Spring Week

Immerse yourself in a week of intellectual stimulation and social enjoyment designed to expand your mind.

Spring Week on Campus is an annual week-long event which opens a fascinating window into some of the world-class research carried out at New Zealand’s leading university.

Morning and afternoon sessions feature lectures by distinguished University of Auckland faculty members, chosen for both their subject expertise and their passion for teaching adult students. You’ll join a group of enthusiastic adults who not only have a love of learning but also enjoy the opportunity to debate current issues and meet new people.

Enrolment options

Enrolment in a week pass ($95.00) entitles you to attend all three lectures each day Monday – Friday (15 lectures in total). Tea, coffee and biscuits are provided during the morning break each day.

Single-day pass enrolment ($35.00) entitles you to attend all three lectures on a single day.

Mix-and-match enrolment ($40.00) entitles you to attend any three lectures across the week.

Registration closes Friday 22 November


  • Monday 25 – Friday 29 Nov, 10am–2:30pm
  • $95.00 incl. GST (week pass)
  • $40.00 incl. GST (mix-and-match x3)
  • $35.00 incl. GST (day pass)
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus

The Rise and Demise of the Social Robot: Why Don’t Humans Want What Robots Have?

10:00 – 11:00am
Dr Craig Sutherland
Faculty of Engineering- Department of Electrical, Computer and Software Engineering

Robots are becoming better and better: every year we hear about the new feats that robots are able to achieve. Yet robots have failed to make many inroads into our hearts and homes. Anki, Jibo, and Kuri are three recent “social” robots that tried, and failed, to make a mark on our lives. This talk will look at two aspects of robotics: what do we expect from robots and what can they actually provide? Understanding these two aspects helps to answer the bigger question of what do we need to do to move robots from the laboratory to the home.

Tales of War and Wonder and the Breadcrumb Trails Between

11:30am – 12:30pm
Dr Sara Buttsworth
Faculty of Arts – History 

What does a story about two children lost in the woods, a house made of gingerbread, and a witch with a large oven have to do with war? What can a dystopian vision of teenagers fighting one another to the death possibly have to do with a most beloved fairy tale? How might the intertwining of these two stories provide commentary on war and society?
The overlap between fairy tales and war stories is undeniable. Stories that valorise certain people as heroes and cast others as ogres are definitely in fairy tale territory. Fairy tales directly reference the consumption of children, the decimation of environments, soldiers cast adrift, and the selfishness of ‘kings’ who are motivated by greed and power. From Hansel and Gretel to The Hunger Games, the parallels here to situations, particularly wars, past and present are unavoidable.

Eviction from Paradise: Tourism, Land Grabs and Displacement

1:30 – 2:30pm
Professor Andreas Neef
Faculty of Arts – Development Studies 

Tourism is often presented as a peaceful and benevolent sector that brings people from different cultural backgrounds together and contributes to employment, poverty reduction and global sustainable development. This seminar will shed light on the lesser known and much darker side of tourism as it unfolds in the Global South. While there is no doubt that tourism has been an engine of economic growth for many so-called developing countries, this has often come at the cost of widespread dispossession and displacement of indigenous and non-indigenous communities. In many countries of the Global South, tourism development is increasingly prioritised by governments, businesses, international financial institutions and donors over the legitimate land and resource rights of local people. In this talk, I will examine the actors, drivers, mechanisms, and impacts of tourism-related land grabbing and displacement, drawing on case studies from several world regions

Before the Treaty of Waitangi: The first New Zealand school

10:00 – 11:00am
Professor Alison Jones
Faculty of Education and Social Work – Te Puna Wananga 

The story of the first school in New Zealand is, surprisingly, a Māori story. The school opened more than 20 years before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. It was a part of the first permanent Pākehā settlement in this country, and started with 24 Māori pupils on 12 August 1816 in the Bay of Islands. The settlement, and the teacher, had been invited by northern Māori who had visited Australia and were interested in writing and reading as future-oriented skills for their people. This lecture gives insight into the fascinating 50 years of pre-Treaty Māori-Pākehā relationships in Aotearoa-New Zealand, England and Australia that led to the establishment here of that particular cultural institution, the school.

Ten Weeks Extra Life Every Year. The History and Future of Mortality Decline

11:30am – 12:30pm
Professor Alistair Woodward
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences – Epidemiology and Biostatistics

The increase in life expectancy resulting from mortality decline continues in New Zealand, unabated. It amounts to an extra ten weeks added to life expectancy at birth, every year. Why is this happening? Are we seeing a similar increase in health span? Or does mortality decline mean more years spent in poor health? Have all groups in New Zealand benefited in the same way? And what about the future? What are the prospects for our children and grandchildren?

Do natural resources such as oil and gold bring prosperity?

1:30 – 2:30pm
Professor Steven Poelhekke
Faculty of Business and Economics – Economics

A puzzle in economics is that countries rich in natural resources varying from gold, silver, copper, and diamonds to oil and gas often have poor growth and development performance. The last two decades have witnessed an extraordinary expansion in global mining activity driven by a surge in commodity demand from industrializing countries. This in turn led to substantial new mining investment, an increasing share of which is concentrated in emerging markets. The result may be appreciation of the exchange rate and loss of competitiveness of other export sectors. Mines can also require vast amounts of water, electricity, labour and infrastructure, for which they may compete with local manufacturers. Yet others stress the potential for positive effects as mining operators may buy local inputs and hire local employees. Local wealth can also increase if governments use taxable mining profits to invest in regional infrastructure or to make transfers to the local population

Nuclear Disarmament in the 21st century

10:00 – 11:00am
Associate Professor Treasa Dunworth
Faculty of Law – Law

For years now, the stand-off between North Korea and the international community over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and the perilous state of US-Iran relations have been staples of the international news cycle. We return to the crises again and again without pausing to think about those situations as part of a broader canvas of nuclear disarmament efforts (and opposition to those efforts).

In this lecture I ask why is it that the states most opposed to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted by the General Assembly in 2017, are the same states that are most hostile to Iran and North Korea? I wonder what that might that tell us about the way in which the nuclear disarmament debate is framed today? And I explain why I think these deeper reflections matter.

Uncovering historic ‘whisper’ networks: women’s friendships in mid twentieth century New Zealand science

11:30am – 12:30pm
Research Fellow Kate Hannah
Faculty of Science – Physics

Women’s participation in, and contributions to science in New Zealand in the mid-twentieth century can be understood via patterns of geographic location and social relations. Looking specifically at a cluster of women scientists – Lucy Moore, Lucy Cranwell Smith, Nancy Adams, Greta Stevenson Cone, and Betty Batham – who maintained lifelong friendships over long distances, despite not having studied or worked together, this paper investigates the networks of safety and support these women constructed for themselves within a national scientific community which offered them benign paternalistic sexism through to disregard and discrimination. Drawing on personal papers, letters, and interviews with family members, and using a mixed methods approach to analyse discourse, a historic ‘whisper’ network is revealed, as women look out for the welfare of other women, and promote each others’ work. Exploring the nature of this network: environment, managerial culture, key individuals, social relationships and connectivity, friendship and rivalry – offers opportunities to understand the ways in which women could and did thrive in scientific careers, and mitigates against what Margaret Rossiter named as “camouflage intentionally placed”.

Of treadmills and tick boxes: The difficult art of resourcing youth arts for wellbeing and social justice

1:30 – 2:30pm
Dr Molly Mullen
Faculty of Education and Social Work – Critical Studies in Education 

There is growing evidence for the difference the arts can make to the lives and wellbeing of youth and communities. The current New Zealand government has recognised the importance of engagement in the arts to public wellbeing, people’s sense of identity and social change. Yet, challenges related to funding continue to inhibit this specialist area of arts practice from flourishing in sustainable ways. In this presentation I want to share some stories from my current research project, Creating Change. Stories of three organisations working with youth to make exceptional art in unassuming places across Auckland. Stories about the vital role this plays in the lives of young people. Stories about the value these organisations bring to their communities. Stories about how frustratingly, despairingly difficult it is to fund and finance this work. And, stories about the pursuit of ethical, sustainable options

Is the price right? Fairness and economics

10:00 – 11:00am
Professor Ananish Chaudhuri
Faculty of Business and Economics – Economics 

Are human fair by nature? Does this natural inclination towards fairness have implications for the market-place? Traditional economic theory would perhaps think not, perceiving human interaction as self-interested at heard. This talk explores such fairness preferences in humans and show how they make a difference for matters such as pricing decisions by firms and how getting the balance wrong could have adverse consequences for businesses and others.

Water treatment: next-generation, fast-throughput solutions

11:30am – 12:30pm
Dr Lokesh Padhye & Distinguished Visitor Professor T. Alan Hatton
Faculty of Engineering – Civil and Environmental Engineering

This presentation will provide an overview of recent advances in drinking water and wastewater treatment and our ongoing work at the University of Auckland, which is contributing to these advances. Dr Padhye’s research collaborator and the Distinguished Visitor to the University of Auckland, Professor T. Alan Hatton (MIT, USA) will also share some of the exciting research in this domain from his research group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The joint presentation will include discussion on opportunities and challenges for the next-generation water treatment solutions

Gender penalty and retirement

1:30 – 2:30pm
Dr Claire Dale
Faculty of Business and Economics – Retirement Policy and Research Centre

On 22 August 2019, the NZHerald reported Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s disappointment at the almost 10% gender pay gap in New Zealand, unimproved since 2017. Women are over-represented among those on the minimum wage, but boosting that has not made the hoped-for difference. When it comes to retirement, the gender pay gap compounds the costs of taking time out of the workforce for unpaid care-giving to children and/or ageing parents. Retirement savings are consistently smaller for women than for men. A recent Westpac NZ survey of KiwiSaver members found that over 30% of women had less than $5,000 (vs 19% for men) and only 4% had more than $50,000 in their KiwiSaver accounts (vs 13% for men). The potential benefit for women of, on average, living 3 years longer than men is undercut by having to stretch their smaller retirement savings over a longer period. We need to solve gender inequity.

Do doctors really stop caring? The science of medical compassion

10:00 – 11:00am
Professor Nathan Consedine
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences – Psychological Medicine 

Compassion – the desire to alleviate suffering – is central to medicine. It is expected by regulatory bodies, patients, and physicians themselves. However, while doctors are expected to care, compassion is sometimes lacking.

Research (and opinion) tends to treat the physician as the sole source of. Doctors are blamed for failures, compassion becomes yet another “thing” for doctors to juggle, and we become blinkered to other possibilities.

Studies conducted among New Zealand doctors, nurses and medical trainees reflect a different view. Rather than see compassion as stemming from doctors alone, data from a variety of studies suggest that the patient, the clinical picture, and the work environment are also critical. Findings are discussed as helping us get past the notion that compassion is lost because doctors get tired of caring. The challenge of compassion in medicine is a system one and requires systemic solutions.

Together we can end the HIV epidemic

11:30 – 12:30pm
Dr Peter Saxton
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences – Social and Community Health 

Science has transformed HIV from the most serious infectious disease epidemic of our time to a chronic manageable condition. New Zealanders have a proud HIV prevention history, but why are HIV infections now at record levels, and what will it take to eliminate transmission? This seminar will highlight our country’s successes, including progressive human rights reforms, condom campaigns and needle exchange programmes. It will then summarise the exciting new tools we have such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the daily HIV prevention pill. Drawing upon the concept that epidemics are by their very nature collective events, we’ll discuss how there’s no prevention “silver bullet”, and how eliminating HIV transmission will require the collective efforts of society. The public plays a critical role here in de-stigmatising HIV and championing the new science of HIV prevention. Never again will you worry if a sexual partner has HIV that is treated and fully suppressed!

Atrial fibrillation: The “cancer” of the heart?

1:30 – 2:30pm
Dr Jichao Zhao
Auckland Bioengineering Institute 

Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia and impacts one in four New Zealanders who are 40 years old or more. It leads to a multi-fold increased risk of heart failure and stroke and is a primary cause of hospitalizations worldwide. Perhaps the earliest description of atrial fibrillation is in The Chinese Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, written between 2598 and 1696 BC. Thousands of years later, cardiologists still find that it is hard to treat patients with atrial fibrillation effectively in clinics and researchers do not even know precisely how atrial fibrillation is triggered and maintained in the human heart. This talk will give an overview of atrial fibrillation. We will also discuss ongoing controversies regarding atrial fibrillation, such as how atrial fibrillation is sustained in the human heart and the best approach to treat atrial fibrillation in clinics, and finally, new emerging technologies including FDA approved Apple smartwatches or AliveCor KardiaMobile for the diagnosis and monitoring of atrial fibrillation.

The University of Auckland City Campus

All lectures will be held at the City Campus in the University of Auckland’s General Library lecture theatres.

Comments from past participants

Spring Week is an excellent program to bring oneself up to date on current issues. After this program, I was in conversation with friends regarding its content. Highly recommended.

Harley Neil

Once again, I was thrilled to attend Spring Week, and absorb the most incredible information, facts and opinions, from such a wide range of expert lecturers. I am so grateful for their time and willingness to impart their knowledge. Many thanks!

Dawn Judge

Spring Week energized me with new ideas and a greater understanding of our world.

The opportunity to hear passionate people present on such a diverse range of subjects is both stimulating as well as providing an opportunity to follow developments in many fields of investigation and research.