State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Spring 2020 Earth Institute Internship Opportunities

The Earth Institute is offering undergraduate, graduate and PhD students 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. These internships are funded at a rate of $16 per hour for up to 10 hours a week for 12 weeks (a maximum of 120 hours during the semester). The positions include:

  1. Accelerating the SDGs
  2. The American Lead Atlas
  3. The Effect of Typhoon Wind Disasters on Labor Outcomes in the Philippines
  4. How Does Ocean Circulation Influence Abrupt Climate Change? A Perspective from Deep-Sea Sediments
  5. Promoting Co-Benefits of Climate Change Adaptation (application due January 13)
  6. Sustainability Challenges in Coffee Production: Profitability and Adaptation to Climate Variability
  7. US Dams: Intersecting Climate and Infrastructure Risks
  8. Urban Climate Change Research Network Special Report Series
  9. 2020 CCSI Executive Training Programs on Extractive Industries and Sustainable Development, Sustainable Investments in Agriculture, and Investment Treaties and Arbitration for Government Officials

To apply:

Complete the online application available here by January 29, 2020, at 11:55 p.m. (January 13 for “Promoting Co-Benefits of Climate Change Adaptation”). 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.

1. Accelerating the SDGs

Department: Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD)

Anticipated tasks: We invite an intern to help us scale up awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially among young people at home and abroad, and to assist us in disseminating more widely the work completed in the first two stages of the project “Accelerating the SDGs.”

Stage 1: A survey which asked, “ How are the SDGs traveling in your world?” yielded over 1,000 responses from a total of 92 countries. A working paper is on the CSUD website.

Stage 2: The Local Project Challenge issued a call projects that engaged with the SDGs. In August 2019, over 100 projects from 30 countries were received in three categories: education, the professions, and civil society. The resulting online Local Project Challenge gallery was launched November 13 at CSUD’s two-day Accelerating the SDGs in Cities Urban Thinkers Campus.

The strategy to scale up the awareness of the SDGs will focus on our participation at the UN World Urban Forum (Abu Dhabi, February 8-13, 2020) and the development of publications with individuals or organizations who submitted projects for the online gallery. If available to travel to WUF10, there is an opportunity for the intern to assist the project in its efforts to reach out to young people from around the world, and to attend the premier global urban conference. If interested in this internship, please view and CSUD’s Accelerating the SDGs websites.

Specifically, intern tasks will include:

  • Some work with the SDGs survey data to facilitate further analysis of the open-ended responses by diverse age groups.
  • Work with the project team to develop its presentation for WUF10. Preparations will also include assisting with the global People’s Choice Award for Local Projects. Attendance at WUF10 is optional, but if able to attend, the intern will help with session organization, liaise with our international partners, and work to connect the project with young people at WUF. (The intern would have to find their own funding for travel and accommodation.)
  • Assist with the development of a paper that focuses on the contribution of young people to the online gallery projects in the education and civil society category. The intern will contact schools represented in the gallery projects to explore in greater depth their take-up of the SDGs.

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 assistance with the upcoming Earth Institute migration to CU Sites.

Skills required: Good research and writing skills; WordPress, (preferably) Sites, Adobe Spark, InDesign or equivalent and good visual skills; a 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.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate

2. The American Lead Atlas

Department: Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD)

Anticipated tasks: The intern will work with Earth Institute scientists to help develop an online national map of urban lead hazards in American cities. This project began in 2019, and having identified the tools needed to create an online collaborative map and collected data during the past year, we look forward to working with an intern who can help to create and expand the full platform.

The American Lead Map is a collaborative research initiative to create the nations’ first crowd-sourced open online map identifying toxic lead hazards in American cities, integrating data from cities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. This research is important, as leading public health experts estimate that currently over 500,000 children below the age of six are injured each year through their exposure to lead dust found in the home and in the landscape, resulting in permanent impacts to their health and abilities.

To enable the public sharing and use of both expert and locally sourced data on intra-urban concentrations of lead hazards — an unevenly shared risk for city residents — the Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) is working with scholars and city open data programs to co-create an online map that identifies available data on lead in urban soils, lead paint hazards within buildings, lead-safe buildings, and lead hazards in post-industrial sites.

In the past year, our research identified sources of municipal open datasets, collected data from cities and other sources, and identified the open-source tools to use for the interactive online map, while taking the first steps to building our capacity with those tools to create the collaborative map on the CSUD website. We initially focused on the creation of a static online map and collection of available data; the intern’s work will be central to developing the dynamic mapping that displaying the spatial datasets in a scalable version.

We examined existing lead hazard reporting practices by municipality and collected spatial datasets from local governments, nonprofit, and journalistic entities. In 2020, we plan to reach out to a greater number of cities and develop collaborative relationships for this project with local environmental justice and community-based organizations.

Skills required: In order to expand the online Geographic Information System (GIS) and develop it into a scalable national platform, these are the skills necessary for the position:

  • Interest in public policy, urban planning, environmental health, and housing justice
  • Interest in history of lead poisoning in the US
  • Familiarity with/willingness to learn local government open data reporting procedures
  • Background in GIS and managing large spatial datasets
  • Familiarity with/willingness to learn Javascript, Leaflet, and R

Type of student desired: Graduate, PhD

3. The Effect of Typhoon Wind Disasters on Labor Outcomes in the Philippines

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

Anticipated tasks: The intern will work on an existing parametric wind model that creates surface winds for tropical cyclones, a generic name for a hurricane in the Atlantic, a typhoon in the Western Pacific, or a cyclone in the Indian Ocean and Southern oceans. The student will first work with Professor Chia-Ying Lee to generate maximum monthly winds associated with typhoons in the Philippines between 2000 and 2014 using the parametric wind model. Secondly, the student will work with Professors Katya Vasilaky and Aurelie P. Harou to generate maximum wind indices at three local levels: 1) municipal centers, 2) junior high schools, and 3) elementary schools. These wind indices will be used for predicting the impacts of typhoons on education and labor outcomes in the Philippines. Through the project, the student will also generalize the numerical calculation processes of the wind indices.

Skills required: Python programming; Mapping in Python or GIS.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate, PhD

4. How Does Ocean Circulation Influence Abrupt Climate Change? A Perspective from Deep-Sea Sediments

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

Anticipated tasks: The intern will learn and participate in the initial processing of deep-sea sediments to separate the coarse material from the fine. Intensity of ice rafting can be approximated from the weight percentage of the coarse material in the sediment, while the composition of the coarse fraction will be examined by the intern under a microscope. Specifically, the sample processing includes freeze-drying, weighing on a microbalance, wet-sieving using a semi-automated system to separate the coarse material from the fine, oven drying and re-weighing of the coarse material, settling, and decanting and air-drying of the fine-grained material. The intern will quantify coarse grains deposited by icebergs, identify and select planktic and benthic microfossil foraminifera under a binocular microscope, and load the foraminifera specimens for stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis on an automated isotope-ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS). Each step will be performed in turn on a defined set of samples, and all necessary training will be provided.

The selected student will then visualize the collected data and learn to interpret the results of coarse fraction percentages, sedimentary data and stable isotopes determined by IRMS in terms of their oceanographic meaning, with guidance from Professor McManus and PhD student Yuxin Zhou. The results will be put into the larger context of the project and be compared with comparable datasets from other locations.

Skills required: Training will be provided for all specific tasks and instrument use. It is important that the student be diligent, careful, and willing to learn. Although not necessary, it will be helpful if she or he has some familiarity with the Earth’s climate system, oceanography, and/or basic laboratory practices. The student and project will benefit most from the right intern’s combination of independence and ability to work well with others.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate, PhD

5. Promoting Co-Benefits of Climate Change Adaptation (application due January 13)

Department: School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA)

Anticipated tasks: The intern will assemble datasets on climate change adaptation and on other sustainability goals linked to SDGs, such as Sustainable Cities and Communities; Decent Work and Economic Growth; and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, in the context of specific mountain societies which integrate these other goals with climate adaptation as they formulate and implement their action plans. More specifically, the tasks will be literature review of the specific cases, assembling quantitative data on sustainability indicators, and tracing the history of governance institutions.

Skills required: Familiarity with sustainability indicators. Familiarity with statistical packages, or at least with Excel. Bibliographic skills and internet searches. Coursework in sustainable development.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate

6. Sustainability Challenges in Coffee Production: Profitability and Adaptation to Climate Variability

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

Anticipated tasks: The International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at the Earth Institute, is seeking an intern to assist in a research project on sustainability in the coffee industry. Worldwide, 25 million smallholders and families depend on an industry affected by two challenges: low profitability and climate variability. The intern will be part of a multidisciplinary project that analyzes these challenges and integrates the economics and climate aspects of coffee production. Intern’s tasks include literature review, writing, data cleanup and analyses, and scientific writing. Based on the intern’s performance and contributions, he/she will be invited to participate as co-author in a peer-review paper.

Skills required: Strong research, quantitative, and writing skills are required. Familiarity with, and interest in, sustainable agriculture, climate change, and development are preferred but not required. Applicants should be highly motivated, proactive and able to work independently.

Type of student desired: Graduate, PhD

7. US Dams: Intersecting Climate and Infrastructure Risks

Department: Columbia Water Center (CWC)

Anticipated tasks: Much of the world, including the USA, has dams and levees that are well beyond their design age and are prone to failure due to inadequate maintenance. In the USA there are 88,000 dams taller than 15 m and over 20,000 miles of levees that fall into this situation. The project aims to assess the potential for their failure under a changing climate and the resulting impacts on critical infrastructure (power plants, water treatment, airports, bridges, highways, river shipping) downstream as well as societal impact from the loss of service provided by them. The goal is to identify hot spots or locations that would have significant impact from extreme climate events.

The intern will help us collect and analyze data on critical infrastructure that could be impacted by a failure and estimate the financial losses that could ensue.

Skills required: Proficiency in GIS and R. Ability to work independently.

Type of student desired: Graduate

8. Urban Climate Change Research Network Special Report Series

Anticipated tasks: The intern’s tasks will be as follows:

  • Correspond with Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN) report authors, case study authors, reviewers, and Cambridge University Press to provide updates and solicit feedback on contributions
  • Manage and organize report chapter submissions and drafts
  • Gain legal consent for use of images and figures used in the report
  • Organize case study submissions in the book, annex, and online case study docking station database
  • Check references and ensure consistency across all chapters
  • Compile book elements and proof-read manuscripts
  • Assist with version control and the publishing process
  • Assess other urban climate change organizations and highlight the UCCRN’s current and potential role as a key science knowledge provider for city leadership in developed and developing country cities
  • Help to strengthen and enhance UCCRN partnership development; communicate with potential collaborators and coordinating partnership materials

Skills required: Ability to work both collaboratively and independently in a fast-paced environment and in a deadline-oriented setting. Experience managing complex projects with many collaborators. Ability to communicate professionally with a wide variety of collaborators. Interest in and knowledge of climate change, urban issues, and sustainability issues. Microsoft Office and Adobe Suite proficiency. Good writing and communication skills. Highly organized and detail-oriented. Interest in book publishing and academic research.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate

9. 2020 CCSI Executive Training Programs on Extractive Industries and Sustainable Development, Sustainable Investments in Agriculture, and Investment Treaties and Arbitration for Government Officials

Department: Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI)

Anticipated tasks: Investment in natural resources (oil, mining, gas, agriculture, forestry) can play an important role in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), generating revenues for host countries, catalyzing critical infrastructure development and technology transfer, and, in the case of agricultural investments, addressing growing food security needs. Yet, if not structured equitably or regulated carefully, investments can have serious impacts on the environment and livelihoods and rights, and fail to provide anticipated benefits to host governments and communities.

CCSI focuses on the interdisciplinary and multifaceted ways to maximize the benefits of natural resource investments while minimizing potential harms and avoiding rights abuses. We research trends and good practices, and work with governments, companies, civil society, communities, and development partners to develop and implement approaches to ensure that countries and communities benefit from their resources. The challenges of leveraging natural resource investments—or any investments—for sustainable development are further complicated by the web of thousands of bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements that give investors various rights and limit the policy space and available regulatory and enforcement tools of host governments. Most government officials do not recognize the connection between the investment treaties they are signing and their ability to regulate incoming investment until they are facing disputes—or the threat of a dispute—from an investor.

Over the past seven years, CCSI has trained over 300 policy-makers and practitioners from 70+ countries on these complex challenges and solutions at annual Executive Trainings offered at Columbia University on Extractive Industries and Sustainable Development, Sustainable Investments in Agriculture, and Investment Treaties and Arbitration for Government Officials. All three trainings are holistic and multi-disciplinary, tackling the challenges of developing robust legal and fiscal frameworks; negotiating equitable deals with investors; leveraging investments for greater sustainable development outcomes, including through linkages, technology transfer and employment; mitigating environmental impacts while protecting human rights; and understanding the overarching implications of investment treaties; among other topics.

The executive trainings draw from among faculty of the Earth Institute and Law School at Columbia University, as well as many external experts from around the world. By working through real case studies and with practitioners and experts in the field, participants gain practical skills and are able to apply analytical tools and frameworks to the unique contexts of sustainable investments in their countries.

Organizing these three trainings is a tremendous amount of work for CCSI, and in past years, we have been gratefully dependent on the support of student assistants in the training preparations. For all three trainings, CCSI is seeking an intern to provide operational and administrative support throughout the spring 2020 semester (ideally, the intern may be able to provide additional support during the trainings in June). The intern will be primarily responsible for assisting with administrative, logistical and operational aspects of all three trainings, including through communicating updates and liaising with speakers and participants, assisting with preparation and distribution of materials, organizing social outings, managing applications, managing payment and budgeting aspects, and maintaining the Canvas and M4D course sites for participants and speakers.

Skills required: The ideal candidate will have some administrative experience or interest; good organizational, analytical, research and project managements skills; and an interest in agriculture and land, extractive industries, sustainable investment and/or sustainable development. The ideal candidate will also have a strong work ethic, very good attention to detail, strong communication and writing skills and work well within a team structure.

Type of student desired: 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

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments