Fall 2020 Earth Institute Research Assistant Opportunities

August 14, 2020

By Minji Ko

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is offering undergraduate students with research assistant opportunities during the fall 2020 semester. Undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard will be able to serve as research assistants on projects related to sustainable development and the environment with distinguished faculty and researchers at the cutting edge of this burgeoning field.

While research assistant positions at Columbia are generally awarded to graduate students, this program instead aims to present undergraduates with a unique opportunity to be involved in research at a high level and to gain valuable experience and skills for their future academic and professional careers. Relevant research projects will be led by faculty, and the admissions committee will match students with projects based on their interests and abilities. Successful applicants will work directly with faculty on these projects on a part-time basis. These research assistantships are funded at a rate of $17 per hour for up to 10 hours a week for
12 weeks (a maximum of 120 hours during the semester).

The research positions are:

  1. Black Atlantic Ecologies
  2. Characteristics of basal crevasses underneath Antarctic ice shelves
  3. Forecasting food insecurity, conflict and migration through near real-time remote sensing of crop loss
  4. Impacts of monsoon rainfall variations on local agriculture, economies, and other societal outcomes in India
  5. Race and Identity as Drivers Influencing Climate Change Adaptation in the Western US
  6. The impact of COVID19 lockdown on air quality in sub-Saharan Africa
  7. Urine metallomics as a tool for pancreatic cancer detection

To apply:
Complete the online application available here by September 14, 2020 at 11:55pm. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications. Note that only undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard are eligible to apply. Decisions will be made shortly after the deadline.

Students who are awarded research assistantships are expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase in spring 2021.

Contact Cari Shimkus (cshimkus@ei.columbia.edu) with any questions.


1. Black Atlantic Ecologies

Department: Center for the Study of Social Difference

Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will assist with the development of an annotated bibliography for the working group, as well as with the development of individual group members’ projects related to the intersections of ecological crisis and Black life, for presentation in the Spring.

Skills Required:

  • Strong reading, synthesizing, and writing skills.

A bonus, if the candidate has:

  • Fluency in French, Spanish, Dutch, and/or Portuguese.
  • Transcription experience.
  • Translation experience.
  • GIS experience.

2. Characteristics of basal crevasses underneath Antarctic ice shelves

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: The RA will work with NASA airborne radar data over Antarctic ice shelves across the whole continent. Ice shelves are crucial to the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. They will use the PI’s MATLAB scripts to identify crevasses at the base of the ice shelf and identify characteristics such as width, depth and periodicity of the crevasses and how they eventually break off to form ice bergs.

Skills Required: MATLAB and GIS skills


3. Forecasting food insecurity, conflict and migration through near real-time remote sensing of crop loss

Department: Center for Climate Systems Research

Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will use machine-learning (ML) techniques to predict regional food insecurity, conflict and migration. First, the research assistant will analyze satellite retrieved vegetation index and detect spatiotemporal changes to crop production using land classification maps. Next, the RA will use the processed and analyzed data to devise an ML model along with additional open sourced indicators related to food insecurity (FEWS NET), conflict (ACLED) and migration (UNHCR). The work will be done in Python.

Skills Required:

  • Python coding skills
  • geospatial analysis (a plus)

4. Impacts of monsoon rainfall variations on local agriculture, economies, and other societal outcomes in India

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: Locate data sources online of economic, agricultural, and public health outcomes at the finest spatial and temporal granularity available within India. Perform calculations on timeseries of these societal measures and on a rainfall dataset already acquired and that the supervisor will make available to them. Read published papers in the economic literature and physical climate literature to gain requisite understanding of the problem, the current state of knowledge, and potentially useful analytical tools to address the problem. At the project’s end, write up a summary of their results to be delivered to the supervisor and, if sufficient progress is made, to subsequently be adapted into an article and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.

Skills Required:

  • Basic programming skills, preferably in Python.
  • Basic understanding of economic concepts such as gross domestic product.
  • Basic understanding of physical climate concepts such as monsoons and the physical processes related to precipitation.
  • Proficiency in standard statistical methods such as correlations.
  • Ability to search effectively online for needed data sources.
  • Ability to communicate clearly with supervisors their progress, needs, and questions.
  • Persistence and resilience so as to find ways to make progress even when inevitably plans don’t come to fruition exactly as planned.

5. Race and Identity as Drivers Influencing Climate Change Adaptation in the Western US

Department: International Research Institute for Climate and Society

Anticipated Tasks: The intern would work to develop and apply a set of codes, using NVivo, to a number of text records from communities experiencing climate change. They would conduct some quantitative analysis of the resulting codes (distribution of themes by time, location, source, individual), and would write summaries of these findings.

Skills Required:

  • some coursework in social science required
  • basic computer skills (Word, Excel, bibliographic searches
  • experience with NVivo or other qualitative coding a plus, but not required
  • coursework in social justice, environmental justice, or critical race theory a plus, but not required
  • coursework in US history or environmental history a plus, but not required

6. The impact of COVID19 lockdown on air quality in sub-Saharan Africa

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: The student will be given low-cost and regulatory-grade air quality (PM2.5) data from several cities in sub-Saharan Africa, including Accra, Ghana; Nairobi, Kenya; Kampala, Uganda; and Kinshasa, DRC; dating back to early 2018. The student will compare air pollutant concentrations during the 2020 COVID19 lockdown months to the same months in previous years (2019, 2018) in order to quantify the change in air quality in several sub-Saharan African cities due to COVID19 restrictions. The student will also be tasked to perform a comparison between the regulatory-grade and low-cost data in order to develop calibration factors for the low cost sensors to correct them towards regulatory-grade using statistical methods such as machine learning or multiple linear regression. This will involve data analysis, data visualization, statistical techniques, and other tasks.

Skills Required:

  • Some prior coding experience in Python or R is required.
  • Knowledge of statistical methods such as multiple linear regression and random forest is a plus.

7. Urine metallomics as a tool for pancreatic cancer detection

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will work remotely focusing on compiling data on urinary element concentrations from multiple data sources and perform statistical analysis. The research assistant will use the NHANES database to see whether our published data (UK population) can reproduce the prevalence rate of pancreatic cancer in different regions of the US. Further the intern will statically evaluate the effect of age, gender on the urine metallomics (calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc) for pancreatic cancer. If the NHANES data are enough for it to work, then it would also be interesting to potentially look at undiagnosed pancreatic cancer. Additionally, the research assistant will do a literature review to compare published data on urine element concentration of types of cancer which can potentially affect the urinary element levels (e.g., bladder cancer, kidney cancer).

Reference: Schilling, K., Larner, F., Kocher, H.M., Blyuss, O., Halliday, A.N., Crnogorac-Jurevic (2020). Urine metallomics signature in pancreatic cancer. Metallomics 12: 752-757.

Skills Required:

  • Interests in biomedical science, cancer research and statistical analysis and keen to work on larger data sets. It would be helpful if the research assistant has a working knowledge of a statistical program (e.g., R, SPSS).
  • Any essential training, and help with data management for the project will be provided by the Associate Research Scientist Kathrin Schilling.
Media Inquiries: 
Marie DeNoia Aronsohn
marieda@ldeo.columbia.edu
845-365-8151