Spring Week

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

Please click on the appropriate button below to register for Spring Week 2020!

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 20 November


  • Monday 23 – Friday 27 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

Against Mental Health: A Marxist Explanation for Psychiatric Expansion

10:00 – 11:00am
Associate Professor Bruce Cohen
Faculty of Arts – Sociology 

The greatest paradox in the contemporary mental health field is the gap between an ever-expanding number of mental illness classifications, experts, and treatments, and the lack of scientific progress in the area. A key issue for social scientists, then, is to make sense of this obvious contradiction between the growth of a professional discourse despite the lack of growth in their knowledge base. Through utilising a critique influenced by neo-Marxist scholars and a socio-historical understanding of the mental health system, this talk presents one possible explanation: namely, that the post-institutional psychiatric discourse has come to more closely reflect neoliberal norms and values through its diagnostic categories.

Dislocation in an Age of Connection: Refugee Journeys and Social Media

11:30am – 12:30pm
Associate Professor Jay Marlowe
Faculty of Education and Social Work – Counselling, Human Services and Social Work s 

The rapid proliferation and availability of information communication technologies – particularly the smart phone and social media – herald new ways that refugees can remain connected across distance. With nearly 80 million people forcibly displaced globally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees acknowledges the potential of these tools to ‘digitally reunite’ proximate and distant networks. Whilst there is dislocation, there is also the possibility of connection. Numerous sites of displacement now have access to mobile communications. These opportunities effectively create a bridge, at times a lifeline, between ‘here’ and ‘there’. Applications such as Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp and SnapChat now reunite families and friends that support various flows that are social, cultural, political and financial. Presenting several recent research studies, I articulate what these digitally mediated interactions represent for social relations and refugee settlement futures within an increasingly, but unevenly, mobile world.

What makes a microbe infectious?

1:30 – 2:30pm
Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences – Molecular Medicine and Pathology  

Microbes are masters at adapting to their environment. They thrive in niches as different as hot pools, oil slicks, and human beings by rearranging, losing, or mutating their genetic material or gaining new genes from their surroundings. As we are currently experiencing, this process contributes to the emergence of new diseases and resistance to treatments and vaccines. Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles has made a career manipulating microbes to understand how infectious bacteria make us sick and to find new medicines. In her presentation, Siouxsie will talk about two different projects in her lab: the search for new antibiotics from New Zealand fungi, and trying to understand how bacteria become more infectious

Sequencing to understand Human disease – what do we and what don’t we know?

10:00 – 11:00am
Justin O’Sullivan
Liggins Institute

Personalized approaches are not new to medicine. Initial applications were developed to ensure the safety of blood transfusions and tissue transplants. Arguably, the shift to a focus on DNA sequencing (genomics) slowed the wider application of personalized medicine throughout healthcare. However, this delay was only temporary, with >70,000 unique genetic testing products on the market before 2016. Yet, it can always be argued that we do not have sufficient current knowledge to turn the promise of personalised medicine into a reality. Systematic evidence is hard to obtain and is often dramatic and emotive. So what can we tell by reading a human DNA sequence? How much information can we actually use? In this talk, I will discuss some of the issues we are facing when it comes to decoding the human genome and what we are doing here in Auckland to try and improve this.

Irish Mobility, Migration and Settlement in the Pacific

11:30am – 12:30pm
Associate Professor Malcolm Campbell
Faculty of Arts – Humanities

In a television documentary on the Irish in the United States, Mick Moloney, a musician and folklorist, spoke of arriving for the very first time at California’s Pacific Coast and encountering the ocean’s edge. ‘I’ll never forget when my toes touched the Pacific thinking how far away from Ireland I was’, he said. ‘The further from Ireland I go and find Irish people … it’s out there I find the restless ones.’ This presentation investigates the history of these restless Irish, the men and women who from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century sailed across the ocean or settled on the lands around the Pacific. It asks who these people were, what forces led them to emigrate from Ireland, and what impact they had on the diverse societies where they landed.

A Model to Enable Māori to Exercise Authority over Mātauranga Māori and Taonga

1:30 – 2:30pm
Jayden Houghton
Faculty of Law

In Te Tiriti o Waitangi 1840, the Crown guaranteed that Māori would be able to exercise tino rangatiratanga (the unqualified exercise of chieftainship) over mātauranga Māori (the body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors) and taonga (tangible and intangible treasures). In August 2019, the Labour-led Government proposed Te Pae Tawhiti: a work programme to address the Crown’s breaches of this Treaty guarantee. In this lecture, Jayden Houghton considers whether it would be possible to enable Māori to exercise tino rangatiratanga over mātauranga Māori and taonga. Jayden proposes a model that would enable Māori to exercise different levels of authority over particular mātauranga Māori and taonga depending on factors such as the nature of the relationships with the mātauranga Māori or taonga, and the legal traditions attached to those relationships.

New insights into the onset of the age related eye diseases: presbyopia and cataract

10:00 – 11:00am
Paul Donaldson
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

Our sense of sight is critically dependent on the optical properties of the ocular lens that focuses light onto the of back of the eye. However, as we age changes to the lens result in the need to wear reading glasses (presbyopia) in middle age and then cataract in the elderly. Although presbyopia can be corrected for with glasses and cataract treated by surgery the problem is huge with 2.1 billion people needing reading glasses and 35 million being visually impaired due to lens cataract. Furthermore, with a rapidly aging population the extent of the health burden and costs associated with these two pathologies is projected to rise dramatically. This lecture will describe how the lens functions as “biological glass” to transmit and focus light and how those properties are impaired in presbyopia and cataract. This information will then be used to describe research to develop new medical therapies to delay the onset and progression of presbyopia and cataract.

Why are humans so infertile

11:30am – 12:30pm
Andrew Shelling
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences – Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Humans are not a very fertile species. While many of us plan to have a family, unfortunately for many individuals and couples this does not become a reality. Currently 1 in 7 couples in New Zealand will need assistance to have a family, and this is expected to get worse in the future. One of the most significant drivers of reduced fertility is that women in the past few years have delayed having children until later in life for a variety of reasons. Education and awareness about reproductive health from an early age is crucial to ensure ongoing health and wellbeing. Raising awareness about relevant risk factors, such as sexually transmitted infections, smoking, aging and obesity are important issues in ensuring optimal reproductive health, and reducing inequities. Raising awareness of declining fertility is an important topic that needs to be addressed.

Laser-based internet: the past, present, and future

1:30 – 2:30pm
Miro Eriktalo
Faculty of Science – Physics

The internet has had a dramatic impact in our society, enabling altogether new forms of social interactions, activities, and ways to make business. Most of us use the internet ceaselessly every single day, be it for sending and reading emails, online shopping, or streaming music and videos from the likes of Spotify and Youtube.

Democratic innovations

10:00 – 11:00am
Associate Professor Matheson Russell
Faculty of Arts – Philosophy

Democracy as we know it means that we vote in periodic elections to select members of parliament who then govern on our behalf. Occasionally, we will also be asked to vote in referendums to resolve controversial policy questions. However, in an age of political polarisation, misinformation and complex policy decision-making, it is not clear that periodic elections and referendums can secure democratic legitimacy and good governance. But are there any plausible and promising alternatives? This presentation reviews some recent democratic innovations around the globe. It shows how these can help us to imagine new ways of organising the institutions of democratic governance to both improve the quality of political decision making and deepen our democracy.

Smoke, mirrors and aerosol: Bioengineering healthier lungs

11:30am – 12:30pm
Senior Research Fellow Kelly Burrowes
Auckland Bioengineering Institute

The lungs are continuously exposed to the environment via the air (and other things) we breathe, making them susceptible to damage. As a result, respiratory diseases present a huge burden on society and their prevalence continues to rise. We are developing new methods to measure and understand lung function using computational modelling and development of new imaging methods. This talk will focus on two projects aimed at addressing the harm caused by cigarette smoking. One is aiming to develop a digital platform to improve treatment of lung cancer, the other is aiming to assess the safety of electronic cigarettes or vaping.

The electrical heart

1:30 – 2:30pm
Senior Research Fellow Mark Trew
Auckland Bioengineering Institute

We often think of the heart primarily as a blood pump. But, before it can perform its mechanical function it has to both create and respond to rhythmic and complex electrical signals. In this talk we will look at some of the fascinating history behind how we came to understand these electrical signals, how modern bioengineering research tools and techniques help us unpack the processes better and what the implications might be when we visit the doctor.

Uncertain seas: the recovery of whale populations in an era of climate change

10:00 – 11:00am
Professor Rochelle Constantine
Faculty of Science – Biological Sciences e 

Southern right whales – tohorā and humpback whales – paikea have made a remarkable recovery from exploitation that saw over 2 million whales killed throughout the Southern Ocean last century. Here we dive into how genetic and microchemical markers are used to understand how the patterns of recovery are linked to behaviour in these species. In particular, fidelity to migratory destinations, which is often transmitted from mother to offspring in a form of ‘migratory culture’, is a key factor in the often spatially variable comebacks. We also consider how recovering populations will be influenced by human impacts, and highlight how such questions can be answered with new scientific advances, such as genomic and satellite tracking technologies.

Exporting from a small remote economy – evidence from NZ

11:30 – 12:30pm
Antje Fiedler
Faculty of Business and Economics 

New Zealand’s exporting SME face distinct challenges and opportunities. The NZ government has created a supportive trade environment through the implementation of various free trade agreements and a general supportive business climate for entrepreneurs to strive. At the same time, NZ SMEs face the tyranny of distance to major export market. In this seminar, I will provide an overview of how NZ SMEs have engaged with the fast growing Asia region sharing lessons from my research. I will also share some of our recent research insights on how covid-19 has impacted market engagement for NZ exporters.

New Zealand research to save babies’ brains: Just a little bit of sugar?

1:30 – 2:30pm
Jane Harding
Liggins Institute

Low blood sugar levels are common in newborn babies and can lead to brain damage. New Zealand research is changing how babies at risk of low blood sugar levels are treated around the world, including using a simple, inexpensive sugar gel. We will talk about how this happened, where we are up to, and what we still need to know in this surprising research story.

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.