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December 25, 2003

Conference of talented Iranian youth!
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]

talented_conference.JPG 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!

spell.JPG

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!

Andishmand.JPG

Semi-literal translation of the e-mail:

Dear Compatriot,

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!

Comments
yahya at December 25, 2003 12:56 PM [permalink]:

This is hilarious!
I was going to send them an article too but more thinking I realized that there is no way I could go to Iran in December. But if I knew sending an article is going to be so much fun, I might have done it too. You know just to get that scanned letter with that pretty design is quite something. I suggest you keep the letter's template and use it for your future emails to Iran.

Me at December 25, 2003 02:11 PM [permalink]:

I think it is a good idea to send the link of this piece to Mohammad Ali Abtahi, though he encouners these kinds of stupidity every day as he is also part of it.

Somayeh Sadat at December 25, 2003 03:30 PM [permalink]:

I hate to say this, but the first day I heard they are offering free return tickets, I sort of assumed they already know 20 people (their relatives!) who want to travel for free and their papers will be accepted anyways. Unfortunately, this is the case with many governmental organizations, though no way to prove it unless you have some inside information.

Vahid at December 25, 2003 04:20 PM [permalink]:

As Mehdi mentioned this is indeed a funny story. But it is very sad too. I would like to be an optimist, but these kind of stories which happen everyday back home, make be loose faith.
They can not even organize a simple meeting for God's sake!
I like the idea of scientific networking with iran (NIAA), but I can not help being pesimist about it. Even If we could overcome the practical issues surrounding organizing it oversees. I do not know what are our chances that public academic institutes in Iran support us in any constructive manner!

Kaveh Kh. at December 25, 2003 04:30 PM [permalink]:

The idea of them collecting this kind of personal information is kind of scary. Don't you agree? Although in practice they don't have the expertise to perform these intelligence stunts.

Señor Græd at December 25, 2003 05:59 PM [permalink]:

Of course, I am writing this comment before reading other comments. But at least I finished reading the main post. I thank you, Yaser, for sharing the story and thus exposing the bunch of idiots who make a living for themselves basically by accomplishing sh*t. The word AABEROO-RIZI came to mind when I was reading about the truly stupid people in charge of such things.

First of all, to my dismay, I have become quite convinced that the notion of "editing" is not a familiar one among Iranians. (Your own post has some errors too!) It is not only bus drivers who get it wrong (If you go to Southern Bus Terminal in Tehran you will see a lot of misspellings on the buses, as Tata Bahrampour had noted in her book: "Bay-Bay" and other forms of spelling Bye-Bye for example, not to mention the fact that writing Bye-Bye on a bus window is pretty cheesy, anyway) or not even the food-producing factories (just pick some food product, or a chocolate wrapper, anything you wish, and it is next to impossible not to find an error among a dozen words written on it). No, not only them. If you ever go to Washington, DC to get your passport extended, you will see how many embarrassing English mistakes their forms have. Or just go online to their site daftar.org and look at their forms yourself. Some of these mistake-ridden forms are the forms that foriegners should fill out for getting a visa. I have one word to describe my feelings about these forms:

Em-fucking-barrassing.

This is however just, as I would like to always say, but the tip of the iceberg. We must in fact be glad that the idiots who were in charge of such an excuse for a conference do not possess enough knowledge to fully conceal their idiocy. It would be worse if they could put up a facade of knowledgeability, and thus fooling the naiver people among us.

I have a hypothesis. This conference has been nothing but a kind of charade (a DOKOON as we say in Persian). Some individuals make a name and some petty money from the side of it. Corruption, it's called. They probably give some parties honoring the "ANDISHMAND" Iranian youth they had picked and give the report to the even more ignorant (English-wise, or else) authortities higher up and they're all happy that something is accomplished.

But what exactly? You tell me! :-)

Señor Græd at December 25, 2003 06:10 PM [permalink]:

I can't help it, and I leave it to the editors to decide to remove this comment or leave it. But I read the so-called "Pinglish" email again and I was so infuriated that if I were you I would write in the same language:

KHAAAAAAK BAR SARETOON KONAN BAA OON ESHTEBAAH-KAARI-HAA-YE ABLAHAANE-YE "HAMKAARAAN"-E BI-KEFAAYAT-ETOON VA OON LAFZ E GHALAM E MOADDABAANE YE HAAL-BE-HAM-ZANETOON.

Now I feel better. :-)

Señor Græd at December 25, 2003 08:15 PM [permalink]:

Speaking of naivete, and on second thought, I find it really hard to believe that these guys couldn't even spell the word "paper". Here's another hypothesis then: The only person(s) who knew English and were trusted with writing the English documents, for whatever reason, conspired to make an ass of the organization in charge, by providing a stupefyingly faulty English.

What do you think?

AIS at December 26, 2003 03:46 AM [permalink]:

Holy sh*t! Their English and spelling is even worse than mine! ;)

Arash Jalali at December 26, 2003 02:43 PM [permalink]:

Thanks Yaser for your interesting story. It brought back a lot of memories about submitting papers to conferences in Iran. It is very unfortunate for me to say that this mess, one instance of which you wrote about, is in fact kind of a norm in Iranian conferences.

I remember having submitted a couple of papers ever to Iranian conferences and in each of them I became the victim of such idiotic blunders, and I just can't help sharing them with you:

Once, my paper while in the process of being refereed, found its way to my supervisor's office to be refereed. My supervisor was of course the co-author, so he sent back the paper to the organizers with a note explaining to them why he could not referee his own paper. That year, our paper got rejected. I am not sure about the reason but I suspect because they even didn't care to read my professor's note and simply thought that it means that he thinks the paper should be rejected!

One year after that, in another one of these conferences, another paper of mine (which was confirmed to have been received) got lost! They even didn't send me, or my professor, a notification of rejection, let alone referees' comments! The interesting thing about that conference was that some genious of the kind Yaser wrote about had actually taken a great deal of time to photocopy the cover pages of the papers, and had stuck them to the papers (which should conventionally be anonymous to be more "fairly" refereed) and sent them to the referees. He/she had probably thought to him/herself "why the heck all these stupid people have fogotten to put their names on their own papers?" I won't be surprised to know if he/she went to his/her boss nagging about the situation! ! I would even be less surprised to know if the boss gave him/her a pat on the back for the ingenious effort s/he had taken to sort things out!


yahya at December 26, 2003 03:04 PM [permalink]:

Many of these problems in Iran is a result of Iran's isolation. Since there is no interaction with outside world there is no way for quality comparison, so things stay as they are. Creating more interaction with outside world will really help to change in Iran.

Also, somebody should preach some market liberalism and small government in Iran. I have been to conferences in Iran when I was in Iran also was involved in organizing a few. Most of problems usually are created by government employee who won't gain anything by working harder. There is no incentive. Also because of lack of freedom of speech, there isn't much critism for fixing the system.

I wonder if any of you heard Khatami's speech in World Summit on Information Society in Geneva. His translator was not translating some of the questions and was selectively translating the others. He also ordered Khatami when to stop taking anymore question! Ok, when the president of Iran can not choose/find a proper translator, do you think he can appoint an appropriate person for
the "Department of Social Affair and Overseas Iranians" ??!

You like or not, every country has a hierarchy of power and wealth. Today's civilization can not stand without it. Any attemp to dismantle to distroy this hierarchy, like communism, recreated another hierarchy itself. The right question is how much you can go up or down the hierarchy based what you achieve as a result of decent work. Unfortunately in Iran, the family relations rank a s the most important factor in how you go up the ladder. Also, as a result of the Revolution, a group of people who went up the ladder of power and wealth over night, and they lacked management skills necessary to keep that wealth and power.

mamdalí at December 26, 2003 08:07 PM [permalink]:

lack of "meritocracy". what people say everyday

question : the problem is that there are not enough eligible people in the system or people can't show up and use their ability i.e. the absence of a merit system? or both?

unfortunately there is positive feedback between brain drain and the lack of meritocracy.

anonymous at December 27, 2003 08:04 AM [permalink]:

In the Iranian society we, as talented overseas students, have the ability to change the public view.
Some politicians may not like the changes we wish to submit. Some of these politician might try to destroy our reputation.
I think such a workshop has been organized and supported by a group of such a politicians.

Señor Græd at December 27, 2003 03:58 PM [permalink]:

yahya wrote:

"Since there is no interaction with outside world there is no way for quality comparison, so things stay as they are."

This is just a nice (hmmm!) way of defending the incompetence of Iranian bureaucracy. I disagree! Who do Americans compare themselves with?! Huh?

"Most of problems usually are created by government employee who won't gain anything by working harder."

No. I haven't heard anything about Americans getting paid more for working harder. The difference is, nobody gets fired in Iran once hired. What was the last time you heard someone you knew get fired from their job in Iran?!

"There is no incentive."

Firing incompetent personnel will give the other ones a lesson and an incentive. But again, people get hired in Iran based on their connections, or if there hasn't existed a connection to begin with, there will be after you start working with someone. Then ROODARVAASI doesn't let you fire your "friend", to say the least. :-)

"Also because of lack of freedom of speech, there isn't much criti[ci]sm for fixing the system."

WHAT? You're joking, right? Of course many forms of freedoms are limited in Iran, but what would prevent you from writing an essay in a newspaper and exposing the utter incompetency of the people in charge of organizing a conference? I think the common mentality is that it's really not worth the risk of getting ostracized by the community of "scientists".

Señor Græd at December 27, 2003 04:05 PM [permalink]:

yahya also said:

"I wonder if any of you heard Khatami's speech in World Summit on Information Society in Geneva. His translator was not translating some of the questions and was selectively translating the others. He also ordered Khatami when to stop taking anymore question! Ok, when the president of Iran can not choose/find a proper translator, do you think he can appoint an appropriate person for the "Department of Social Affair and Overseas Iranians" ??!"

Good point! It's both funny and sad. Let's next time vote for someone who can speak English, then. Okay, okay, none of our presidential candidates can. Sorry. Well, how do we expect to be taken seriously by the world? Baba, everybody in Middle East can speak some English, except Iranians.

What a shame!

seyed at December 27, 2003 05:57 PM [permalink]:

Hi,

I was one of the participants of that conference! For some reason that for security reasons, I don’t want to mention here, I had been recognized by them as “talented”, and they had invited me to participate in their conference as an audience. Let me tell you who were selected as those 20 youth overseas: They were mostly second generation of immigrants to America, Australia, Canada and Europe. Therefore speaking Persian was a non trivial requirement for them! (For example an Iranian-American girl gave her talk completely in English and an Iranian-Australian, a collaborator of Jam-e-Jam TV, translated her talk!). May be the information they had required about Yaser’s parents and birth place was to find out where he was born and whether he is mixed or not etc… To my opinion, their intention was to introduce Iran, Iranian culture and most importantly the religious stuff, to the second generation of Iranians living abroad. For example, part of their schedule was a trip to mashhad.

Although as a science student, this was my first exposure to people talking about humanities, except for a few talks (which were completely irrelevant to the subject of conference; one on “Using New Media Art to introduce Iranian culture” and the other one a psychological talk on “how to fit with new circumstances when you travel abroad”!), non of them seemed to be “scientific”. Most of speakers told us how awful the West is, and what a great opportunity is being in Islamic Republic of Iran. (Then what surprises me is how they have spent or are spending their life in that awful conditions in West and are not coming back to seize the opportunities in IRI?). Most funny talk was one by a dentist, a “hizbollaahi” with a medial degree (means ’very talented’ in their viewpoint). His language was preaching rather than a scientific talk, very much like the way mullahs talk to ‘ordinary people’ (=those who do not understand, in mullahs’ viewpoint). He was a mixed mullah (=a mullah with university degree) I guess. Maybe rejected paper of Yaser and his friend lacked this kind of praise!

The organizers were not clever enough however, when one of the speakers happened to be “rationally talented” (and more importantly a brave) student of social sciences in Tehran University! I liked his talk very much, such that I asked him to send me rest of his talk, as he was not able to finish his talk in time (He has not sent yet). His first objection was that, ‘Goftemaan’ is a Persian translation for ‘Discourse’ which stands for ‘scientific’ discussion. Instead he suggested the title ‘Goftogoo’ for seminars that are much like a friendly chat. In this seminar (or more appropriately, in this friendly chat), most of speakers were talking about their personal experiences in America, Australia and Europe.
Another speaker was son of the late professor Mahmoud Hessabi (very famous figure for Iranians, even much more famouse than professor Hessabi himself!) whose job (as one of the organizers told me) was to excite us by talking about national issues from professor Hessabi’s point of view.

Nasser at December 27, 2003 08:33 PM [permalink]:

Hi Everybody,
This is a prominent illustration of the current situation in Iran. This kind of stuff happens again and again in Iran in every governmental office. There are several other examples as well. For instance when you want to obtain your Marks from your university in Iran. You should run weeks to just give your official results something, which is your right to have it. I reckon that the main problem is that they have appointed the most stupid people to the governmental offices. If they want to select stupid people in random, and appoint them to the offices, I think Iran would better off. They just select the stupidest for their roles.

M at December 28, 2003 03:52 PM [permalink]:

Well, I don’t think that the most talented people would choose to work in administrative positions any where in the world! Administrative jobs are not usually well paid and considered boring. So, I’m not surprised that not so talented people would go for those jobs, however it is important that talented people such as most of the readers of this site (!) could create a well-defined system for the not so talented ones so that they could get their jobs done within the frame work given to them.

It is also unfair that you criticize their English skills so much! After all it’s not so hard to find mistakes in your post or comments! I have seen a lot of people who have been living here for a few years and still when they talk, one could clearly feel that they just translate from Farsi to English or they make frequent mistakes! So how could they make fun of people who never set their feet outside Iran and all the English they know is what they learned in high schools? You could perhaps correct their message and send it back to them explaining how nice it would be for them to make sure their correspondence with people in English is done in an appropriate way!
I’m sure they would appreciate it.

Señor Græd at December 28, 2003 06:58 PM [permalink]:

M:

The fact that the comments we write here are full of English mistakes is irrelevant. The fact that when we speak English we basically suck is also irrelevant. Like I said, there is something in the civilized world called "editing", from the verb "edit", for which we had to make up a Persian equivalent: VIRAYESH. To be sure, some Iranians are also familiar with it, while most aren't. I think you are in the latter category.

Writing their documents/announcement/etc. in laughable English for a serious organization (like a government) *and* (worse) propagating them on the internet is simply inexcusable.

NazKhatoun at December 28, 2003 11:09 PM [permalink]:

As many mentioned, unfortunately, the story is "a norm in Iranian conferences" (It sound so familiar to all of us, specially for those talented ones of us). The budget devoted for every conference is wasted in the worst way possible. If I were Yasser, I would not count on that for my holiday vacation. And honestly, Yasser: when do you expect to be informed of the status of your paper when you just submitted that on Nov. 6th. (again because we all know the situation and I am not taking their side at all).
I wonder if Yasser or his friend was accepted would this article be here?
I don't know but maybe Yasser was one of the people that Somayeh has mentioned in her comment and this behavior has been new to him.

yaser at December 29, 2003 12:22 AM [permalink]:

Nazkhatoon,

If my paper was accepted, yes, this post wouldn't have been here. I considered myself pragmatist and for more important goals, I do neglect the less important ones. If I were able to promote my project with them and possibly get some funding for it, there was no reason to post such a thing and ruin all my plans. We do not live in utopia, I guess.

Nazkhatoun at December 29, 2003 12:46 AM [permalink]:

I may have not been clear. What I meant was that such criticisms would be more effective if they are made not only by those who did not get the benefit of the event but also by those who got it. The disorganization which exists in every aspect of Iran's society most of the time hurts us but very few times gives us unfair (to others) free scores. It would be nice if we try to correct the system even when we are benefitted from it.