Spring 2018 Earth Institute Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities

by |December 1, 2017

By Chandler Precht

The Earth Institute, Columbia University, is offering undergraduate students with research assistant opportunities during the spring 2018 semester. Undergraduates from Columbia and Barnard will be able to serve as research assistants on research 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. 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 per hour for up to 10 hours a week for 12 weeks (a maximum of 120 hours during the semester). The research positions are:

  1. Assessing Drought Risk in North Korea
  2. Identifying and Comparing Soil Lead Concentrations and Bioavailability in Public Spaces and Private Backyards
  3. Pump It Up! Laboratory Investigation of Volcanic Flows
  4. Understanding the Response of the ITCZ and Monsoons to Climate Change Through Diagnostics of the Simulated Rainfall-Environment Relationship
  5. Assessing Deep Pacific Carbon Storage at the Mid-Pleistocene Transition

To apply:

Complete the online application available here https://fs21.formsite.com/earthinstitute/form65/index.html by January 24, 2018 at 11:55pm. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications. 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 are expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase in spring 2018.

Contact Cari Shimkus (cshimkus@ei.columbia.edu) with any questions.


Assessing Drought Risk in North Korea

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: North Korea is currently a center of global instability that threatens a regional nuclear war. North Korea is also a drought prone country. Drought contributed to the 1994-1998 famine that left at least half a million people dead. 2017 has seen a return of drought that again threatens the food supply. A catastrophic drought, or persistent flooding, could cause mass suffering and potentially, amidst sanctions and reduced support from Russia and China, undermine regime stability. This would add to regional instability and heighten the threat of a nuclear war.

The project will assess drought risk for North Korea including how it is influenced by changing modes of climate variability (e.g. El Nino/Southern Oscillation, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation), random weather and human-driven climate change. The research intern will asses this by analyzing weather data from the Korean peninsula, global sea surface temperature data, and climate model simulations of the past and future. The intern will determine the causes of past droughts and assess the likelihood of future drought based on how the natural and forced climate system evolve. The research intern will also assess, based on existing literature, the social implications of a severe drought in modern day North Korea. This work will contribute to assessing the stability of the North Korean regime and the potential for climate-induced heightening of the threat of war.

Skills required: Knowledge of standard statistics (regression, significance testing, compositing, time series analysis etc.), basic climate dynamics, ability to rapidly digest existing literature, Matlab and/or Excel and/or Python, ability to learn Ingrid and manipulate data within the IRI/Lamont Data Library. Good communication and writing skills.


Identifying and Comparing Soil Lead Concentrations and Bioavailability in Public Spaces and Private Backyards

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: The student will assist in preparing for and conducting soil sampling in the field and analyzing the soil samples in the laboratory at Barnard College. This will require communicating with local community organizations and individuals to arrange times for soil sampling and sending participants their results after the analysis has been completed. The student will analyze soil samples in the lab using a handheld X-ray fluorescence instrument and a field kit for bioaccessible lead in soil.

Skills required:

-Proficient knowledge of MS Excel, Word
-Good organizational skills and detailed orientated
-Good communication skills by e-mail and phone
-Experience working with community organizations or conducting surveys is a plus


Pump It Up! Laboratory Investigation of Volcanic Flows

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: The research assistant will take part in conducting a series of laboratory experiments examining the factors influencing the stability of volcanic domes. The included tasks are: preparation of analog fluids for experiments and characterizing their mechanical and thermal properties; setting up experiments and observation instruments; analysis of observations (mostly video and image analysis).

Skills required:

-Organized and neat
-Doesn’t mind getting dirty (will be working with clays, wax and syrup
-Experience with file management on Linux/Unix/Mac
-Experience with image analysis software (Photoshop, ImageJ) preferred but not required.


Understanding the Response of the ITCZ and Monsoons to Climate Change Through Diagnostics of the Simulated Rainfall-Environment Relationship

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: The main research task will be the statistical analysis of climate model simulations. For example, we expect to compute the lead-lag relationship and the joint distributions of rainfall and environmental variables (e.g. energy fluxes at the surface and throughout the atmospheric column, moist instability and inhibition, convergent wind and shear) at the daily and sub-daily time scales.

These tasks require adapting existing scripts and developing new simple scripts based on public packages. The work also includes generating figures and participating in the discussion of the scientific results with the two supervisors. Advanced students might be active in preparing results for dissemination, through posters, extended conference abstracts, or even journal manuscripts. In case of scientific need to better understand the MIP results, the student will also have the possibility to run additional simulations with the GISS climate model.

Skills required: A strong interest in climate science, climate models and the numerical analysis of climate model data. Some background in atmosphere and climate science and some experience in working with Linux environments, MatLab and/or Python would be helpful, but we will provide guidance and training for the student. Good communicating skills, and the ability to work in a team.


Assessing Deep Pacific Carbon Storage at the Mid-Pleistocene Transition

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: This project is a paleoclimate study, using deep-sea sediments to investigate the chemistry of the ocean across a key climate transition that occurred from about 1.2-0.7 million years ago. The tasks performed by the research assistant will lead to the generation of trace element records from fossil benthic foraminifera, which record deep ocean chemistry in the past. Firstly, the research assistant will aid in the processing of sediment samples taken from deep-sea cores collected by the Research assistantational Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). Specifically, the research assistant will wash and sieve the sediment samples, and will then pick and archive the relevant microfossil species using a light microscope. After the appropriate species have been picked, we will work together to analyze our microfossil samples via Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry here at LDEO. Following data collection, the research assistant will analyze the data and compare our new trace element record with other paleoceanographic and physical property records from the sediment core.

Skills required: There are no required lab skills to participate in this project. The research assistant for this project must be detail-oriented and self-motivated, with an interest in earth system processes, climate/ocean studies, and/or geochemistry. The research assistant must be able to travel to the Lamont-Doherty campus during weekdays.

*Please note this will be a half-semester position. Contact cshimkus@ei.columbia.edu for more information.


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