PhD Assistantships in Systems Design Engineering or related


University of Waterloo


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Start Date

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Up to 3 PhD students are sought to work in the areas of climate and environmental policy, decision making under (deep) uncertainty, and/or complex socio-technical (or socio-ecological) systems at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. This work is in support of methodological research on anticipating low-probability, high-impact events supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. There is flexibility on the home department depending on interests and experience (students can earn their PhD in Systems Design Engineering or an appropriate department in the Faculty of Environment). Canadian citizens and permanent residents, as well as women, are especially encouraged to apply.
Complex systems, whether engineered or natural, function at multiple levels and have many moving parts. Within such systems, there are multiple opportunities for things to ‘go wrong’ – potentially simultaneously. Such scenarios of ‘perfect storms’ have low likelihood according to probability theory; however, internal feedback mechanisms in complex systems may encourage cascading failures, making perfect storms more frequent than probabilities suggest. In this methodological research program, system theoretic approaches will be developed and applied to anticipate responses of socio-technical or socio-ecological systems to environmental and socio-economic stressors. Potential application areas include energy planning, environmental management, water management, and related topics.
Students will use methods for quantitative policy analysis (e.g. benefit-cost analysis, multi-criteria decision analysis) and complex systems (e.g. Bayesian networks, cross-impact balances) to advance analytical techniques for risk and policy analysis. The Faculty of Environment, as well as the Department of Systems Design Engineering, provide vibrant environments for interdisciplinary learning, teaching, and research.
Students with quantitative backgrounds (mathematics, physics, engineering, information science, computational social science) are especially desired. Desirable backgrounds also include environmental studies or geography. Students should have an interest in interdisciplinary research with strong analytical skills (quantitative and/or qualitative, depending on the position) and an interest in mixed methods. Students should have strong writing skills and the ability to work independently or collaboratively.
Students would be expected to start in the fall of 2018. Before completing an application for PhD study at the University of Waterloo, expressions of interest should be sent to Dr. Vanessa Schweizer (

Contact Name

Dr. Vanessa Schweizer

Contact Email