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Matilda Viz!: A data visualisation competition open to all students

6 May 2022
Develop your data visualisation skills and help to tell important stories about mental health and/or substance use.
The Matilda Centre is hosting a data viz competition open to all students at the University of Sydney. Get your entries in by 17 June 2022 to be in the running for one of four $300 prizes!

The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use undertakes world-leading research into the prevention and care of mental health and substance use issues. Data is key to our work, and imaginative ways to visualise and communicate data translate into better understanding and policy change. Data visualisation competitions are a great way to build analytical thinking, graphic design, and data science skills. This competition – open to all students at the University of Sydney – is being run by a group of PhD candidates at the Matilda Centre and funded by the Office of Student Life.

For this competition, we are asking University of Sydney students to source data related to mental health and/or substance use and create a visual representation of those data to tell a story or highlight an important issue. Beyond that – what you do is up to you! Focus on issues of personal interest, or those that you think matter to your community/society more widely, and showcase your data viz strengths! We want to see the best stories that the data can tell.

Register your interest to receive communications about the Matilda Viz competition. 

  • Monday 2 May – Submissions Open
  • Wednesday 16 May, 5pm AEST – Online workshop run by Matilda Centre students and an external data scientist: Introduction to data viz + competition Q&A (attendence is optional)
  • Friday 17 June, 5pm AEST – Entry Deadline
  • Friday 24 - Frisay 8 July – Public Voting Open
  • Friday 15 July – All Winners Announced

Submissions can be made by individuals or teams of students. Visualisations must be in a digital format readily accessible by the public. Specifically, they must be either a high-quality stand-alone static image (JPEG, PNG, etc), or dashboard-type entries hosted on a public server (see examples). Such formats may include Shiny, Tableau or PowerBI dashboards.

Entries must be submitted to: with the subject 'data viz entry'. 

You must:

  1. Attach either an image file, or link to an interactive visualisation AND attach a static graphic screen grab of the visualisation to be used as a cover image.
  2. Include a paragraph (max. 200 words) describing the story you intended to tell and how your visualisation was made.
  3. Tell us your (or your team members') full name, degree and year of study.
  4. Indicate if you are a beginner (i.e., you have no previous coding experience, have never completed any data visualisation as part of a higher education course, and have never entered a data visualisation competition before).
  5. Indicate if you have used code for a substantial portion of the work involved in creating your visualisation. If the latter applies to you, please also attach a file containing the relevant code.

Entries will be judged by 3 academic/professional staff members of the Matilda Centre, and 1 professional staff member of the Office of Student Life, according to the following criteria (10 points for each):

  • Story told and insights offered about mental health and/or substance use
  • Creativity and aesthetic appeal
  • Clear communication of key information

All entries will also be posted to a Qualtrics survey to facilitate public voting. Links to the survey will be shared via the Matilda Centre, and will be emailed to all entrants. Please encourage your networks to vote!

4 prizes worth $300 each are on offer:

  • Judge’s choice
  • People’s choice (based on Qualtrics survey results)
  • Best code-based visualisation, determined by the judges
  • Best entry by a beginner, determined by the judges

There are several tools that automate much of the work of data visualisation. Some of these, such as Tableau and PowerBI, are either free or provide free licences for students.

For making beautiful visualisations, it can help to focus on your data-ink ratio, and choosing fonts and colour schemes that work well together.

There is plenty of publicly-available data that you could use for this competition – if you know where to look!

You will probably want to make use of aggregate level statistics. These are the kind of data you might find published in government reports or journal articles. This could be useful if you want to visualise data on a group-based level e.g., how a particular phenomenon varies across countries or over time. Aggregate data are all that is required for beautiful, insightful visualisations.

You may wish to take inspiration from Our World in Data’s alcohol, drug, and mental health vizzes. The aggregate level data they use to make these charts are freely available – just click the download button! Other sources of relevant aggregate data include The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey and the National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

The AURIN platform (for which you can make an account using your University details), is also a good place to search for Australia-specific data, while Google dataset search and Gapminder are broader repositories. Finally, if you are code proficient, there are several packages that function as APIs for accessing data (e.g., for health data).

There are also some publicly available individual-level data to be found, which allow you to examine how phenomena and relationships vary (or don't) on a more fine-grained level and to make statistical inferences. Packages for coding languages, e.g., R or Python, often contain individual-level datasets – many of which are relevant to mental health and substance use. For example, we have located a dataset looking at substance use and personality predictors (dataset A), and one looking at alcohol abuse and other demographic/lifestyle characteristics (dataset B).

For those without the coding skills required to download this data, we have provided these datasets in Excel format (can be converted to CSV).

Important notes: Only use personal research data if you have permission to share it publicly. Make sure to cite what data you are using somewhere on your viz.

Everything in life has terms and conditions, and this competition is no different. Please read the terms and conditions of entry (PDF, 155KB) before you begin preparation of or submit your visualisation.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about this competition please contact

If you or anyone you know needs support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 or headspace on 1800 650 890.

In business hours: also consider reaching out to the University of Sydney Student Counselling Service (Level 5 Jane Foss Russell Building G02) at 8627 8433 to book an appointment from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

After hours: The University Crisis Line is accessible for calls within Australia at 5pm-9am weekdays and 24 hours on weekends by calling 1300 474 065 or texting 0488 884 429. Students located outside of Australia can access support for offshore students.

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