Tag: conference

Gender Equality: The Final Frontier

Last Friday, I gave a talk at the Final Frontier festival on gender equality in space. This talk focussed on two things: the unsung stories of women involved in space travel (from Margaret Hamilton to the scientists and engineers behind the Mangalyaan mission to Sally Ride, Mae Jemison and Valentina Tereshkova), and secondly, space menstruation and how we’re gonna deal with that when we go to Mars.

You can have a listen and watch below – unfortunately the only closed captions currently available are youtube’s automated captions, but I’ve asked if this will change soon (hopefully it will!). A link to this, any other media I’ve been in or created, can also be found on my “Other Media” page.

The tampon giveaway at the end has been described as “Oprah-esque” which may make it one of my proudest moments.

The power of storytelling to inspire and engage us is incredible – Mae Jemison is the fantastic example I flag in my talk, as she was inspired by Lt. Uhura in Star Trek – but it’s so important to have a range of role models and inspirations available so people can gravitate towards ones that most represent them rather than choosing the best of a bad bunch.

Recently I got the wonderful opportunity to speak to young women at the Spark Engineering camp (as part of a group from WISE) about amazing women who have changed the world, and a number of them said how nice it was to hear about the women doing this work. Telling stories only about men alienates women from areas where they could excel – and this holds true for when we only talk about white people, or straight people, or able-bodied people.

Not being part of a majority group isn’t a disqualification for being a good scientist, and we need to start reflecting that in the stories we tell.



The Research Bazaar

From February 1st to 3rd, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Research Bazaar, a free three-day intensive set of workshops in digital tools for researchers. I attended the one in Melbourne, but Bazaars were also held in Dunedin, Vancouver, Perth, and many more sites worldwide. (If your city missed out, and you want to host your own, check out the cookbook for making your very own ResBaz)

The origins and development of the Research Bazaar is covered here, but the short form is: there are a lot of digital tools that researchers need. It’s hard to find out about them, and once you do, there’s not a lot of support. Teaching yourself takes valuable time out of saving lives/increasing food security/understanding the world, and honestly, it’s hard.

The Research Bazaar (“ResBaz” to those in the know) comes to the rescue by running two days of intensive workshops for particular tools – this year, Melbourne included R (the statistics package), Python, MATLAB, D3 and many more – and short sessions for introductions to tools on the third day. They bring experts and researchers together, but it’s not the opportunity to upskill (for free) that makes this special. It’s the focus on community, networking, and helping each other.

There was a session on Twitter, and I’m not saying I won the session on Twitter, but I definitely won Twitter (with this tweet).

It’s been a long time since I sat down in a class for more than an hour, so two days of Python workshops was always going to be a struggle. Arriving on Monday morning (late, without coffee) to have my boots sink into damp grass while I tried to hear the “key story” didn’t set me up particularly well but, like the weather, my mood improved.

ResBaz worked us school hours (9:30-3:30-ish) and the afternoons were left for more social events. The lack of structure gave this time an unconference vibe. On the Tuesday afternoon there were professional masseuses, a personal trainer, and yoga sessions available. The one possible problem was there was very little to force people to mingle – you could go through the entire event without meeting anyone. However, leaving all social events opt-in contributed to the relaxed feeling of the Bazaar.

Top left: the ResPlat(y) branded chocolates they plied us with. Bottom left: my (in theme) reading material while at the Bazaar. Right: Jess Vovers and Rosie the ResPlat(y), ready to change the world.

ResBaz in Melbourne this year had a focus on diversity, reflected both in the attendees and in the three key stories across the conference. It was therefore slightly disappointing that the final panel appeared entirely Caucasian and was four men and one woman. While they were clearly all heavyweights in their respective fields, it was more than a little jarring after the rest of the Bazaar had been such a celebration of diversity.

The Research Bazaar 2016 was a very fulfilling experience – I learned some things, I met some people, and I maintained my flexibility with the yoga session. The catering was A++ and the relaxed feel meant I didn’t get overloaded. I intend to return next year, possibly as a helper for one of the sessions, and would thoroughly recommended keeping Research Platforms and ResBaz on your radar – and trying to attend ResBaz 2017.


Conference Organisation Cheat Sheet

I am a chronic event organizer. Those convening student events and conferences may not have the background I somehow obtained, so I wrote this to assist. It will hopefully be useful for student-organised conferences and first-time conveners. Good luck!



Ask your team what their strengths are. Use those strengths. Follow up with people when you have delegated, but trust them to do their job (until they show they need more active supervision).

Use people who offer to help. Volunteers are an incredibly precious resource.

Ask previous conveners for advice. Make a timeline, ideally with their help. That stops everything from being overwhelming!

You do not have to know how to do everything. You have strengths and weaknesses, and that’s ok. You don’t have to know how to set up a web page, or make a nice poster, or what all the judges look like. You have to run an event. If you’ve got money, it might even be a good idea to outsource.


Your venue should be big enough. It should be close to public transport. It should not look super empty if half the people who registered don’t show up. Your venue should have wireless internet (sometimes, more than just eduroam!) and a lot of powerpoints.

There needs to be clear signage. You can send as many maps as you like via email – people will forget. Put up balloons, stick up handwritten A4 paper everywhere, but have something.

The room where talks are being given should have recognizable front and back doors, or only back doors, so when people are late you’re not constantly disrupted.

Check out the IT systems and support in your venue before your event. Put the numbers for IT and security into your phone. Be nice to IT and security. You will need them.

Ideally, there won’t be a heap of public thoroughfare. My favourite venues also have readily-available spaces to sneak off and do work in (like if you haven’t quite prepared your talk yet) and good coffee nearby.


One of the first things you should do is secure the support of your affiliated institution. Most conferences will (should) be hosted by a university/institute. Free room hire is key.

Even if you can’t somehow wrangle free room hire, having the support of a larger institution will help your sponsorship attempts. If you can get a nice letter from the Dean or VC saying “these people are doing good things we like them” then you’re more legitimate, particularly if you’re younger or your group isn’t well-known.

Sometimes institutions have in-house catering that they can get on the cheap as well. In most circumstances, you will want to do this.


How early do you think you should get onto sponsorship? Wrong. You need to get onto it earlier. (10 months for medium-sized events, 4-5 months for small events, over a year for everything else.)

Work out what sponsors you will appeal to, why, and what you can offer. Outline this clearly when you email them. There is literally no point in being coy with sponsors. Keep your sponsorship letters short and to the point. I’ve outlined an example below.

Don’t forget to apply for sponsorship from government branches, relevant community societies, and NFPs that might be interested.

Dear Australia Branch of Multinational Conglomerate,

I’m writing to you on behalf of People Who Just Started Watching DS9 and Actually Quite Like It, and we’re hosting a conference in 7 months time. The purpose of this conference is to discuss future ethics and disruptive technologies, and as a major player in this field we’d love you to be involved in these key discussions. We’re supported by Names of People Who Are Probably Important.

We’d appreciate financial sponsorship, and can offer you a trade stall, invitations to representatives of your Multinational Conglomerate, and branding on our promotional material. If you’d like to discuss this further or have questions, please don’t hesitate to be in contact.

Best wishes,
Sophia Frentz
Director, DS9 Isn’t As Bad As Everyone Told Me It Would Be
Phone Number, Email address.

Finally, if at first you don’t succeed, don’t stop trying! Sponsorship is difficult and can be an uphill battle – take heart from the fact that it’s terrible for everyone.

Room Hire

Do everything within your power to get this for free. Reach out to philanthropic groups who have nice rooms, companies whose values align with your event (or just aren’t literally the worst), and then to companies who want to recruit all of the people that are attending.

Room hire is super expensive, but there are ways to minimize these costs.


If your space has in-house catering that they can get on the cheap, go for that. If your space has in-house catering that you have to use, you don’t have a choice. Otherwise, get recommendations from people who have hosted events in the same area or for the same sorts of people.

This is how I found Tiger Lily Catering and Romano’s Coffee (University of Melbourne), both of whom have been absolute dreams to work with.

Over-order vegetarian and vegan food. Just trust me on this one.

Make sure non-alcoholic drinks are available (if alcoholic drinks are as well), and make sure they’re not just orange juice. Also, always have water available, even if it’s not a designated break time.


Don’t over-email! Keep your contact short, sweet, and to the point. The internet is wonderful but it also overloads people. In a similar vein, keep physical hand-outs minimal, and with important information easily accessible.

Having said that, mirror information on your website, your facebook page, your twitter feed, and in emails. Don’t just tell me the schedule will be on the website, send me an email with that because I am doing other things with my life right up until the point I am in your building.

The one important thing to include in emails that everyone forgets is where the good coffee is.

Finally, if you want feedback on your event you could hand out a paper survey or you could email your feedback form to people with your thank-you note. SurveyMonkey, GoogleForms, etcetera all mean less work for you, less work for people filling out the forms, and more fun all around.

On the Day

Something is going to go wrong, and that’s ok. Every problem has a solution.

Nothing is going to run to time, so leave buffers everywhere.

Do your best not to fret when things are running smoothly – just relax! This is all your hard work.

Delegate pack down. You’ve earned a break.

Good luck!

If you’re organizing a conference for the very first time and have a burning question, feel free to comment. I know how hard it can be to be thrown in the deep end!

Future Assembly 15

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Future Assembly (“Australia’s newest emergent technology festival”) on Saturday the 14th of November as part of WISE UniMelb through the Wade Institute. The expo ran over the Friday and Saturday, with workshops and talks on both days. I was slightly disappointed to have missed the genomics panel on Friday, but the experience was still fantastic – and the talks may be going online, so I can live in hope!

FA (#fa15) was held at the Melbourne Showgrounds in a large, open-space building, with easy flow between the stalls and talks. The entire space had an excited and hopeful buzz.

To spend any less than half a page on each of the (20 + stalls) present would be to do them an injustice, and so I apologize in advance. The Wade Institute were present, spreading the news of their brand new Masters of Entrepreneurship, and it was nice to check in with our pals at Robogals!

Various groups from the Microsoft “More Personal” Hackathon had stalls as well. The two I took particular note of were Dr. Band, an app  to connect clinicians and their patients more effectively using wearables, and Ani, a robot that one day will (hopefully) provide in-home help.

Picture of a computer screen with the bot (Ani) saying "Don't worry, our conversation is confidential"
Ani occasionally said things that were ah… slightly unnerving.

Plattar gave me a taste of home, as the Augmented Reality company were demonstrating an AR game they made for Hell’s pizza, set on a pizza box/in the Auckland CBD. They also filmed me for a reality augmentation for the WISE 2015 membership card – watch this space!

There were at least four different 3-D printing stalls, and almost all of them had a printer in action, which was capitvating to see. The two particular stalls that caught my eye were make-create, a maker space in Brunswick, and Avargadi.

Avargadi uses a corn-based polymer to print eco-friendly lampshades, drawing inspiration from flowers for their design. They fit eco-friendly bulbs, and the use of a corn base means  you can just throw your old lampshade in the compost. I was incredibly taken with their designs, and spent a long time watching a lamp being printed.

8 illuminated lampshades modelled on flower shapes including jasmine, rose, and lily.
Examples of Avargadi lampshades, illuminating the space. The grooves left by 3-D printing made the lampshades look incredibly organic, bringing to mind ceramics or pottery.

Further into the darkened part of the display hall, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Semantrix, right at the back in the cold. They seemed to get a similar flow of people to the rest of the hall. Their sensor to detect various forms and types of movement will hopefully make a major difference in aged care and independent living.

The final stall that requires mention is Cheeky Chameleon, a stall presenting Depthless. Depthless is a game designed for the Oculus Rift using the Unity engine that is a science-fiction horror, “along the lines of Alien”. You are the first manned mission to Europa, and you get trapped under the ice and have to find drones, survive, and conserve your power. The demo version (thankfully) was peaceful. I’m not sure if I’d be up for Virtual Reality with jump scares, but the ability to motor around some clams was fun and incredibly immersive. I’m a big fan of Virtual Reality, and that this group from AIE has built an Oculus game in 8 weeks suggests a large number of VR games may be just around the corner. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

I only attended one talk, as one of the (very few) drawbacks of Future Assembly was that the stalls were so fascinating I didn’t want to stop looking and talking. The talk I attended was Phil Goebel of Quanticare, discussing technology in the form of preventative healthcare. At that point my FA companion was Shaz Ruybal, a malaria researcher, so we absolutely could not miss the health talk.

Phil did not disappoint. The first half of the talk discussed the general use of technology, apps, and wearables in healthcare, and how greater patient access to data could empower them and decrease hospitalizations. The second half was more specifically about Quanticare:

We are building a walking frame with an integrated sensor that measures how well a user is walking, allowing clinicians to enable more proactive falls prevention management of our seniors. By collecting continuous, passive and contextual gait performance data, Footprints will deliver the right data set to the right people at the right time, keeping our seniors mobile and independent. – Quanticare Website

Senior care is a rapidly growing field, as 15% of the Australian population are currently over the age of 65 and that proportion is only going to increase. People at FA had definitely picked up on that; both Semantrix and Quanticare are geared towards geriatric care.

Two things surprised me about Future Assembly 15: firstly, how complimentary a lot of the stalls were. Very few of the stalls and groups appeared to be in direct competition with one another. I hope that FA15 inspires a few collaborations between particularly complimentary businesses.

Secondly, the diversity of the attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. Before any tech event I always clench slightly in preparation for the deluge of obnoxious boys. Future Assembly was so far removed from that as to be in the future, and I hope that this is what the future of tech looks like, because it’s somewhere I can belong.


Junket 2015 : 200 youth leaders in Australia (including yours truly) get whisked away to the QT Canberra to solve problems. Ideally, they’ll solve the biggest problems facing Australia today. It’s invite-only; you could only “buy” your way in with ideas.

I cried when I got the email inviting me out of the blue (sent to the WISE inbox), nearly tried to convince the current WISE president that the email was actually meant for her, and looked at the email about fifty times over the next two days to ensure it was real. I carefully didn’t mention that I’m a New Zealander.

I’ve seen enough startups that claim they will solve the world (or even just fill a niche) be impractical and overly optimistic and frankly grating with their buzzwords. I wasn’t super hopeful that hashtag junket was going to be any different – even when I signed up to the conference-specific app it seemed like everyone was more enthusiastic/less moderately jaded than me. I felt it was going to be an impractical love-fest full of people saying words like “disruptive”, “agile” and “lean”, but food was provided, and free food will get me just about anywhere.

a bowl full of donuts with a greeting card welcoming Ms Frentz to the QT Canberra
An example of the free food with which I can be bribed places

I cannot explain to you exactly how different it was.

It was a love-fest, sure – everyone was always excited to see you and keen to talk to you about who you are and what you’re doing. But it was practical. It was grounded. On the second day we had five hour-long sessions, with 11 options for each one, and every single one asked for practical action points at the end.

A lot of the sessions had people working in the field of interest, from arts to the sciences to education to indigenous issues to medicine; the list goes on. This meant that people took action points back to their work and can start putting ideas in place as early as this week. But it gets better than that.

Every person there was doing good things. It was an experience reminiscent of the International Biology Olympiad to me – I’d found my people. These were hyper-intelligent polymath overachievers with a social conscience the size of a bus. The core of Junket was the fact that people who wouldn’t have otherwise met were brought together to discuss things that mattered to us. I met other people who care about women in STEM, who think the social norm that is university is kind of bullshit, a volunteer for the Missing Persons Advocacy Network, queer activists, mental health activists, engineers, scientists, dancers, artists, all full of energy and passion.

I not only pitched about women in STEM at the opening night, but ran a session and pitched about a women in STEM students network in an actual elevator. I’ve got about three pages of my own notes as well as the write-up Junkee is going to supply to start taking action on. Everyone had really good ideas and I’m looking forward to putting them in action. Watch this space, I guess, but not too closely – I still need to recover.

Dark room with project screen featuring the word "Junket"
Scene from the opening night at Junket

While I’d love to focus on the content of the sessions or discuss the disconnect between corporate sponsors and social justice that is apparently a Big Deal but 100% doesn’t seem incongruous to me, that would bust this blog post out to thousands of words. Junkee.com will be writing articles on it over the next few weeks.

What surprised me the most about Junket, what mattered the most about Junket, was that I felt comfortable to be fully honest about myself and my experiences. In my daily life there’s a lot of things I don’t share, neglect to mention, avoid discussing – even with you, public forum of the Internet. I try to fit in and in doing so become a version of myself. I did not do this at Junket; there was no need.

At Junket I was open and honest. I was challenged and inspired. I was reinvigorated and changed and it was fantastic.

picture of every attendee at junket arranged in rows with a spotlight on them holding yellow flags saying
Final family photo at  #junket 2015 – photo shamelessly stolen from Jess Scully (curator of Junket 2015 and probably now my personal hero)


My journey to Perth started with a healthy dose of panic-induced earliness; having not travelled with luggage since emigrating to Australia, I stressed out that I would arrive late and so had two hours in the Qantas departure gates to kill with some of the worst wi-fi I have ever had the bad fortune to connect to.


At least I had some company for the two hours in Melbourne Quantas Domestic Terminal


I was travelling to Perth with most of my research group to present a poster at AussieMit 2014, the Australian Mitochondrial research conference and my first conference. I was nervously confident that I probably knew what I was about.

Perth itself was incredibly dead when I arrived, on a Sunday afternoon. Most shops had closed at 5 and while all I really wanted to do was sleep, it was still enough of an inconvenience to be an inconvenience.

The city is relaxed. The roads are wider, the houses seem further apart, and the city itself is much greener than I anticipated. The Harry Perkins Institute, where the conference was hosted, is less than a year old and had some incredibly wonderful installations (and a good cafe).

This moved across the body and showed different things relevant to the position!

Perth is really into it’s street art – according to a girl who lives there, Perth is trying to become more like Melbourne and went down the “murals and enforced culture” path rather than the “get a load of hipsters together and see what happens” path. Sites such as the one below were pretty common while wandering around Subiaco and Leederville.

mural showing men with bags, possibly gold miners.
Mural in Subiaco

The city center, on the other hand, is fresh and open and at this time of year, incredibly Christmassy. Perth put on an incredible show for Christmas, with huge trees, stars, and various constructions of metal and fairy lights residing in almost every window we walked past in town.

Perth city centre. Look at that summer. Look at those fountains. Look at that weird sculpture in the background. Truly a great city.
Perth city centre.

I had most of a free day to see Perth, and explored SciTech, the Supreme Court gardens and law museum, and Koko Black.

It is with great dismay I admit that I have reached the age where I feel self conscious pushing small children off equipment that looks fun, and SciTech was smaller than I had hoped (or perhaps I am just larger than when I was last at a science museum). The inner suburbs of Perth have a fairly great free bus service connecting all of them that goes about every 8 minutes, so I got in from SciTech with no hassles at all.

Koko Black had been recommended to me by the “Urban walkabout” tourist brochures, using language that lead me to believe this was only available in Perth. AS IT TURNS OUT there are TWO Koko Blacks in Melbourne. I had kind of hoped I was eating at some Cool Perth Eatery, but I’m not one to sniff at chains of gourmet chocolate stores. Instead, my Perth Eating Experience was at Wild Duck on Hampden Road during the conference – five courses, one of which included a foam. I wish I could ever remember to take photographs of my food, because it truly was an experience worthy of documenting.

The Law Museum was mostly an accident – I was trying not to be awkwardly early to Perth airport, especially seeing how much I really dislike bad wi-fi. I went for a wander past a lot of construction (I’m sure it will all look great in like three months but it was dusty and uninteresting) and came upon the Supreme Court, which was surrounded by some quite wonderful gardens and the oldest building in Perth and the Law Museum.

Much of the Law Museum focussed on the interplay between Aboriginal and English law, and how West Australia has dealt with that. The Museum definitely made it seem like a genuine attempt to peacefully bring the two cultures together, but history is written by the victor and the violent history of Australia (and large-scale ignorance of it) makes me incredibly uncomfortable. But on the other hand, I sat in the head judge’s chair, so that was fun.

Supreme Court gardens, Perth
Supreme Court gardens

We had walked through Kings Park the night before (everything in Perth is so green, everyone is so fit) and I got to experience more Australian flora and fauna as well as some stunning views of Perth.

View of Perth skyline showing skyscrapers and blue sky
The view from King’s Park

Finally, Perth had the cheapest airport transfer I’ve ever had: the train into town from accomodation was $2, and the bus out to the airport $4.40. The bus takes just under an hour, and takes you to terminals 3 and 4.