News from the Columbia Climate School

Fall 2014 Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities

The Earth Institute will offer six research assistant opportunities for undergraduate students during the fall 2014 semester. Undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard will be able to serve as research assistants on research 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 $15 per hour for 10 hours per week and up to a maximum of 120 hours for the fall semester.

The research positions are:

  1. Enterococci in the Hudson River: sources of contamination at 125th Street: building the Enterococcus study group, improving the Enterococcus website, and policy issues at 125th Street for the new Columbia campus
  2. Development, mapping and analysis of data quality indicators for population data
  3. Climate and volcanism in the deep ocean
  4. How did the Antarctic ice sheet melt back after the Last Glacial Maximum?
  5. Microfossil assemblages and climate in the Hudson
  6. Assessment of trace organics bidoegradation in nutrient removal systems

To apply:

To apply for these positions, complete the online application available here by Sept 11  at 11:30 p.m. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications. Please 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 will be expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase, which takes place in spring 2015.

Contact Nathan Rudder at with any questions.


1. Enterococci in the Hudson River: Sources of contamination at 125th Street: building the Enterococcus study group, improving the Enterococcus website, and policy issues at 125th Street for the new Columbia campus

Department/center: Dept. of Environmental Science/ Barnard College

Anticipated tasks: This project offers the unusual opportunity for an undergraduate research assistant to work with environmental scientists in the Dept. of Environmental Science at Barnard College, at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and from the Hudson Riverkeeper and the NRDC’s NY Harbor Program, as well as many individuals from different walks of life (including the local community board and the North River Water Pollution Control Plant) who are intimately involved with the Harlem waterfront and the Manhattanville area.

The student research assistant will have major responsibility for building the Enterococcus study group, eight Barnard and Columbia Students who have been trained for sampling and analysis of Enterococci bacteria, further developing the Enterococcus website, maintaining the newly developed Enterococcus laboratory, assisting the introductory ES laboratories and assist in the writing of a report summarizing the results of this study and making public health and policy recommendations. Any student with a strong academic record may apply, but special consideration will be given to an environmental science or environmental policy major and students with laboratory experience.

Skills required:

Ability to learn sampling and laboratory procedures, ability to work in the field and on board the research vessel Seawolf, facility with Excel and data analysis, ability to manage a laboratory and students of the Enterococcus study group at Barnard.


2. Development, mapping, and analysis of data quality indicators for population data

Department/center: Center for International Earth Science Information Network

Anticipated tasks:

Accurate, up-to-date and reliable population data (size, distribution and composition) are essential to research, applied research and policy related to sustainable development and society-environment interactions in fields as diverse as demographic dynamics, health outcomes, climate change vulnerability and impacts, disaster preparedness and emergency response. Particularly for population censuses, data quality in terms of completeness, accuracy and coverage varies widely across and within regions and countries. Census data quality is typically assessed through post-enumeration surveys; however, survey results may not be readily available, and surveys are not always conducted. As a result, other sources of data quality, including indirect measures, may need to be used. This project aims to: (a) develop indicators of census data quality for the 2010 round of censuses; b) build a country-level database of these indicators suitable for mapping; (c) map and analyze the data in order to assess and diagnose census quality; and (d) prepare a report with the methodology and results of the analysis. Working with the researcher, the RA’s specific tasks include:

  • Guided literature review;
  • Data acquisition and processing; and
  • Collaboration in the indicator development, data analysis and writing of the report.

Skills required:

  • Experience working with internet search engines.
  • Excel or other spreadsheet software.
  • Endnote or other citation management software.
  • Preferred skills: some experience with statistical packages (R, STATA, others) and GIS software.


3. Climate and volcanism in the deep ocean

Department/center: Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Anticipated tasks:

The student research will be part of a project to explore the connection between climate change, sea level variations, seafloor volcanism and atmospheric CO2. We are working on deep-sea sediment cores, some of which will be recovered on a seagoing expedition in late August-early September 2014. The student will have the opportunity to work on newly recovered material, initially helping to digitize the core images, then determining the sediment composition, and eventually examining the microfossils and/or hydrothermal deposits contained within.

Skills required:

No prior experience is necessary. Introductory coursework in the ocean, atmosphere and/or solid Earth (e.g., EESC V2100, EESC V2200) would be helpful.

We will provide training in simple geochemical analyses and microscopy. A careful, attentive student will rapidly develop the necessary expertise.


4. How did the Antarctic ice sheet melt back after the Last Glacial Maximum?

Department/center: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks:

Laboratory work will include sieving of Antarctic marine sediment samples to isolate different grain sizes. We will separate out and make a census of the iceberg-rafted debris (the coarse mineral grains, size >150 microns). These mineral grains will be examined under light microscope for their mineralogy and their roundness or angularity (which tell us about the processes that eroded and transported the grain).

The hornblende and biotite minerals will be picked out for 40Ar/39Ar thermochronological analysis in Sidney Hemming’s AGES laboratory at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. For a quantitative survey of the mineralogies, samples may also be examined under the Aspex Xpress scanning electron microscope with electron dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) in Steve Goldstein’s laboratory.

Skills required:

There are no prerequisites, but coursework or previous research in earth sciences (particularly geochemistry) is an advantage. Meticulous attention to detail and careful note taking are essential aspects of the work. Good skill with organization is also important.


5. Microfossil assemblages and climate in the Hudson

Department/center: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks:

The student will be trained to prepare samples in the lab and to classify samples using light microscopes and the scanning electron microscope (SEM). The SEM is in New York City.

Skills required:

The student should have an excellent visual memory, good microscope skills and modest computer skills. The most important attribute is an intense interest in sediments, climate change and microfossils.


6. Assessment of trace organics bidoegradation in nutrient removal systems

Department/center: Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering

Anticipated tasks:

Management and operation of lab-scale sequencing batch reactors. Tasks include:

  • Sampling from two lab-scale SBRs.
  • Sample analyses (COD, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate).
  • System operation and management.
  • Data analysis and management.
  • Regular communication of results/operational status to postdoc (Sandeep) and grad student.

Skills required:

  • Highly motivated and responsive.
  • Good communication skills (verbal and written).
  • Basic knowledge of water/wastewater treatment.
  • Water/wastewater analytical methods a plus, but not essential (will be taught).


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