duke of Gloucester

Did you always want to work in the profession you are in now?

“Yes, I did. My curiosity about space science started while I was growing up in my village. My village did not have a reliable supply of electricity, and many summer nights were spent in darkness. During those times, I would sometimes sleep under the clear dark skies, spending hours looking at the stars. This experience sparked my fascination with the universe and laid the foundation for my passion for astrophysics.

My primary motivation has been to satisfy my curiosity about the world and the universe. This curiosity is complemented by my desire to engage in outreach and service, as well as a passion for teaching. However, nothing is set in stone for me. Ultimately, my goal is to learn something about everything. Astrophysics is a fantastic way of achieving that, because it allows me to explore and understand the vast and intricate workings of the universe. Once I feel like I’ve learned enough about astrophysics, I plan to move on and explore new fields and challenges.”

What are some of the most challenging aspects to your line of work and what are the major benefits? What do you enjoy the most? 

“Astrophysicists are fundamentally ‘light collectors’. To study pretty much anything in space, we use the light coming from that object, and we rely on powerful telescopes around the world and in space to do so. However, most of our telescopes are severely oversubscribed, and we compete with each other to get observing time on these multi-million-(sometimes billion!)-dollar instruments.

One of the most challenging aspects of astrophysics is communicating science to the wider general audience. While it is relatively easy to talk to peer scientists who are on par with you in terms of knowledge, it takes extra effort to distil the most important information to reach and maintain the attention of the public. A significant fraction of science funding comes from taxpayers’ money. Consequently, I believe that it is our duty as scientists to demonstrate to the public what we have achieved using their ‘investment’ in us.

Despite these challenges, the major benefits of my work include advancing our understanding of the universe and inspiring others (and ourselves!) through scientific discovery. I particularly enjoy the teaching and outreach elements of my research. Astrophysics, in particular, captures the attention of the public like none other, and engaging with people about the wonders of the universe is incredibly rewarding.”

SCCH International Student of the Year 2013

How is your current work making a difference to the lives of others?

” There is often a debate about whether pursuing space science is worth the expenditure, given the numerous other pressing issues in the world. However, humans are explorers by nature. While not everyone needs to engage in space science, some of us must explore these frontiers to learn more about ourselves and our origins.

By advancing our knowledge frontier and interacting with the public, including young kids, my work inspires others with the beauty and grandeur of the universe. This inspiration often leads young people to pursue their own interests in science. While not all of them will become astrophysicists, many will become computer scientists, doctors, engineers, and other professionals who have a more immediate positive impact on the lives of others. In this way, I see my work as planting the seeds for future growth and development.”

Why is education important? 

“Few things in life fulfil all rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs as comprehensively as education does. An education equips people with the skills necessary to fulfil basic needs such as food, shelter, and safety. At the highest level, it also enables personal and professional growth, fosters creativity, and supports the pursuit of passions. Furthermore, education empowers individuals to find solutions to the most challenging problems facing our society. Ultimately, education is the one thing that gives people from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to improve their lives.”  

What message would you give to our donors? 

“It is hard to overstate just how big an impact your support has. Not only is the effect immediate for the scholars and their families by breaking the cycle of poverty for many of them, but these students then go on to positively impact the lives of many more. Many of these students become world-leading experts in their fields. Pestalozzi changed my life and it continues to do so for many young people around the world. All of this is only possible because of your support. Thank you!”

June 2024

Education is the key to empowering young people to improve their lives and their community. By setting up a regular payment to Pestalozzi or giving a one-off gift, it means that we can continue to provide opportunities to young people like Faisal who will go on to make a difference in the world.

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