Spring 2014 Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities

by | 12.16.2013 at 10:00am | 1 Comment
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The Earth Institute, Columbia University is pleased to announce 7 research assistant opportunities for undergraduate students during the spring 2014 semester. Undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard will be able to serve as research assistants on exciting research projects related to sustainable development and the environment with distinguished faculty and researchers at the cutting edge of this burgeoning field.

While research assistantships 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/hr for 10 hours per week and up to a maximum of 120hrs for the spring 2014 semester.

This spring, the 7 research assistantships are:

1. Green to Streams: An Exploration of Urban Water Quality

2. Improving Climate Reconstructions with Trans-Fats: Biogeochemical Investigations of the Lipids Produced by Haptophyte Algae

3. Deriving Populations Using Satellite Imagery

4. Investigating the Environmental Factors Driving the Distribution of Diversity of the Marine Cyanobacteria Trichodesmium in the North Atlantic Ocean

5. Assessing he Main Determinants of Variability in Crop Yields in Farmers’ Fields

6. Economic Valuation of Resources in a Melting Arctic

7. Acoustic Monitoring of Cetaceans Off Angola in West Africa

To Apply:

To apply for these positions, please complete the online application available here http://fs21.formsite.com/earthinstitute/form65/index.html by January 24 at 11:30PM.  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 2014.

Contact us at nrudder@ei.columbia.edu with any questions.

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1. Green to Streams: An Exploration of Urban Water Quality

Department/Center: Lamont, Geochemistry

Project description: With more than 50% of the world’s population now living in urban centers, it is critical that we understand the impacts of urban density, specifically combined sewer overflows (CSO’s), which are often the largest source of water pollution in the area.  Although a green approach to assessing CSO’s supplies a multitude of social, economic, and environmental benefits, green infrastructure is still a new technology and performance is largely ill-quantified.

Research assistant tasks:

  • Exploring various green infrastructure medium performance by sampling water effluent in the Bronx River watershed
  • Developing and optimizing new soil media for green infrastructure in the laboratory
  • Sampling nearby rivers for bacteria, pH, conductivity, nitrate, phosphate and tubitdity
  • Evaluating bacteria level trends to rain intensity and events
  • Collaborate and manage a citizen science program
  • Monitor existing HRECOS (Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System) sites so that certain stations can be fixed in a timely manner as needed

Skills Required:

  • Enjoys and appreciates field of work
  • Ability to work effectively in a team and independently
  • Flexible and self-motivated
  • Competent at computer-based data analysis programs such as Excel, R or Matlab (a plus)

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2. Improving Climate Reconstructions with Trans-Fats: Biogeochemical Investigations of the Lipids Produced by Haptophyte Algae

Department/Center: Lamont, Geoscience

Project description: The objectives of this project are to determine the way that certain algae alter their lipids in response to environmental temperature.  The fact that they do so has been exploited in order to reconstruct past temperatures from marine and lake sediment cores.  The goal of this project is to better understand the sensitivity with which different species of algae of the class Haptophyta alter their lipids in response to temperature.

Research assistant tasks:

  • Culturing different strains of algae at different temperatures
  • Responsible for maintaining the algal cultures, performing cell counts during experiments, and monitoring cell growth using fluorescence techniques
  • Harvesting the cells at the end of experiments for lipid biomarker analyses and compound-specific isotope measurement

Skills Required:

  • Experience with culture of single celled organisms is a plus

***

3. Deriving Populations Using Satellite Imagery

Department/Center: Sustainable Engineering Lab

Project description: Determining where populations live is an extremely vexing problem.  In the Sustainable Engineering Lab’s experience, advising governments on decisions regarding sustainable development with an engineering-based approach requires good knowledge of “demand” and “supply” services;  “demand” being a geo-spatial representation of where people live. 

Research assistant tasks:

  • Create a dataset of where buildings are in an area around Mandalay, Myanmar, using manual inspection of freely available satellite imagery.
  • Help create a methodology to estimate how different a given geo-spatial population data source is to that dataset

Skills Required:

  • Fundamentals of statistics
  • GIS experience
  • Geo-statistical experience ideal, though not required

***

4. Investigating the Environmental Factors Driving the Distribution of Diversity of the Marine Cyanobacteria Trichodesmium in the North Atlantic Ocean

Department/Center: Lamont, Geosciences

Project description: Marine phytoplankton are responsible for much of the oxygen present in the Earth’s atmosphere and contribute to the reduction of atmospheric CO2, one of the most abundant greenhouse gases.  They are at the base of the food web in these systems and contribute significantly to the biogeochemical cycles that drive the Earth system.  Understanding the factors driving phytoplankton growth and distribution are necessary to estimate the impact of climate change on ecosystems.

Research assistant tasks:

  • Extraction of DNA from Trichodesmium samples collected in the North Atlantic Ocean
  • Application of quantitative polymerase chain reactions (qPCR)
  • Analysis of qPCR data through the Bio-Rad thermal cycler software
  • Computational analysis of the dataset using different computer programs such as Excel, Ocean Data View, and bioinformatics software to analyze Trichodesmium microbial diversity

Skills Required:

  • Prior lab experience in microbiology
  • Former experience in microbial DNA or RNA extraction methods as well as qPCR methodology is preferred
  • Basic computer skills such as the use of Excel
  • Ability to work both independently and in a responsible way and as part of a team

***

5. Assessing the Main Determinants of Variability in Crop Yields in Farmers’ Fields

Department/Center: Agriculture and Food Security Center

Project description: In order to improve crop production for smallscale farmers, the agriculture sector of the Millennium Village Project has promoted various interventions and trained farmers in appropriate management practices for plant growth, coupled with research to understand biophysical constraints to production.  Spatially explicit crop yield information was collected for each cropping season as part of monitoring.  In several locations detailed soil and land use monitoring data were also collected. 

Research assistant tasks:

  • Analyze crop yield data collected in Millennium Villages
  • Develop continuous digital maps of soil properties with uncertainty estimates
  • Link the crop yields data with these biophysical data
  • Generate summary tables and figure of the results of the analyses
  • Prepare reports on the outcome of the studies

Skills required:

  • Knowledge of MS Excel, Word
  • Knowledge of spatial data analysis and familiarity with software such as ArcGIS or QGIS
  • Knowledge of familiarity with a statistical package (STATA, R) would be a plus

***

6. Economic Valuation of Resources in a Melting Arctic

Department/Center: Center for Research on Environmental Decisions

Project description: The aim of this study is to identify present and future distributions of key ecosystem goods and services provided by the Arctic region, and their changing total economic value, given a scenario of certain climate change, and given various possible scenarios of resource exploitation and/or management.   

Research assistant tasks:

  • Review of studies that address key ecosystem goods and services provided by the Arctic region with the aim to establish: the quantity, distribution and economic value of these key goods and services, both in the present and projected into the future
  • Assist in producing total economic value estimates of Arctic resources, given varying scenarios of climate change and associated ice melt

 Skills Required:

  • Literature review skills and ability to locate original sources
  • Background in environmental economics or economic valuating techniques preferred
  • Basic statistical skills preferred

***

7. Acoustic Monitoring of Cetaceans Off Angola in West Africa

Department/Center: Wildlife Conservation Society

Project description: The waters off the coast of northern Angola in West Africa are the focus of current and rapid expansion in oil and gas exploration and production, as well as other potential anthropogenic impacts such as fishing and coastal development.  There have been few studies investigating the diversity of marine species inhabiting these waters, even though the region is the focus of such intense industrial development.  In 2012, the WCS Ocean Giants Program started the first comprehensive assessment of cetacean presence and distribution using passive acoustic monitoring in order to better mitigate against potential impacts oo these cetaceans surrounding oil and gas activities.

Research assistant tasks:

  • Manually checking and processing positive detections of cetacean vocalizations determined from automatic detection software.
  • Assisting in localization of cetacean vocalizations using software which uses the time of arrival difference of vocalizations reaching multiple synchronized hydrophones to estimate distance and location of the vocalizing animal

Skills Required:

  • Strong interest in marine environment, marine mammal research and conservation
  • Hardworking, reliable, patient
  • Previous experience in marine mammal acoustics or a keen interest in the area
  • Knowledge of acoustic software is a bonus

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One Response to “Spring 2014 Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities”

  1. [...] other funding opportunities available to students through the Earth Institute.  These include the Undergraduate RA Program, the Internship Program, and the Travel Grant [...]

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