SPIA PhD Student, Choquette-Levy, Receives IIASA’s Mikhalevich Award

Feb. 21, 2020

Nicolas Choquette-Levy, a PhD student in the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP) cluster of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, was recently awarded the Mikhalevich Award from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) for his research paper on smallholder farmers' adaptation to climate change. 

Last summer, Choquette-Levy was one of about 50 students selected to attend the Young Students Summer Program (YSSP) in Vienna, which provides an opportunity for PhD students to collaborate with IIASA researchers on projects related to systems analysis of sustainability issues. Based in Vienna, the program draws a diverse mix of students from around the world, and Choquette-Levy had an opportunity to develop close professional and personal relationships with other students from Brazil, China, Europe, and the African continent.

“The Young Students Summer Program at IIASA was a unique experience that allowed me to connect with a global network of PhD students doing really interesting research on sustainability and energy-related topics,” said Choquette-Levy. “It was an intensive three-month experience, and I made some life-long friends there. When you’re in an environment where everyone is motivated by working on the same kinds of issues, you form very deep bonds.”

Another benefit of the program is the mentorship participants receive from senior researchers and advisors in their field of choice. Choquette-Levy proposed a project with IIASA that extends from his policy research here at Princeton University, examining how factors like insurance policies and informal lending among farmers might affect decisions about whether and how farmers prepare for climate change. He was assigned mentors from three different research programs – advisors with expertise in mathematics, statistics, modeling, insurance, risk analysis, and demographics – highlighting an interdisciplinary approach. “I received invaluable support that rounded out the tools and approaches I’m using in my research, especially for the specific kind of modeling I want to do. These resources at IIASA were a very helpful complement to what I’ve learned at Princeton,” stated Choquette-Levy.

Over the course of the three-month program, Choquette-Levy was able to develop a full-fledged model that he is now using to explore how various types of government policies may influence farmers’ decision-making. For example, he has been testing whether index-based insurance, which protects people from a shared risk and pays out based on environmental conditions rather than individual, verified losses, might improve community resilience to climate change. He is also using the model to explore what an ideal mix or portfolio of strategies might be to maximize a community’s overall resilience.

Choquette-Levy hopes that his model can help to identify promising climate adaptation strategies that warrant further consideration by planners. This framing of research questions in terms of their relevance to policy recommendations is core to the STEP program at the Woodrow Wilson School. “STEP and IIASA take a similar approach, blending rigorous scientific analysis and applied policy research to tackle specific policy questions,” said Choquette-Levy. “My experience in the STEP program allowed me to hit the ground running in my work with IIASA.”

At the end of the summer program, participants submitted a research paper based on their work at IIASA, and the top two papers were selected for awards. Choquette-Levy’s paper was awarded the Mikhalevich Award, established in 1995 in honor of the late Vladimir S. Mikhalevich, then Chairman of the IIASA Council and a renowned mathematician. The award will allow Choquette-Levy to return to IIASA later this year to continue developing his work.

Nic Choquette-Levy is currently a third-year PhD student, advised by Prof. Simon Levin and Prof. Michael Oppenheimer in the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy Program at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. His supervisors at IIASA were Matthias Wildemeersch, JoAnne Linnerooth-Bayer, and Wolfgang Lutz.

His working paper from September 30, 2019, “The impact of risk sharing mechanisms on smallholder farmer climate adaptation strategies,” is available on the IIASA site.