It was in mid-September that I noticed a poster of a conference in Gooya news. The conference was called the "Scientific Seminar On The Discourse of Overseas Iranian Youth" to be held in Tehran on 23rd and 24th of December. The organizer was the Department of Social Affair and Overseas Iranians, which is part of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.
In the poster, it was vaguely written that 20 people of those whose papers get accepted will be provided with free flight tickets to Iran. The conference was for the youth and among its five topics one was about Iran's brain drain. I had no reason not to submit a paper to this conference. Brain drain is my favourite topic and I have had several researches on that. I even thought this would be a great opportunity for me to promote my proposal for NIAA. There was one funny thing: that they also asked for author's resumé in addition to the article. I was okay with that, thinking that my resumé would be even a positive factor.
The deadline for submission was Nov. 6th. In the poster there was nothing written about how long the abstract should be. At the end of the poster there were two e-mail addresses of the organizers, a yahoo account and another one. I thought it would be a good idea to test them by just sending them an e-mail. So I did, asking them about the size of the abstract. The non-yahoo e-mail bounced and I received no reply from the yahoo one for two weeks. One day, I was going through my e-mailbox deleting spams when I reached to an unfamiliar e-mail which I was about to delete. The subject of the e-mail said "Javab" meaning "Reply" in English, however when I opened it I noticed there was nothing in it except an attached picture which you can see on the side. The picture was a formal letter from the conference which was scanned in the form of a .jpg file. The letter was written in Persian and even had an official registered number. In the first paragraph of the letter, they said that what mattered to the conference was the quality and not the quantity! In the second paragraph, they finally mentioned that for easier processing of the articles they recommended a 2-page abstract.
I finished writing my article by Nov. 6th. Though from other sources I realized that they had extended the deadline to Nov. 21st, I still submitted my article and resumé by an e-mail. At the same time, considering how difficult it would be to find a flight ticket near Christmas holidays, I booked a ticket. In an e-mail to them, I asked if they could tell me as soon as they could whether my paper was accepted or not, since I could not put a hold on my reservation forever and soon I had to pay for it.
Two weeks passed and I received no reply, even no confirmation letter. I decided to call the conference office in Iran. I phoned them and managed to talk to someone who told me that I did't have to worry about the flight ticket since if they accepted my paper they would send me the ticket. He told me that they would announce the results in two weeks. This was already the last week of November! A few days later I finally got an e-mail response, again in the form of a .jpg attachment, saying similar things. So I cancelled my reservation!
During those days, I received another e-mail from them which was not about the conference this time. They congratulated me the end of Ramadan; my name was added to their address book!
On Dec. 1st I got another e-mail from them, again in the familiar format but this time with an English translation as well, as you can see on the right. The funny thing is the English translation; just count the number of grammar and spelling errors in these few lines and imagine that this is a letter from a Department related to Iranians overseas. They asked for some more information including my picture, my date and place of birth, my father's name and how much I was familiar with the Persian language since they had decided to hold the conference in Persian. Regardless of how stupid some of their demands were, I became relatively happy to receive the e-mail even though it was mentioned that asking for these information didn't mean that my paper had been accepted. They claimed to announce the results by the end of the week! I sent them all the information they wanted. The week ended and I received no reply. I was getting mad at them since by the first week of December I still had no clue if I would be in Iran for Christmas or not and I had to know my schedule for some work-related issue. I phoned them again. This time they asked me to wait for another day. I did and finally they replied on Dec. 7th. They had rejected my paper since the content didn't satisfy their review committee. Then they offered me to pay for my expenses in Iran if I am willing to pay for my air ticket. They said that if I came to Iran I could have the opportunity to spend my time in Iran with young talented Iranians such as those who were honoured in scientific olympiads. Ummm! They asked me for my quick response!
Semi-literal translation of the e-mail:
Thanks for your very kind and polite letter.
We are very grateful for all the hardship you accepted to take part in the Scientific Seminar On The Discourse of Overseas Talented Iranian Youth. Unfortunately, the previous letter was the result of a mistake by one of our colleagues as (he/she) did not notice the note beside your Dec. 5th 2003 e-mail.
Anyway, we thank you again for your kind attention.
The story ended here for me but continued for one of my friends. She sent her article in around the time of the deadline. Two weeks later, she realized that they hadn't received it. She resent it and got a confirmation by calling them. They eventually rejected her paper as well. However, two days after her paper was rejected, she received an e-mail from the conference asking her if she could send her article again since they had not been able to open her files! She forwarded this funny e-mail to her friends, adding a comment on how stupid these people were. However, she mistakenly forwarded it to the conference people as well. A day after, she received an e-mail written in Pinglish (Persian using English scripts) which tried to justify what had happened. The funny thing was the highlighted part of the e-mail as you can see below! When mentioning the name of the conference in the e-mail, the word "talented" was highlighted, probably meaning: "Hey, you are not talented!". I could never imagine such a childish e-mail from the organizers of a conference in Iran.
Honestly, they ruined my holidays. I would have been quite happy if I had known in the beginning that my paper would be rejected, not on Dec. 7th for a conference on Dec. 23rd on the other side of the planet. If it ever happens that I talk for these guys about brain drain I would say something different from what I had originally planned. I would say that if they ever wonder why brains escape from Iran, they'd better know that they are the very exact reason!