State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Earth Institute Summer 2016 Internships

This summer, the Earth Institute is offering Columbia students opportunities to intern within various departments and research centers at the institute. All full-time Columbia and Barnard students are eligible to apply. These internships are funded at a rate of $15/hour for up to 35 hours per week.  See below for the descriptions of these opportunities.

  1. Socioeconomic Data Center: Gridded Population of the World Version 4
  2. Understanding the drivers of air pollution in India
  3. Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan
  4. Education and Outreach Intern
  5. Beyond Flint: National Assessment of Water Quality Trends

To apply:

To apply for these positions, complete the online application available here:, by May 3 at 11:30 p.m. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications for each. Decisions will be made shortly after the deadline.

Note that students who are awarded internships will be expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase, which will take place in spring 2017.

Contact Jessica Sotomayor ( with questions. You may also address cover letters to Jessica Sotomayor, senior program manager, Office of Academic and Research Programs.

1. Socioeconomic Data Center: Gridded Population of the World Version 4

Department: Center for International Earth Science Information (CIESIN)

Project detail: Overall, this project aims to: (a) develop indicators of census data and census data quality for the 2010 round of censuses; (b) build a database of these indicators and variables which is suitable for mapping; (c) map and analyze the data in order to assess and diagnose census quality.

UN world pop mapJob description: The summer intern will join a large and diverse team at CIESIN, a highly-regarded data center that works at the intersection of social, natural, and information sciences. Through the specific tasks associated with this position, the research assistant will a) become familiar with census data and data quality issues, b) develop useful skills in data acquisition, processing, and analysis, and c) strengthen their research and writing abilities.

Anticipated tasks:

  • Collect data from the 2010 round of census for a wide array of countries around the world.
    • Research their census system and determine if they have the appropriate data
    • Acquire data through download or personal contact with office
    • Document characteristics of the data such as: Restrictions on use, Data Quality, etc…
  • Collect geographic boundary data corresponding to the population census statistics.
    • Integrate census and geographic datasets.
    • Determine geographic unit that corresponds to census unit.
    • Do necessary research to characterize new units.
    • Apply census unique codes to geographic data.

Skills required: Must be extremely detail oriented. 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.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, graduate, PhD

2. Understanding the drivers of air pollution in India

Department: Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology

Project detail: Air quality in India ranks among the worst in the world, driven by emissions from coal-fired power plants, industry, vehicles and agricultural burning. These emissions contribute to harmful air pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone, as well as greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. In this project, we will examine the contribution of agricultural fires to air pollution extremes in large metropolitan areas in India.

Anticipated tasks: Use diverse data sources, including remote sensing data, atmospheric modeling, and station-based observations to help understand how agricultural fires are contributing to dangerous levels of air pollution in India. This interdisciplinary approach is crucial to connect how agricultural activities are impacting public health.

Skills required: The minimum required skills are experience with basic data analysis and statistical techniques. Coding experience would be an advantage but is not required.

Type of student required: Undergraduate 

3. Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan

Department: National Center for Disaster Preparedness

VT115996_201601060146Project detail: The National Center for Disaster Preparedness is starting a long-term social-science study aimed at understanding the impacts of Flint’s water crisis (lead exposure) on children’s development and the community’s overall well-being. A major component of the project addresses risk communication needs and the development of improved risk communication around environmental and children’s health. Any health care, engineering, and organizational solutions will only reach as far as society is motivated and empowered to adopt the needed changes and interventions. Well though-out communication strategies are necessary to enable the public to interpret and use the often confusing and incomprehensible information presented to them.

Anticipated tasks: Our work will address some of the typical biases and barriers that get in the way of human information processing. More specifically, the intern would be tasked with the following:

  • Literature review on the socio-economic factors shaping resilience and disaster recovery.
  • Research existing institutions and organizations acting on the ground and explore their perceived trust among residents.
  • Identify trusted organizations and parties.
  • Review of records of communication during the water crisis, identify barrier to flow of communication.
  • Review existing community education initiatives or child-serving institutions that the project can tap into.
  • Research into the general public’s risk perceptions, identify specific issues to be incorporated in the communication strategy with vulnerable groups and subgroups of the population.
  • Conduct interviews and analyze transcripts.
  • Help draft environmental risk and health risk communication and pilot test.
  • Draft section of reports.

Skills required:

    • Experience or strong interest environmental health, public health, social science/psychology, disaster preparedness and recovery, or related field.
    • Excellent writing and research skills.
    • Interest in socio-economic and cultural factors in resilience and in working with disadvantaged populations.
    • Organizational and time management skills.
    • Attention to detail and ability to work independently.
  • Experience with qualitative data analysis/content analysis a plus

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, graduate

4. Education and outreach intern

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

LDEO fieldwork students 01marsh350Project detail: K-12 education is an essential component of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s mission. The new high school program will make up a key piece of educational programming at Lamont and the planned tasks will help us ensure that we are engaging with students interested in pursuing STEM careers.

Anticipated tasks: Under the supervision of the education and outreach coordinator, the intern will serve a key role in the Education and Outreach office at Lamont, which facilitates the observatory’s ongoing education programs. The intern will provide administrative and writing support outreach activities of the Education and Outreach office, and additionally will provide strategic support on a new high school internship education program. The goal is to provide authentic research opportunities to students in their junior and senior years of high school alongside a Lamont research professor. The program is four weeks long, and students will work in cohorts on a project with their mentor and produce a product at the end of their time. The intern will manage various operational aspects of the program alongside the education and outreach coordinator.

Skills required: The ideal candidate will be detail oriented, organized, have a familiarity with excel for organizing data, and be able to work independently with limited oversight. Attention to detail is necessary. A background in environmental science and/or education is preferred.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate

5. Beyond Flint: national assessment of water quality trends

Department: Columbia Water Center

water pollution appvoicesdotorgProject detail: Ensuring safe water supply for communities across the United States represents an emerging challenge. Strained community finances and aging infrastructure may cause public water system to be more vulnerable to water quality violations. In the aftermath of Flint, Mich., there is a great need to assess the current state of U.S. water quality. How widespread are violations? What are the spatial and temporal patterns in water quality? Which types of communities and systems are most vulnerable?

The Columbia Water Center is conducting the first study to analyze national trends in drinking water quality. The current knowledge gap limits decision making and the identification of vulnerable populations. This research will advance knowledge of water quality challenges facing communities across the United States.

Anticipated tasks: The center is seeking a student researcher to assist with organizing and analyzing water quality data for the continental United States. This includes controlling data quality and developing statistical models to rigorously assess factors that influence the incidence of violations. These factors include regulatory policy as well as community and water utility characteristics of the community characteristics and utility.

Skills required: Ability to learn statistical analysis, manage datasets, and communicate results. Some background in regression analysis and experience working with statistical software would be helpful, but we will provide guidance and training for the student. Interest in public water supply, water quality, and/or economics are also strongly encouraged.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, graduate

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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