13 February 2017
Life After the YSSP
by Talha Manzoor
My relationship with IIASA began in the summer of 2013 when I participated in the YSSP that year. I had just been admitted in the PhD program of Electrical Engineering at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Pakistan, which was set to begin in the fall of 2013. As a typical graduate student just beginning a PhD, I was still going back and forth over ideas for my dissertation. Little did I know that what was intended to be a casual summer in Austria, would yield the research that would eventually define my PhD.
During my first few days of the YSSP, I gradually discovered the incredible work environment at IIASA. Here was an extremely diverse group of scientists ranging from economists and mathematicians, to political scientists and biologists, working in harmony on issues of immense importance to society and its prosperity.
What inspired me most was the interdisciplinary aspect of work at IIASA. With the Advanced Systems Analysis Program, I witnessed firsthand how the proper level of abstraction can reveal similarities between problems originating from completely different disciplines. How scientific methods and tools developed by scientists of a particular field could be used by those working in completely different areas. The integrative exposure of the program enabled me to realize connections across disciplines in a way I had never anticipated before, and it was fascinating.
During my stay at IIASA that summer, I worked towards developing a mathematical model of natural resource consumption which required me to brush up on concepts which, as an electrical engineer, were entirely new to me. This included literature from social psychology, resource economics, game theory and other similar areas. The success of the summer project created further opportunities for me to return to IIASA, at least once every year since 2013, to carry out my research work, which resulted in various publications at reputable venues.
I am expecting to complete my PhD later this year. My dissertation is titled “Systems, Games and Networks: A Multi-theoretic Framework for Natural Resource Governance” and is being jointly supervised by Dr. Abubakr Muhammad at LUMS and Dr. Elena Rovenskaya at IIASA. The dissertation explores human behavior in complex socio-ecological systems and the conditions under which society behaves optimally in order to ensure sustainability. The research employs a new perspective, called human-in-the-loop-control, which treats human beings as fundamental components of the system that can adapt to changes in the surrounding environment. This is in contrast to the conventional treatment of human behavior as either disturbances or exogenous inputs. I have used a mathematical model to identify requirements for sustainability using the principles of game-theory, optimal control and network theory.
My PhD research required me to link extremely disparate disciplines in a manner that was also relevant to the global issues being faced by society on a daily basis. This would not have been possible for me without the experience I gained at IIASA. All of this was enabled by my participation in the YSSP four years ago.
Last edited: 17 February 2017
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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