A short story about visiting land of wonders, Georgia, as a PhD student

(photo by A. Tafazzoli)

When I was first asked to write a blog article, I thought ok: I could write about the scientific part of the congress, which I attended in Georgia. But given the fact that I was not only impressed by scientific input but also other facts in Georgia, I decided to somehow make a mixture and write about both aspects and focus on how the cultural and economic state of a country can affect the quality of the congress-related visit on a PhD budget!

I know that most of you might think of the state of Georgia, USA! Actually, I am talking about the country of Georgia (საქართველო), which is located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.

When I got to know that one of the important congresses in our field was held in Tbilisi, Georgia, I was very excited to know what I could visit there. I used to join congresses in Western European countries, like Spain or France, and always knew in advance which places to visit during my free time.

This time it was different! I immediately started googling and realized that it would not be as easy as it used to be. Since I am not able to READ! The alphabet is not similar to whatever I knew before. Even though I know 5 languages including Persian and Arabic! The Georgian language was completely new to me. It’s called Kartvelian and it has its own writing system. ‘’არ ცდილობენ წაიკითხონ’’ – do not try to read it 😉

So the only way to survive depends on your navigation ability using google maps! Or, if you are a navigation-dummy, like me, finding an expert friend! Additionally, most of the people are not able to speak English and it is a lot of fun to communicate with them with international body language.


So here comes the list of things that impressed me most:

Tiblisi, Georgia (photo by A. Tafazzoli)

Land of wonder 1- Arriving in Tbilisi- When we arrived in Tbilisi, it was late at night and we were worried how to find a connection to our Hotel, which was located far away from airport. As we were not invited speakers but only PhD students who got a talk, we were not expecting to be given a lift. As we were desperately thinking about how to find a way to our hotel, we were surprised to see a driver holding a card with our name on it at the arrival hall!  Of course, the whole way we were concerned about the fee, which we did not have to pay at the end. It was included in the hotel costs 🙂

Land of wonder 2- Arriving in the hotel- The second surprise awaited us when we stepped into our hotel room. We were astonished by the possibility of choosing among five different pillows to sleep onJ It was interesting! This is not what you would expect in congress hotels, for sure. After running a small scientific investigation regarding the comfort of pillows, trying a different one each night, I concluded that in general none of the pillows had any significant effect in terms of sleep depth, time to fall asleep and some other parameters

Also regarding the food: Right back to the hotel from a long day at a congress and starving? Looking for an affordable place to eat? Thanks heaven for low costs in Georgia! Do not hesitate to use your room service to have an excellent Georgian “Khachapuri” for only 6 €! Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread. The bread is leavened and allowed to rise. It is shaped in various ways, usually with cheese in the middle and a crust, which is ripped off and used to dip in the cheese.

Land of wonder 3- Travelling around- I think the best part of the trip was when we were trying to get a taxi! Yes! Due to the low cost of petrol, most of the people use taxis for transportation. Of course, I need to mention that Georgia does not have an organized public transportation anyways. Almost each time, after a hard time negotiating the costs with taxi drivers in international body language, we managed to get to most of our destinations only with 2 – 3 €. The comfort of low taxi fee encouraged us to make a city tour over Tbilisi paying only 10 €.

The other funny fact was that there were neither traffic lights nor crosswalks for pedestrians in most of the streets and squares. Each time crossing a street felt like an action movie with cars passing quite fast… I think I reached my highest adrenaline secretion since my PhD interview! So be prepared for it when you are planning to go to Georgia!

Land of wonder 4- Arriving at the Congress Venue- After a short travel with a taxi to the venue, I lined up to get my name badge but the person in charge was not able to find my name on the list! When she realized I am a speaker I was directed to a different queue and was treated already like a PI, having a different badge and a very fancy bag, which was not given to other attendants… Now, I started to feel the stress of the congress!!

Aylar winning the 1st prize for her oral presentation (photo by A. Tafazzoli)

Land of wonder 5- Scientific wonder- Hair research and hair related genetic disorders (which are the focus of my PhD) are not one of the common areas like cancer. Therefore, finding a relevant conference at which you can hear exactly what you are interested in is not that easy. EHRS (European Society of Hair Research) gave me the opportunity to meet the experts in the field and get familiar both with clinical aspects as well as biological updates. At the end, I won the first oral presentation prize of the congress. And that made it an unforgettable experience for me! A real scientific wonder!



Author: Aylar Tafazzoli