Options Magazine, Winter 2023: Every year, a select group of talented young scientists are offered the opportunity to embark on a transformative, career-shaping journey in the picturesque town of Laxenburg, Austria when they participate in the IIASA Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP).

At its inception, IIASA faced a scarcity of researchers versed in the art of systems analysis. This multidisciplinary, international, and applied approach was a novel endeavor, and IIASA needed to bridge the gap by recruiting experienced scientists and forming them into interdisciplinary teams. However, the challenge lay in the difficulty for seasoned researchers to adapt to new methodologies.

The solution? The creation of the YSSP—a platform where early-career researchers converge to learn, collaborate, and innovate under the mentorship of IIASA experts. The program aims to provide the most comprehensive systems analysis training possible, preparing the next generation of scientists to address the intricate web of global issues.

Each year, talented PhD students from around the world participate in the YSSP. The program kicks off with an immersive week in June, where fellows gain insights into ongoing research at IIASA and present their projects on a topic related to the IIASA research agenda. Guided by mentors, these young scientists spend the summer refining their research and producing a paper as a first step towards a publishable journal article.

Beyond research, the YSSP emphasizes collaboration and community building. This year, a guided hike through the Austrian countryside provided a backdrop for shared experiences and discussions—a blend of work and leisure that enhances the overall YSSP experience. Since its establishment in 1977, the YSSP has hosted approximately 2600 fellows. The impact of the program is tangible, as evidenced by the diverse projects and the subsequent achievements of YSSP alumni.

president of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and inaugural Peter de Jánosi Visiting Fellow at IIASA; 2006 YSSPer Katherine Calvin is currently NASA’s Chief Scientist and Senior Climate Advisor; 2010 YSSP participant Arame Tall is a Senior Adaptation and Resilience Specialist in the Climate Change Group of the World Bank; and 2017 alumna Esperanza González Mahecha works as a Climate Change Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

“Our hope is that the participants not only gain valuable research experience but also carry the spirit of the IIASA approach into their future endeavors. For us, success is not just measured in publications, but in the creation of an intellectual and emotional anchor that lasts a lifetime,” says IIASA Capacity Development and Training Dean, Fabian Wagner.

As the YSSP continues to evolve, it stands as a testament to IIASA’s commitment to fostering a community of scientists equipped to navigate the complex landscape of global challenges. Enriched by the YSSP experience, YSSPers are poised to become not just researchers but ambassadors of a more sustainable world—an embodiment of the systems approach that IIASA values and believes is crucial for addressing the challenges that lie ahead.

Applications for the 2024 YSSP are open until 12 January 2024 – click here for more information.

By Ansa Heyl