Spring 2021 Earth Institute Research Opportunities for Undergrads

December 16, 2020

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is offering undergraduate students with research assistant opportunities during the spring 2021 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 a maximum of 120 hours during the semester. All positions will take place remotely.

The positions include:

  1. Predicting Arsenic Contamination and Heterogeneity in Groundwater Across Scales in Southeast Asia and the USA
  2. Developing a Harmonized Carbon Accounting Method: The Coalition on Materials Emissions Transparency
  3. Climate Resilience in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx: Collaborative, Community-led Policy Research about Heat Vulnerability in New York City
  4. Strengthening Indigenous Marine Conservation in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea
  5. Onset of the Last Ice Age in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres
  6. Carbon Mineralization for CO2 Storage Methods
  7. Unstuck: How Communities and Whole Societies Can Get Trapped, and the Design of New Policies to Promote Development
  8. Impact of Volcanic Eruptions on the Climate of the Euro-Mediterranean Region During the Last Millennium

To apply:

Complete the online application available here by January 14, 2021 at 11:55pm. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications for each. Decisions will be made shortly after the deadline.

Students who are awarded internships will be expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase in spring 2021.

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


1. Predicting Arsenic Contamination and Heterogeneity in Groundwater Across Scales in Southeast Asia and the USA

  • Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
  • Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will work on compiling existing datasets and generating new data types. This data synthesis and analysis will be done using geospatial and visualization techniques. They will also develop mechanistic linkages with groundwater arsenic contamination. Additionally, the student will leverage machine learning to predict groundwater arsenic concentrations across special scales, pair these predictions with population density data to evaluate risk of exposure within communities, and finally integrate temporal climate data to evaluate future scenarios.
  • Skills Required:
    • Coursework in environmental science, geoscience, and statistics preferred.
    • Proficiency and interest in data analysis.
    • Familiarity and interest to learn geographical information system software and R statistical computing platform.
    • Experience or interest in learning data graphing and visualization techniques in R.

2. Developing a Harmonized Carbon Accounting Method: The Coalition on Materials Emissions Transparency (COMET)

  • Department: Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment
  • Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will play a critical role in assisting the CCSI team in gathering, synthesizing, and interpreting existing data and knowledge in the materials/carbon accounting field, thereby supporting the project team in preparing informed recommendations for building a harmonized carbon accounting method based on existing ones and reforming the material supply chains.
  • Skills Required:
    • Highly organized and responsive in high-pressure situations
    • Strong research and analysis skills, including the ability to use academic databases and other online search techniques
    • Strong time management skills
    • Strong writing and communication skills
    • Interest and experience in climate policy, energy/extractive industries, and carbon accounting preferred

3. Climate Resilience in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx: Collaborative, Community-led Policy Research about Heat Vulnerability in New York City

  • Department: Mailman School of Public Health
  • Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will conduct research of literature, help to prepare grant proposals, papers and reports to inform policy and help produce research publications, collect and process large environmental and public health datasets, and write blogs and other public materials to share updates about the project work.
  • Skills Required:
    • Strong interest in environmental, social and racial justice, and climate change
    • Excellent managerial, communication, and analytical skills
    • Strong self-motivation and an interest in managing big data
    • Fluent in Spanish
    • Experience with ArcGIS mapping or R helpful

4. Strengthening Indigenous Marine Conservation in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea

  • Department: Center for the Study of Social Difference
  • Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will need to be able to read and ‘translate’ scientific articles into non-specialist, accessible language. Additionally, they will need to be able to conduct literature searches and reviews and build a website around the collected content. Finally, they will be communicating with Indigenous project leaders in New Ireland and the larger Western Pacific region.
  • Skills Required:
    • Able to locate, read, and distill information from scholarly papers and reports focused on climate change in the Western Pacific
    • Excellent computer skills. Experience with website design strongly preferred
    • Willingness to learn cross-cultural communication skills

5. Onset of the Last Ice Age in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres

  • Department: Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory
  • Anticipated Tasks: The student will evaluate samples previously taken from two sediment cores, identify and quantify ice-rafted debris, determine the relative abundance of polar foraminifera species, and select and prepare specimens for isotopic analysis. They will apply visual and simple time-series analyses to assess the sequence of climate events at each location to compare to orbital theory ice age predictions. Training will be provided for all procedures.
  • Skills Required:
    • Training will be provided for all specific tasks and instrument use
    • Diligence, carefulness, and a willingness to learn
    • Familiarity with the Earth’s climate system, oceanography, and/or basic laboratory practices preferred
    • Familiarity with a spreadsheet and plotting program (MS Excel or Google Sheets) and basic microscopy preferred

6. Carbon Mineralization for CO2 Storage Methods

  • Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
  • Anticipated Tasks: The experimental nature of this work requires careful sample preparation and characterization. Research assistant tasks will include the preparation of sample cores using an array of methods to ensure an initial fracture network suitable for the experiments, including thermal cracking, single fracture introducing a known surface roughness, and uniaxial Brazil strength tests to produce analogue fractures to those found in nature. Further tasks include: the detail placing of strain gauges on core samples to characterize deformation during the reaction stages, assistance in data acquisition from piezoelectric transducers and acoustic emission sensors, fluid sampling, and data processing.
  • Skills Required:
    • Previous experience in optical, transmission, or scanning electron microscopy strongly preferred.
    • Familiarity with Matlab strongly preferred.
    • Prior experience working in a lab environment preferred.
    • Interest and willingness to perform hands-on tasks.

7. Unstuck: How Communities and Whole Societies Can Get Trapped, and the Design of New Policies to Promote Development

  • Department: Economics
  • Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will help find studies on behavioral economics interventions that aid vulnerable populations by addressing such issues as discrimination, low aspirations, cooperation, implicit bias, and lack of mentors and role models. They will then strengthen the literature review by finding cases of successful and failed replication of experiments discusses in the manuscript. The student will create a list of natural experiments that researchers have creatively used to assess causality in economic and sociology. Finally, the research assistant will help create the bibliography and review book chapters for the manuscript.
  • Skills Required:
    • Basic knowledge of economics and statistics
    • Familiarity with and interest in behavioral economic approaches and policies
    • Interest in research occurring in sociology, psychology, public policy, and related fields preferred

8. Impact of Volcanic Eruptions on the Climate of the Euro-Mediterranean Region During the Last Millennium

  • Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
  • Anticipated Tasks: The research assistant will review existing literature to become familiar with what has been learned so far about the impact of volcanic eruptions worldwide and in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The student will use analysis tools such as the IRI Data Library browser tool to access OWDA and FHYDA to study the effect of historical volcanic eruptions on the climate of Europe and the Mediterranean during the eruption and after. The research assistant will summarize the results of the study in a written report.
  • Skills Required:
    • Perform literature searches online to identify relevant papers and book chapters.
    • Use software packages (IRI Data Library browser took, Matlab and/or Python) to plot and analyze space-time gridded data.
    • Basic knowledge of weather and climate physics preferred.
Media Inquiries: 
Marie DeNoia Aronsohn
marieda@ldeo.columbia.edu
845-365-8151