Nerth gwlad ei gwybodaeth

Once again the wheel of academic life has turned full circle. A year to the day since I blogged about the last graduation ceremony for the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University, here I am doing it again. Last night Cardiff experienced some of the heaviest rainfall I’ve seen for ages and I got a bit soggy on the way to St David’s Hall for this morning’s ceremony. Given that today is St Swithin’s Day this doesn’t bode well for the rest of the summer…

I confess it didn’t feel too comfortable sitting there on stage under the lights in a slightly damp suit, wearing a tie, and sporting mortarboard and gown but it went pretty well. Three Schools went through during the ceremony I attended: Earth & Ocean Sciences and Psychology as well as Physics & Astronomy.

We had by far the smallest group of graduands; the School of Psychology is particularly huge and is also notable for having such a small percentage of male graduates. In Physics & Astronomy we have about 20% female students whereas Psychology must be >95%. We often sit around at tea-time discussing how to persuade more girls to study Physics, but I wonder if anyone frets about how to get more boys to do Psychology?

It’s a very proud moment when the students you know receive their degrees. This year, in fact, produced the first set of BSc graduates that have completed their entire study period while I’ve been here since I only arrived three years ago.

It must be a nerve-wracking experience crossing the stage at St David’s Hall in front of your family and friends, especially in high heels as most of the girls did. I would have thought sensible shoes were a wiser option, but then what do I know?

If you want to see the ceremony you can do so by following this link. I’m in the front row on stage, to the right hand side, dressed in a blue gown and mortarboard but not visible on the cross-stage view.

The Honorary Fellowship presented during our ceremony was received by Professor Paul Harris, a distinguished psychologist. It’s worth mentioning that another such event earlier in the week saw the award of an Honorary Fellowship to Stephen Fry who has been involved in studies of bipolar disorder at the University. He tweeted regularly during his short visit to Cardiff, e.g.

Must say Cardiff is looking spankingly good in the late afternoon sunshine. Castle is gleaming, Town Hall glowing. Much to like here.

I’m sure the university press machine will make as much as they can of his comments. And why not? Cardiff does indeed have much to like. Even in the rain.

The ceremony ended on a high note or, in fact, on several.  Mary-Jean O’Doherty, a wonderful young Soprano from the Cardiff International Academy of Voice, gave us a fine rendition of the Queen of the Night’s  Act II aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Die Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen is a tremendously difficult coloratura piece featuring a barrage of stratospheric high notes. I thought it was tremendously brave to take that on, coming into it completely cold, but she did it fantastically well and it fair brought the house down. I note that the opera from which this aria was taken is featured in Welsh National Opera’s forthcoming autumn season, where it is sure to prove popular.

I’m pretty sure not many people in the audience knew the Opera or could understand German, however, because although the music is wonderful the lyrics aren’t entirely appropriate. The first line translates as “The Rage of Hell is boiling in my heart….”. Perhaps that was a subliminal response to the fact that the  Cardiff International Academy of Voice is closing later this year.

Anyway it was then back to the School for a lunch party – which was very nicely done, I think – and a speech of farewell from the Head of School ending with the award of prizes for students who had performed exceptionally well in their studies. I’m fortunate that the prize-winning student of the MPhys (4-year) cohort is staying on in Cardiff to do a PhD under my supervision.

Just in case any of the new graduates are reading this, let me add my congratulations to those of the Head of School and also repeat his encouragement to you to stay in touch. It’s always a delight when former students drop in for a chat, but if you can’t do that please do keep in touch on Facebook or the like.

I know the graduate job market is tough at the moment, but don’t be discouraged if you haven’t got anything sorted out yet. In the long run what you’ve learned will benefit you.  I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone who has had the pleasure of teaching you over the last three or four years when I say that we wish you all the very best in your future careers.

PS. The title of this post in in Welsh. It translates as “A nation’s strength is in its learning”.

30 Responses to “Nerth gwlad ei gwybodaeth”

  1. Brendan Says:

    “We often sit around here discussing how to persuade more girls to study physics, but I wonder if anyone frets about how to get more boys to do Psychology?”

    If only there was a department that studied the inner workings of the mind, and we could ask them!

  2. Rhodri Evans Says:

    There are SO many great Welsh proverbs relating to learning and knowledge. Another one of my favourites is “Gorau Arf, Arf Dysg” (The best weapon is the weapon of learning). I used to include this proverb in my email sig whilst working at U Chicago, and had a number of complimentary comments about it.

  3. astrofairy Says:

    Lovely post Peter! I’d like to add my congratulations to our students here too, and echo your comments on keeping in touch. I wish I had been there for the day.

  4. Bryn Jones Says:


    You wrote that you were dressed in a blue gown. Why? Doctoral gowns are normally red, scarlet or pink.


  5. telescoper Says:

    University of Sussex DPhil gown is blue, with a red ribbon on the shoulder. Staff wear the gown appropriate to their highest degree…

  6. Bryn Jones Says:

    It’s intriguing that the University of Sussex D.Phil. gowns are blue. That must be unusual.

    I have never been able to put the hood of academic dress on correctly. Somebody has always had to help me.

    I recall that Nerth Gwlad Ei Gwybodaeth (“the strength of a country is its learning”) was the motto on the coat of arms of University College Cardiff (or badge or whatever the correct name for the logo was). It has clearly survived profound institutional changes for Peter to have quoted it today.

    • telescoper Says:

      The gowns of my colleagues were all different colours. I don’t think blue is unusual. Some were green. I even saw one that looked like Aston Villa’s strip.

      Fortunately the Sussex kit doesn’t have a hood so that’s not a problem. Just a rather camp collar, and mortar board rather than cap.

      Incidentally, and not related to your comment, I’ve just realised that this is my 600th blog post….

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Congratulations on the 600 blog posts.

      What does a Cardiff University doctoral gown look like? The old University of Wales gown is a dark, restrained red with a green-gold hem, and is worn with a matching hood and a black mortar board.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Bryn – yes Cardiff University’s motto “Nerth gwlad ei gwybodaeth” is the one which University Wales Cardiff had. It’s a good motto, so I guess they couldn’t think of a better one 🙂

    • Geraint Jones Says:

      Apologies for the pedantry, but as “learning” is both a noun and verb, Nerth Gwlad Ei Gwybodaeth may be more unambiguously translated as “the strength of a country is in its knowledge”.

      • telescoper Says:

        Dear Geraint,

        I’m not sure what’s ambiguous. Isn’t the noun form “learning” synonymous with “knowledge”? The alternative interpretation of “learning” would be as a participle form, but that would be ungrammatical following the possessive pronoun form “its”.


    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Gwybodaeth in the motto could mean either learning (as a noun) or knowledge.

      Geraint, you will find a lot of pedants read Peter’s blog, we are scientists after all 🙂

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      I adopted the translation given by Peter, because it seemed perfectly good, although my own translation would have been “The strength of a country is its knowledge” given by Geraint. Geraint’s is more literal.

    • Geraint Jones Says:

      I stand corrected… yes, “learning” in the translation has to be the noun form.

  7. telescoper Says:

    If you click the link to the webcast you can see the doctoral graduands (doctorands, I guess) going through right at the end. You can fast forward to about 1hr 15 mins.

  8. Garret Cotter Says:

    Tír gan dteanga, tír gan anam.


    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Which means, Garret?

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Rhodri, do remember there is always Google Translate. In this case it successfully identifies the language (Irish) and provides a translation. It nearly means Cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon.

    • Rhodr Evans Says:


      I was too lazy to use google. Easier to ask…

    • Garret Cotter Says:

      Yes Bryn has the correct translation. I think my intention in the wee hours was actually to point out that Peter speaks a very dearly admired mother tongue himself rather than make him feel oppressed by a pan-Celtic language conspiracy! But you can always find yourself being caught out trying to be too smart…

  9. I had a feeling, from memory, that the motto was “Nerth gwlad ei gwybodau”, which would translate to ‘a nation’s strength, its knowns/studies/knowledge’. “Nerth gwlad ei gwybodaeth” implies more of a strength from knowledge/information, rather than a more active role of seeking its own knowledge.

    Athro Peter, hoffaf yn fawr eich ymdrechion gyda defnydd o’r Gymraeg! (Google Translate will give you a gist of that sentence.)

    • Bryn Jones Says:


      Yes, “Nerth gwlad ei gwybodau” is what was in my head too. I assumed on reading Peter’s motto “Nerth gwlad ei gwybodaeth” that my memory was wrong. Perhaps that was rash.


    • telescoper Says:

      All I can say is that the graduation programme contains the form I used. Which is the right motto of the old University of Wales I don’t know.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Yes, “Nerth Gwlad Ei Gwybodau” was the motto of University College Cardiff, not “Nerth Gwlad Ei Gwybodaeth”. It appears on the coat of arms (or badge or whatever) on the front cover of the book A Short History of the College, 1883 to 1933 (by A. H. Trow and J. A. Brown, 1933), along with a Latin motto “Juvat Integros Accedere Fontes” which I hadn’t seen before. I’m notorious poor at Latin translation, so resorted to Googling for help in producing a credible translation: it pleases to approach uncontaminated fountains.

      “Nerth Gwlad Ei Gwybodau” sounds better.

      • telescoper Says:

        I think “Juvat” is probably more like “it helps” or “it is useful” than “it pleases” in this context, and the infinitive “accedere” is probably “to seek out” rather than “to approach”. I’d also go for “pure” rather than “uncontaminated” if I were doing a translation.

        It is in fact a quotation from Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, a masterpiece of latin poetry that espouses the atomic philosophy of Epicurus. Science textbooks of an older generation often quote from this work.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      According to the wikipedia page for Cardiff University its motto is “Gwirionedd, Undod a Chytgord” (Truth, Unity and Harmony). I also notice that there is no comma between “gwririonedd” and “undod”, even though I’ve put one. So I wonder why this is not the motto used for the graduation ceremony. “Nerth gwlad ei gwybodaeth” is maybe felt to be more appropriate a message to the graduands??

      Again, according to wikipedia, the motto of the University of Wales is “Gorau Awen Gwirionedd” (the best inspiration is truth).

  10. Sensible shoes, at a graduation ceremony? You must be kidding… us girls don’t get much opportunity at our graduation to sport a bit of fashion (as we’re all wearing the same gowns) so our shoes and hair takes all the punishment instead 🙂 I’d love to hear some followup stories from the students over the next year on how they go on finding their first graduate jobs in the market – it took me 6 months but I’ve been at the same company now for 3 years.

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