Tag: New Zealand

Address to Tauranga Girls’ College Academic Prizegiving

I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the Tauranga Girls’ College 2016 Academic Prizegiving (2/11/16), which celebrates the achievements of girls in years 11-13. I learned that the school continues to punch above its weight with our Māori students achieving at the national average (a big issue in New Zealand education).

What follows is the text of my talk. This will not be exactly the same as the talk given as I went off-book a few times, but it is as close as I can make it!


It’s honestly such an honour to be here, speaking to you – I’ve wanted to do this since my first academic prizegiving in 2007, largely because I’m a massive dork. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t have a good time at high school; I realised I was queer and came out to one of my best friends, who was Catholic, and that went about as well as you’d expect, I’ve since been diagnosed with autism which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knew me at high school, my depression first started presenting and was mostly unmanaged, and of course being a teenager is weird. The contrast is turned right up on your life which means the highs are super high and the lows absolutely suck.

But before I continue to dispense wisdom – which I am going to do – a brief history of where I’m at. I grew up mostly in Tauranga with a two-year jaunt to Beirut as a child. In year 13 I represented New Zealand in Biology and the only paper I failed in NCEA 3 was biology, a juxtaposition I have quietly enjoyed since then.

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Yes, I was a very cute child.

I then went as far away from Tauranga as I could and completed a degree in Genetics at the University of Otago. During my honours year – a final year focussing on research with a major written component – I founded the science students association at Otago, presented at a poetry conference in Los Angeles, and was part of the debating squad that went to Kuala Lumpur, because when people say “now, you really need to focus this year” my response tends to be “wATCH ME”.

I worked for ACC for five months and then left Sunny Dunedin to start my PhD at the University of Melbourne. For my PhD, I investigate disorders where your body can’t generate all the energy it needs. I’m trying to develop new treatments and ways of testing treatments, because the particular set of diseases I look at don’t have any treatment. I’ve also I’ve helped run the Women in Science and Engineering group, science festivals, research students associations and generally been over-committed, which my supervisors, uh, might not be totally into.

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Photo by Yao-Li Wang.

I feel like I flail effectively, resulting in a lot of cool things like being flown around Australia, being on TV, and getting published in books. So I’m going to give you a few Hot Tips about how to live your best life, because the future is terrifying and we all need all the help we can get.

Tip number one: Say yes.

Last year I got to go to a youth leaders conference in Australia. My initial inclination was to say no, because I didn’t feel like a leader or an Australian or a capable human being. One of the hardest things to do is to say yes when you don’t think you belong or that you deserve something. I started down this path by responding to requests as if I’m joking, which is literally how I ended up with multiple radio interviews and a podcast!

It took maybe six months before I was confident of saying yes to things – and from there it was a short distance to the nerve-wracking experience of being on national television less than 24 hours after going to hospital with horrible gastro. Confidence is genuinely something you can fake until you have it.

Say yes to things, even if you’re scared, even if you’re still a bit sweaty from being sick, and even if you’re not sure if you’re deserving.

Tip number two: Accept yourself

Accepting yourself isn’t just about body image, it’s about being unashamed of who you are and your passions. I am an angry feminist and I listen to Hamilton and Alainis Morisette to pump myself up and sometimes I spend eight hours playing computer games and once I rapped about bioethics to a room full of hippies.

And I’m depressed – and accepting myself isn’t just chilling on that but understanding that I might need to have ongoing medical intervention for the rest of my life to not want to die 24/7, and knowing that that’s okay, my brain’s just a bit messy but medical research has got my back.

Everyone is a giant dork about something, and it’s weirdly difficult to accept that and have a good time. Don’t feel guilty for liking or wanting or doing things. They’ll inform what you’re good at and help you enjoy and appreciate your life.

Tip number three: ask the question

Adulthood isn’t like, you leave high school and suddenly it all makes sense. From my experience it’s mostly being confused, having a sore back, and wishing you were fitter. You’ve probably heard from your teachers that the only silly question is the question you don’t ask but quite genuinely, that is such truth. I still don’t know if I’m meant to add salt or oil when I make pasta, or how a top-loader washing machine works, or how to make pancakes but thankfully all my high school teachers are here so they’re going to save me right after this.

On another note, I’ve been keeping track of things I’ve googled during my PhD, which has included my favourite, written in a moment of weakness: “how does chemistry even work”.

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Seriously though – if you’re not sure about something, or you’re confused, or need help, there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking about it. I’ve noticed that as I collect qualifications, the more that people know, the more willing they are to admit they don’t know things. And people that know a lot love sharing everything they know. Get ahead of the curve and start asking now.

Final tip: Don’t worry, it’s okay

There are many ways to get to where you want to be. It’s incredibly important that you know that no exam, no test, no class is worth your mental and physical health. I had a nervous breakdown during year 12 exams – so as long as you don’t do that, you’re doing better than me. And if you have a nervous breakdown, well, I’m doing a PhD now, so you’ll probably be okay.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned since high school is how well Tauranga Girls’ College set me up for life. The great things about girls’ schools is that they allow you to explore and develop your personality, interests, and leadership capacity in a space somewhat isolated from the pressures of society. The unique thing about TGC is that it does it well. You – and all the girls who aren’t here tonight – are being provided opportunities that you wouldn’t get elsewhere.

You’re lucky. You’re brilliant. And I look forward to you changing the world.

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Alcohol and Events: how to be better

One of the hallmarks of growing up in Australia and New Zealand is never quite being sure whether your socially acceptable drinking is actually super harmful, an idea I could probably write a five-part book series on. I like a glass of wine as much as the next person self-medicating stress-related sleep issues, but that’s like a good 40% of the population, right*?

And I want to reassure you I don’t ‘hate fun’ (as if alcohol and fun are synonymous) when I say : can we please run events with alcohol better.

Being around large amounts of alcohol, or lots of drunk people, or being in an environment where it’s expected that we’re getting draaaaaank totally sucks. When we make these situations the norm we exclude lots of people, including pregnant people, Islamic people, and anyone who might choose not to drink for whatever reason, including those who have struggled with alcohol dependency. Sure, when you plan your event you might not think about whether any people recovering from alcohol dependency might be attending, but that’s part of the issue, isn’t it?

But wait! I’m not just here to scold the really questionable drinking culture Australia and New Zealand share. I’m here to give you some hot tips.

Offer non-alcoholic drinks and don’t emphasise the alcoholic ones.

Don’t just “offer” them: offer them at the same amount and frequency. That means if a tray has 5 alcoholic drinks, it should have 5 non-alcoholic drinks – not one of everything.

Jackson Wood has written well about not drinking and also not just offering orange juice (although personally I love orange juice as my diet is pretty horrible and I need those vitamins). If you’re hosting at a bar, work with them to emphasise non-alcoholic drinks. My best experiences at bars in Dunedin was getting green tea in a pint glass and settling down for chats.

Not emphasising the alcoholic ones looks like not advertising free alcohol (people who want to know will ask) and maybe not letting a literal alcohol company brand part of your event when the focus on alcohol was discussed as a problem last year.

Level two: mocktails and alcohol-removed wine.

Okay look if you’re serious about being better: mocktails are so cheap compared to cocktails. You know what the expensive ingredient is? Alcohol. So get together some faux mojitos (mojifaux) and margaritas and bloody marys. If you’re hosting at a bar then you can talk to them about putting mocktails on the tab along with beer/cider/wine.

If you’re working with a catering company they might not be set up to do this, in which case alcohol-free wine can be a route to go down. The red is great for staining your teeth without staining your night.

Living Sober also has a “drink of the week” which is a good place to trawl for non-alcoholic drink ideas.

Have food!

Food means the people that are drinking don’t get gross drunk fast. Have more food than drinks. Have the food easier to get than alcoholic drinks. I’d love to go to an event with finger food and jugs of (faux) margaritas. Invite me to this event if you hold it. Thanks.

When talking to attendees, be aware of your language.

This is more of an issue for less profesh events: don’t talk about getting drunk or having a drink or be like “isn’t this great wow free wine and cider how rad”. If you’re a host or an event manager, just switch your language to be like “having fun” or “all of this free food”.

If you offer to get someone a drink, say something like “would you like a drink? maybe a juice?” I know from experience it is exhausting to continuously have to say “no I wouldn’t like wine, no not beer, great a water, I love water, tonight is great.”

Level two: keep an eye out for pressuring

As a host you can’t be everywhere at once. But reminding people you hear pressuring others to have a/nother drink that there are rad non-alcoholic options available is good. It helps to undermine the normalisation of alcoholic drinks.

Realise that making ~networking~ or ~bonding~ “drinks” less focussed on the drink will help remove barriers to cool people you definitely want to network and bond with

Fairly self-explanatory tbh.

The focus of your event isn’t alcohol

If it is – wine-tastings exist – you do you.


I know it’s difficult and scary to try run an event that doesn’t just give people wine until they like you. Booze, free booze, advertising booze are all fast ways to make people think they enjoyed your event, while excluding the people who wouldn’t have. But it’s well worth the effort to hold something that everyone can enjoy.

You don’t have to have a dry event in order to make everyone welcome. The above are just a few things you can do to help – and feel free to comment below with any more ideas!

*This is a joke currently, but legit how I have used alcohol in the past. 

If you’re having difficulty with your relationship with alcohol, check out your local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter (Australia, New Zealand) or have a chat to your GP. Living Sober is also a great online resource.