Ólafur graduated from Aber with a BSc in Agriculture in 1969 and followed this with a PhD in 1972.
What do you remember most about your time at Aber?
As soon as I arrived in the beginning of October 1966 I felt at home although much was different from Iceland. I was the only Icelander there, well-received by everyone I met, both in the University and outside it. Staying in Pantycelyn Hall for the first year was enjoyable, and I made several friends which helped me to improve my English. Subsequently I lived with my family in cottages in Llanbadarn Fawr for five years. Not only did I value highly all the friends, (still in contact with a few of them), but also the beautiful environment; landscape, vegetation, proximity to both the sea and the mountains, in addition to all the cultural assets and facilities in the University and in the town generally. I became the President of the Overseas Students Society 1967-1968 and my wife was active in the Overseas Wives Club and this amongst other activities we participated in proved very memorable indeed. During my postgraduate years 1969-1972 I spent considerable time outside the Penglais Campus as my experimental sheep were mainly kept at Frongoch Farm. I very much enjoyed my research work, writing scientific papers with my supervisor and excellent lecturer, Mr Jim Lees, and my relationship with staff members and students became closer in many ways. All this was a wonderful experience, much hard work, and I have always valued highly the postgraduate grants I received with the help of professors. The financial support from Iceland was very limited and only in the form of loans. I remember very vividly how much we missed Aberystwyth when we left for Iceland in early August 1972. Studying and staying in Aberystwyth was certainly one of the best decisions I have made in my lifetime, valuable and memorable in every respect.
What are you doing now career-wise and how has your Aberystwyth degree helped?
The Aberystwyth education in agriculture and related subjects, first the BSc Honours degree in 1969 and then the PhD in 1972, formed the base of my subsequent career and scientific activities ever since. Now, after retiring, I am continuing work on several projects as an independent agricultural consultant but with more time for my family and hobbies which are mainly small scale farming with sheep and organic growing of vegetables, grassland and trees. Thanks to my broadly based academic background from Aberystwyth, and due to my involvement in several projects and professional activities over the years, I am now able to apply my knowledge and experience in many ways. This ranges from advisory work for farmers, involvement in projects abroad, mainly in Europe and the writing of scientific papers. I place emphasis on sustainability and resilience. In fact my Aberystwyth training has proven to be invaluable. Twenty years ago I started developing advisory services in organic farming within the Farmers Association of Iceland where I worked for 37 years. I would not have been able to do this without my broad- based agronomy education from Aberystwyth where I studied agricultural botany and agricultural economics together with agriculture, animal and crop husbandry. My postgraduate research became the basis for several projects leading to several scientific lectures and papers. Although academic research has only been a minor aspect of my career, and most of my papers have been written outside office hours, I am the author or co-author of 40 peer-reviewed papers in journals and books, mainly in the field of sheep reproduction and most of them in English. Again, sparked off in Aberystwyth around 1970. Thus my Aberystwyth degrees have proved extremely useful to me in several ways. Had it not been for my Aber training and experience I would not have been as internationally active as I have been, in the European Association for Animal Production (EAAP), the International Federation for Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), Slow Food, the British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) and Rare Breeds International (RBI).
What advice would you have for a student doing your course now?
Although I realize that curricula and courses have changed since my time at Aber, a high academic standard is maintained and that there are many relevant and interesting options, probably more varied than 40-50 years ago, in harmony with changing times. Furthermore, there is much greater international involvement overall, with a broader range of overseas students. In my time when there were approximately 2000-2500 students in the University there were only some 100 from abroad, mainly from Commonwealth Countries in Asia and Africa. There were also some overseas postgraduates in the Plant Breeding Station at Gogerddan and in the College of Librarianship.
To the overseas students, particularly from non-English speaking countries, I would say that your training in English, a most useful international language, is a great asset and has served me well ever since. To all students I would like to recommend Aberystwyth as an ideal venue for study and research with its pleasant town life in close proximity with rural surroundings and abundance in natural beauty. Another advice is to participate in some social activities, learn something about Wales, history, language, culture and music. Keep in mind that Wales is unique and Aberystwyth has a special quality to offer any student planning a degree course. To students already doing agricultural courses I feel confident that a degree from Aberystwyth is of great value, not only professionally but also as a means of broadening your outlook and enhancing your life generally. Then I hope you can look back in the future and can share my experience: Aberystwyth was ideal for me.