Archive for Graduation

Rites of Passage

Posted in Brighton, Education with tags , , , on January 28, 2014 by telescoper

Just back home from the drinks reception that followed today’s Winter Graduation Ceremony at the University of Sussex at the Dome, in Brighton. And a very nice event it was too!

The Winter Graduation ceremony is primarily taken up with postgraduate degrees, and within School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences the largest proportion of those are in Mathematics, especially in the MSc courses in Financial Mathematics and Corporate and Financial Risk Management on which we have a large number of overseas students, e.g. From China. My first graduation ceremony as Head of School therefore presented me with some pronunciation challenges as I read out the names of the graduands. I was a bit nervous beforehand, not because I’m afraid of making a fool of myself but because these days everything is captured on video for posterity and I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s record of their Big Day. I practised quite a lot actually, and think it was OK.

I am always impressed at students who have the courage to travel halfway around the world to study in a foreign land. Graduation is a rite of passage for all students, but it must be of even greater significance for students from abroad.

I’ve attended graduation ceremonies at a number of other universities, and the big difference with Sussex is how much less formal it is. A great deal of credit for that must go to the Chancellor, the brilliantly funny and approachable Sanjeev Bhaskar, who ran the show in inimitable style. He also has a lovely head of hair.

Sanjeev always had a word with the graduands as they crossed the stage, often a hug, and very allowed them to take a selfie, once sitting in the Chancellor’s chair! I found it all very amusing, which helped me relax before my turn at the podium with the list of names. I’ve sat through a large number of dull and stuffy graduation ceremonies in my time, and much prefer the Sussex style!

Also graduating with top marks in our MSc in Cosmology was Mateja Gosenca, who is now my PhD student. Here we are at the drinks party after the graduation ceremony; Mateja is looking very happy holding her certificate as winner of the Sir William McCrea Prize for the best student on the MSc programme!

That one was taken with my Blackberry; here’s a much nicer version taken with a proper camera:

Mateja_again

Nerth gwlad ei gwybodaeth

Posted in Education, Opera, Politics with tags , , , , , , on July 15, 2010 by telescoper

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”.

Graduandi Graduati

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on July 15, 2009 by telescoper

Today was the day of the graduation ceremony for Cardiff  University‘s School of Physics & Astronomy, which took place in the fine surroundings of St David’s Hall. It’s a proud day for the students and their parents so, before anything else, let me offer my congratulations to all those who graduated today. Congratulations and well done to you all!

I put on my robes in the Green Room and was in the academic staff procession at the beginning and end of the ceremony. I also sat on stage during the conferment of degrees and the speech by the University’s President, Lord Kinnock. Some of the proceedings were conducted in Welsh – including the actual degree award - but it was comprehensible enough for all foreigners (even the English) to follow what was going on.

Graduation ceremonies are funny things. With all their costumes and weird traditions, they do seem a bit absurd. On the other hand, even in these modern times, we live with all kinds of  rituals and I don’t see why we shouldn’t celebrate academic achievement in this way.

Graduation is a grammatical phenomenon too. The word “graduation” is derived from the latin word gradus meaning a step, from which was eventually made the mediaeval latin verb graduare, meaning to take a degree. The past participle  of this is formed via the supine graduatus, hence the English noun “graduate” (i.e. one who has taken a degree). The word graduand, on the other hand, which is used before and during the ceremony to describe those about to graduate is from the  gerundive form graduandus meaning “to be graduated”. What really happens, therefore, is that students swap their gerundives for participles, although I suspect most participants don’t think of it in quite those terms…

The academic procession is quite colourful because staff wear the gown appropriate to their highest degree. Colours and styles vary greatly from one University to another even within the United Kingdom, and there are even more variations on show when schools contain staff who got their degrees abroad. Since I got my doctorate from the University of Sussex, which was created in the 1960s, the academic garb I have to wear on these occasions  is actually quite modern-looking. With its raised collar, red ribbons and capped shoulders it’s also more than a little bit camp. It often brings  a few comments when I’m in the procession, but I usually reply by saying I bought the outfit at Ann Summers.

Graduation of course isn’t just about education. It’s also a rite of passage on the way to adulthood and independence, so the presence of the parents at the ceremony adds another emotional dimension to the goings-on. Although everyone is rightly proud of the achievement – either their own in the case of the graduands or that of others in the case of the guests – there’s also a bit of sadness to go with the goodbyes. The new graduates were invited back to the School for a reception after this morning’s ceremony, along with parents and friends. That provided a more informal opportunity to say goodbye. Some, of course, are continuing their studies either at Cardiff or elsewhere so I’ll be seeing at least some of them again.

Although this was my first attendance at the Cardiff University graduation, I’ve been to  graduation ceremonies at several universities as a staff member. They differ in detail but largely follow the same basic format. Compared to others I’ve been at, the Cardiff version is very friendly and rather informal. For one thing, the Vice-Chancellor actually shakes hands with all the graduands as they cross the stage. At Nottingham University, for example, where I was before moving here, the V-C just sat there reading a book and occasionally nodded as they trooped across in front of him.

The venue for Cardiff’s graduation is also right in the city centre, so all day you can find students in their regalia wandering through the town (sometimes with their doting parents in tow). I like this a lot because it gives the University a much greater sense of belonging to the city than is the case when everything happens on a campus miles out of town.

The most remarkable thing  I noticed in the ceremony was not to do with Physics & Astronomy, but with Cardiff’s School of Psychology which is much larger and in which at least 90% of the graduates were female. In our School the proportions aren’t exactly reversed but are about 75% male to 25% female.

I’ve also been through two graduations on the other side of the fence, as it were. My first degree came from Cambridge so I had to participate in the even more archaic ceremony for that institution. The whole thing is done in Latin there (or was when I graduated) and involves each graduand holding a finger held out by their College’s Praelector and then kneeling down in front of the presiding dignitary, who is either the Vice-Chancellor ot the Chancellor. I can’t remember which. It’s also worth mentioning that although I did Natural Sciences (specialising in Theoretical Physics), the degree I got was Bachelor of Arts. Other than that, and the fact that the graduands walk to the Senate House from their College through the streets of Cambridge,  I don’t remember much about actual ceremony.

I was very nervous for my first graduation. The reason was that my parents had divorced some years before and my Mum had re-married. My Dad wouldn’t speak to her or her second husband. Immediately after the ceremony there was a garden party at my college, Magdalene, at which the two parts of my family occupied positions at opposite corners of the lawn and I scuttled between them trying to keep everyone happy. It was like that for the rest of the day and I have to say it was very stressful.

A few years later I got my doctorate (actually DPhil) from the University of Sussex. The ceremony in that case was in the Brighton Centre on the seafront. It was pretty much the same deal again with the warring factions, but I enjoyed the whole day a lot more that time. And I got the gown.

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