State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Being an Earth Institute Fellow

By Elisabeth King

As the applications for the 2011-2 Earth Institute (EI) Postdoctoral Fellows program are coming in, I have been asked by a number of people to describe the kind of research that I have had the chance to undertake during my time at EI. Here’s a synopsis:

I am a political scientist and third year Earth Institute Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Most broadly, my work questions the impacts of presumed social goods such as education and development. I deploy different field methods, ranging from in-depth qualitative fieldwork to surveys and field experiments (about which I have learned a good deal during this postdoc) to assess the peace and conflict impacts of various interventions. For instance, I recently finished a book manuscript, based on my dissertation and follow-up research, arguing that schooling in Rwanda contributed to laying a foundation for intergroup conflict. My new work examines how the Millennium Villages project in Rwanda, and a related project in Liberia, are affecting social relations in these post-conflict societies. I spent a month in the Rwanda Millennium Village last fall speaking with villagers and staff about their experiences. In Liberia, I am teaming with UNDP to collect qualitative and quantitative data in project and comparison sites to measure possible changes to social cohesion over time. We completed the baseline in 2008-9 and are in ongoing communication. I am a member, alongside other postdoctoral fellows and Earth Institute staff, of the new Millennium Villages Social Capital Working Group. I am also working with my mentor, Macartan Humphreys, to design innovative randomized evaluations of other development projects in sub-Saharan Africa. In this vein, I have had the opportunity to conduct preliminary fieldwork in Tanzania, present a research design in Cote d’Ivoire, attend a workshop on impact evaluation in Egypt, and become actively involved in the new Columbia Center for the Study of Development Strategies (CSDS).

My time at the Earth Institute has also allowed me to engage in interdisciplinary research, which I believe is central to understanding global issues today. What began as an informal conversation with seismologist and Director of the EI Fellows Program, John Mutter, has turned into a conference presentation and journal article under review. We examine the similarities, differences, and value of cross-disciplinary dialogue between the fields of conflicts and natural disasters. I also had the chance to work with the other EI fellows to author a piece on interdisciplinary communication.

In short, I’ve been tremendously busy at the Earth Institute and am very grateful for the opportunities it has afforded me to shape and move forward my research agenda. You can learn more about my research and writing at:

My colleagues are doing very different and interesting things, so make sure to check out their work as well! Please visit

Learn more about the Earth Institute Fellows Program.

Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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