Vanessa Schweizer

Research & Institution

Institutional Contact

University of Waterloo

Dept. of Knowledge Integration

200 University Avenue West

Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1



I am an Assistant Professor of Knowledge Integration at the University of Waterloo in Canada and a Fellow at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. It was challenging to identify my disciplines, as I am a problem-based scholar who does applied research (policy analysis). I focus on scenario analysis and how it can be used to structure discourse around policy or managerial decisions for sustainable development under climate change.

To demystify my choices of disciplines a bit, climate change is about both Earth and Environmental sciences and human activities (Human geography / Law / Political science). To manage the climate problem effectively, literacy and collaboration across both the natural and social sciences are needed. Climate change is also a slow-moving problem, where the impacts of unwise decisions may not be felt immediately. This means that climate change poses two key challenges for decision making: first, the right decision must be made; and second, commitment to the right decision must be maintained over time. The latter issue is where scenario analysis becomes crucial. My approach to scenario analysis is Mathematical, and my background in decision science (i.e. Operations Research / Management Science) comes from Engineering.

My personal experiences helped me to become this kind of scholar. I have always been fascinated with nature and science and grew up near the beautiful natural areas of the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe in the US. At my hometown university (University of Nevada - Reno), I decided to pursue a BSc in Physics. Other influential experiences at that time were interscholastic debate (policy and Parliamentary styles) and environmental activism. I went on to obtain a Masters in Environmental Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. During that time, I also became a Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow at The National Academies in the US, where I supported the panel on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change. Thereafter, I did my PhD in Engineering & Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, where I developed my focus on climate change, decision making, and scenario analysis. My Postdoc was at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US. My research played an influential role in the development of the Shared Socio-economic Pathways, which are socio-economic scenarios used for climate change impact assessments synthesized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Analyses with these scenarios have made it abundantly clear that climate implications are tied to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.