State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Fall 2021 Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is offering undergraduate students research assistant opportunities during the fall 2021 semester. Undergraduates from Columbia will be able to serve as research assistants on 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. Successful applicants will work directly with faculty on projects on a part-time basis.

Fall 2021 positions include:

  1. Adaptation to flooding in coastal, urban communities
  2. Multi-seasonal assessment of human wellbeing, social resilience, and ecosystems in NYC during and after the Covid-19 pandemic
  3. Biomineralization under changing climates: Modeling environmental impacts on key ecosystem engineers
  4. Double burden of a rice diet for women in Bangladesh
  5. Assessing impacts of environmental and anthropogenic disturbances on the ecology and biogeochemistry of Long Island Sound
  6. Sustaining Peace project

To apply:

Complete the online application available HERE by September 15, 2021 at 11:55pm. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications for each.

Only full-time Columbia undergraduates are eligible to apply. Barnard students are not eligible for the undergraduate RA program. Undergraduate RAships are funded at a rate of $18/hour. Decisions will be made shortly after the deadline.

Students who are selected for a position will be expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase in spring 2022.

Contact Cari Shimkus ( with questions.

Adaptation to flooding in coastal, urban communities

Department: Center for Climate Systems Research

Anticipated Tasks: A RA is necessary to analyze the data from workshop transcripts and baseline and follow-up surveys in order to address the research questions. The tasks will include:

  • Literature review
  • Help to develop a questionnaire for a follow-up survey.
  • Program the questionnaire on Survey Monkey.
  • Manage sample lists and monitor survey progress.
  • Clean and help to analyze combined survey data from the baseline and follow-up surveys.
  • Code and analyze workshop transcripts.
  • Create visualizations of data and brainstorm strategies for communicating research results to community partners.
  • The RA will have the opportunity to help compile results into a paper if they are interested.

Skills Preferred:

  • Some academic background in one of the social sciences.
  • Good understanding of basic statistics, up to and including multivariate regression.
  • Experience with a statistical analysis package such as Stata, R, SPSS, or Matlab.
  • Excellent research skills. Must be very well organized and methodical, with attention to detail.

Multi-seasonal assessment of human wellbeing, social resilience, and ecosystems in NYC during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

Department: Environmental Science, Barnard

Anticipated Tasks: Research Assistants (RA) will participate in a wide-range of research tasks, including but not limited to: conducting surveys, interviews, and observational research on people’s experiences in NYC parks. Specifically, the RA will conduct in-person interviews and observations (working in pairs, following Covid-19 safety protocols) in six parks investigating the relationships between subjective wellbeing, place attachment, and green space attributes during the Fall/Winter 2021 season. In addition to field work, the RA will participate in data entry, coding, data analysis (with comparisons across parks and with seasonal data collected in Summer 2021), and dissemination of preliminary research findings. The RA will have an opportunity to participate in an active research group by attending meetings and assisting in further project development. The RA’s contributions will address one of the project’s primary research goals exploring how seasonal differences in park usage and ecosystem characteristics impact individual wellbeing and social resilience.

Skills Preferred: The RA will gain experience in conducting survey and interview-based field research, conducting field observations, and data entry and coding. The required skills include strong attention to detail, willingness to engage with strangers in a public park interview/survey setting, excellent collaboration and communication skills, basic experience with Excel / Google Sheets, willingness to learn, and an interest in urban social-ecological research. The ideal candidate will have prior social or natural science research experience conducting survey and/or interview based research. However, the RA (regardless of prior experience) will be trained in social-ecological research methods and protocols specific for this project.

Biomineralization under changing climates: Modeling environmental impacts on key ecosystem engineers

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: The RA will be involved in different parts of the research process, including specimen cleaning, shell samples preparation, and morphometric data collection. Specific project tasks for the student RA will include, but are not limited to, oyster shell cleaning for compositional analysis, shell section preparation for microscopy, sections grinding and polishing, collection of shell morphology and density data, preparation of data for geometric morphometrics analysis. Given the large-scale nature of the project, which involves investigation of specimens sampled from multiple locations and geographic regions, the assistance provided by the RA will be very valuable for collecting a significant amount of data from the different study systems. The additional data collected by the RA will, therefore, increase both spatial and temporal models’ predictive power and provide a better understanding of oyster population responses under a wider range of environmental conditions.

Skills Preferred:  The RA student is required to have good communication and interpersonal skills. The RA should feel comfortable commuting to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to carry out laboratory work one or two days a week. No previous laboratory experience, but the ability to adapt to a flexible laboratory environment and schedule, is required. Training will be provided in any of the research tasks or analytical techniques required before commitment. Basic knowledge of image analysis software (e.g. Image J, Fiji, or Adobe Photoshop) is advisable. Good time management, organizational skills, and ability to work effectively in a team environment are also desirable.

Double Burden of a Rice Diet for Women in Bangladesh

Department: Environmental Health Sciences

Anticipated Tasks: We are looking for a RA to work with our team to complete tasks directly relevant to the project’s objectives. For this study, we already have samples from 400 households in Bangladesh for which the RA will help generate a statistically reliable dataset for nutrient vs arsenic exposure contribution from a rice diet. Women in the household were asked to provide raw and cooked rice samples and spot urine samples. The RA will i) prepare these samples for trace element analysis using inductively-coupled mass spectrometer (ICP-MS), and ii) assist in data acquisition and data processing.

Skills Preferred:

  • Experience analytical chemistry (desirable),
  • Proficiency with Excel and interest in data analysis (required)
  • Strong attention to detail and the ability to multitask (required)
  • Any essential laboratory training, and help with data analysis will be provided by Kathrin Schilling.

Assessing impacts of environmental and anthropogenic disturbances on the ecology and biogeochemistry of Long Island Sound

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: The student will receive interdisciplinary training in the fields of biogeochemistry, biology, oceanography, and ocean optics, and will build skills in field and laboratory techniques, data analysis, and the use of analytical instruments. In-situ measurements of water physicochemical and bio-optical properties will be collected to characterize estuarine biogeochemical and ecological processes. Water samples will be collected from rivers, coastal marshes, and the Sound’s estuarine waters for chemical characterization and optical analyses in the Lab. The student will have an opportunity to collect and process 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 and writing and will have the opportunity to link results from this work-study to larger scale projects within the tri-state area aiming at assessing coastal ecosystem vulnerability to climate change.

Skills Preferred: We are looking for a highly motivated undergraduate student with strong background and interest in environmental sciences, self-motivation, creativity, good communication skills, strong quantitative skills, experience in programming (e.g., Matlab), and willingness to be part of an interdisciplinary team effort. Experience in field data collection methods, and/or remote-sensing data analysis preferred, but not required.

Sustaining Peace Project

Department: Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity

Anticipated Tasks: The RA will contribute to this objective by analyzing information aimed at understanding what structures, processes, institutions and norms can sustain peace in society and building the project’s evidence base. This process will involve conducting online research, entering research into an organizational system, and summarizing findings.

Skills Preferred:

  • Strong research, writing, and analytical skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Strong organizational and time management skills
  • Flexibility in adapting to the needs of a dynamic research agenda
  • Ability to work independently
  • Previous experience with social science research a plus
  • An understanding of current issues within the fields of peace and conflict resolution (from either lived experience or an academic lens) a plus
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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