State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Summer 2019 Earth Institute Internship Opportunities

The Earth Institute is offering undergraduate, graduate and PhD students with opportunities to intern in various departments and research centers in a variety of administration, communications and research roles. Interns work on a variety of sustainability-focused projects across the Earth Institute. These projects provide interns with hands-on workplace experience, allowing them to grow professionally while the Earth Institute centers benefit from their meaningful contributions.

All full-time Columbia and Barnard students are eligible to apply for internships. Internships are funded at a rate of $16 per hour for up to 35 hours a week. The summer internship period runs June 1 – August 31. The positions include:

  1. Accelerating the SDGs
  2. Eco-social determinants of human-tick interactions in urban landscapes
  3. Evaluation of VIIRS nighttime lights for population and poverty mapping
  4. How does the phytoplankton community structure vary across different environments?
  5. Monitoring plankton dynamics in the Long Island Sound from shipboard and space-based platforms
  6. Promoting targeted and effective land transparency: Developing an evidence-based understanding of the transparency needs, demands, and uses of local communities and host governments in the context of land investments
  7. Social media content and engagement for ACToday project

More details are below.

To apply:

Complete the online application available here by April 14 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 2020.

Contact Samantha Ostrowski ( with questions.

Accelerating the SDGs

Department: Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD)

Anticipated tasks: We invite an intern, who is excited about the pivotal role young people are playing in the climate change discourse, to help us advance our three-stage action research project to help raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals. The three stages are described here, and any applicant should view this site.

Launched in 2018, and directed at a multilingual global audience, the Stage 1 City Maker Survey closed March 5. The survey asked city makers in education, the professions and civil society, “How are the SDGs traveling in your world?” The survey especially sought the views of young people as those with most at stake in a sustainable future. While the majority of returned surveys are in English, we anticipate around 25 percent may be in Portuguese, Spanish or French. Stage 2, the Local Projects Challenge, is an action-oriented project. Stage 3 will take submitted Local Projects to the UN World Urban Forum in 2020.

Intern tasks include a contribution to Stages 1 and 2.

Stage 1: Work starts soon on the survey returns, with publications to follow. The intern will contribute to the overall analysis, but a key task will be to review the responses of young people and, where emails have been provided, follow up with them. The intern will explore results in the context of the research available on the take-up of the SDGs in education and civil society groups. The intern will contribute to survey publications for refereed journals, the popular press and social media, and assist with article placements in the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog, World Architecture News, World Urban Campaign News, etc.

Stage 2: The intern will assist with the development of the Local Project Challenge which is described on the CSUD’s Accelerating the SDGs site. The tasks will include email communication with national and international participants, the uploading of Local Project information to the website, and a contribution to the setting up, and distribution of, the first issue of the “Accelerating the SDGs Newsletter.”

In addition, as time permits, the intern will assist with the work of CSUD, such as the organization of meetings, updates to the CSUD website, and contributing to blog posts which will give the student exposure to the full work of the center.

Skills required: Analytical, research and writing skills; WordPress familiarity and good visual skills; ability to create a newsletter platform; good communication style, good people skills; ability to work collaboratively, creatively and independently. Interest in the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda; an awareness of the work of UN Habitat and Habitat UNI is desirable. Reading and writing skills in one or more of the survey languages (principally Portuguese, Spanish and French) desirable, but not essential.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate


Eco-social determinants of human-tick interactions in urban landscapes

Department: Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology (E3B)

Anticipated tasks: To understand human exposure to ticks in urban areas we have designed a smartphone application to be used as a survey tool to collect data on human behavior and general risk factors. The student intern will participate in household surveys on Staten Island, NY, and the recruitment of participants for the app. Also, the student will be required to complete a peridomestic risk assessment during the household visit by completing an environmental survey and sampling ticks and mice. The student will also be required to participate in data entry and quality control of data.

Skills required: No expertise is required beforehand. The student will be trained in fieldwork and survey techniques. However, previous experience with surveys is a plus.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate


Evaluation of VIIRS nighttime lights for population and poverty mapping

Department: Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)

Anticipated tasks: The intern will be split between two projects with overlapping data needs. First, the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), and, second, a three-year effort funded by GEO entitled “Assessing NASA Soumi-NPP Nighttime Product Suite to Improve Measurement, Monitoring, and Achievement of Urbans SDG’s and Associated Targets and Indicators.”

For NASA SEDAC, the selected intern will work with VIIRS satellite data from NOAA and NASA on nighttime lights, and global data on population and economic status to contribute to the production of VIIRS-derived poverty layer that combines the night-lights data with population data to identify areas that are under-lit. This is part of the SEDAC Annual Workplan.

For GEO, the intern will work with NASA Black Marble Nighttime Lights Daily, Monthly, and Annual data to validate and assess the efficacy of Nighttime Lights for the production of high frequency population estimates. This will include manual validation of measurements for specific cases and the write up of methodologies and results. This is directly required by the project as a final deliverable of the work.

Skills required:

  • GIS data visualization
  • Python programming is a plus
  • Data science experience a plus
  • Microsoft Office
  • Report writing
  • Attention to detail

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate


How does the phytoplankton community structure vary across different environments?

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

Anticipated tasks: The intern will learn to use CLASS, a novel spectrofluorometric instrument that was developed at LDEO, to study phytoplankton community structure in the Amazon River plume. This instrument can be used to measure the concentration of different types of phytoplankton. The intern will participate in a 4-week oceanographic expedition in June/July and will analyze the data collected during the fieldwork. The intern will help with sampling the water, participate in on-deck experiments to understand how availability of nutrients affects the phytoplankton community.

Skills required: The intern should have taken basic calculus, statistics, biology, chemistry, and physics courses. The student should be familiar with data analysis using software such as Excel and Ocean Data View. Familiarity with R and/or programming languages such as python will be a plus.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate


Monitoring plankton dynamics in the Long Island Sound from shipboard and space-based platforms

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

Anticipated tasks: This is an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in exciting field research activities outside the classroom, and get involved in a highly interdisciplinary project that examines how human activities, episodic events, and seasonal processes impact the water quality and ecology of the Long Island Sound ecosystem. The student will receive interdisciplinary training in the fields of wetland ecology, biogeochemistry, biology, oceanography, and ocean optics, and will build skills in a wide variety of field and laboratory techniques, data analysis and the use of analytical instruments. Water samples will be collected from rivers, coastal marshes, and the Sound’s estuarine waters for further chemical characterization and optical analyses in the lab. In-situ measurements of water physicochemical and bio-optical properties will be collected during field cruises to characterize estuarine biogeochemical and ecological processes. This project has multiple analyses in which data can be collected quickly (within a day or two), and within the timespan of a work-study program the student will be able to collect samples, analyze samples, analyze data, and generate scientifically backed conclusions on how natural and anthropogenic disturbances affect water quality and ecological processes in the Long Island Sound. Additionally, the student will develop skills in critical analysis, problem-solving, and communication of findings, and will have the opportunity to link results from this work-study to larger scale projects within the tristate area aiming at assessing coastal ecosystem vulnerability to climate change.

Skills required: We are looking for highly motivated undergraduate and graduate students with strong research interests in environmental sciences, interests in learning how to work with large data and willingness to be part of a team effort. Experience in programming, field data collection methods, and/or remote-sensing data analysis preferred, but not required.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate


Promoting targeted and effective land transparency: Developing an evidence-based understanding of the transparency needs, demands, and uses of local communities and host governments in the context of land investments

Department: Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI)

Anticipated tasks: The Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) has received financial support from UK DFID for a new project to do transparency differently. We seek to take a demand-driven approach that investigates—both at the international level and in specific country contexts—what is the most important and useful information to disclose and why, in order to inform strategies to strengthen land governance around investment projects. The intern will work closely with CCSI researchers and focus on conducting detailed desk-based research on the needs and demands of affected communities and host governments. This may include studying other transparency initiatives and conducting literature reviews and analysis to draw lessons from previous transparency efforts. Other assistance may be required to prepare for field research in two target countries in the global south.

More information: Public access to, and use of, information about land-based investment projects can serve as an important means of encouraging investments and transactions that are more responsible, result in more inclusive outcomes, and enable greater accountability around the world. Drawing from insights from the governance of extractive—and potentially other—industries, CCSI will test strategic and more demand-driven approaches to transparency of land-based investments (such as agriculture and forestry projects), focusing on the entire investment lifecycle, including different stages of land transactions. This project would establish an evidence-based understanding of the transparency needs, demands, and uses of communities affected by land investments (including via the civil society actors that seek to support their interests) and governments hosting such investments, in an attempt to understand how transparency initiatives can move beyond mere disclosure to effectively improve outcomes.

Skills required: Strong research and analysis skills, including the ability to use academic databases and other online search techniques; Some knowledge or experience with the field of business and human rights and/or responsible land-based investment; Strong writing skills. Fluency in French or Spanish is desirable but not required.

Type of student desired: Graduate, PhD


Social media content and engagement for ACToday project

Department: International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI)

Anticipated tasks: The intern will help the IRI communications team produce and promote social media content, focusing on the creation of visuals such as video and infographics for the purposes of distribution online. This internship will include tasks such as organizing video assets and assisting with various communications projects associated with ACToday, a Columbia World Project which supports research and application of climate services related to UN Sustainable Development Goal 2, aimed at ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. If interested, the internship may also include conducting various assessments of social media and Google Analytics and compiling relevant reports for the communications team.

Skills required: Experience or familiarity with social media platforms strongly preferred. We ask that interns have proficiency using Google Drive and Docs and Microsoft Excel and Word. Desired, but not required, skills include any level of familiarity with Adobe Creative Suite software including Photoshop and Premiere and data or social research analysis experience. Experience using Google Analytics is also a plus.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate, PhD

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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