Spring 2019 Earth Institute Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities

by |December 5, 2018

Columbia’s Earth Institute is offering research assistant opportunities to undergraduate students during the spring 2019 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 $16 per hour for up to 120 hours during the semester. The research positions are:

  1. Air Pollution Monitoring and Modeling in Africa
  2. Collecting Published Eruptive Volumes of Quaternary Arc Volcanoes
  3. Dissolved Organic Phosphorus Utilization by Phytoplankton
  4. Human-tick Interactions in Anthropogenic Landscapes: Coupled Social and Ecological Consequences of Habitat Fragmentation
  5. The Transport and Fate of Man-made Radioactivity in the Arctic and North Pacific Oceans

More details are below.

To Apply

Complete the online application available here by January 31, 2019 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 2019.

Contact Samantha Ostrowski (sostrowski@ei.columbia.edu) with questions.


  1. Air Pollution Monitoring and Modeling in Africa

Department: Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

Anticipated tasks: The research assistant will analyze data from an emerging ground-based air quality observation site located in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the first ever attempt at measuring air pollution in Kinshasa, a megacity with a population of 11 million and severe air pollution problems. The research assistant will remotely monitor the data from multiple sensors, analyze the data, and create figures and tables showing the salient features of the trends and changes in air quality in Kinshasa over the last year or so (2018-2019). The research assistant may also assist in acquiring satellite data which can be used to corroborate the surface-based measurements. The research assistant may also participate in planning meetings with collaborators in the Congo, discussing plans and strategies for deployment of additional air quality sensors in the region. Finally, the research assistant may help conduct model simulations of air pollution over the African continent.

Skills required: Good data analysis skills. Experience with a programming/data visualization language such as Python, Matlab, R, etc.

 


  1. Collecting Published Eruptive Volumes of Quaternary Arc Volcanoes

Department: Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

Anticipated tasks: The research assistant will search the literature for published data on eruptive volumes on arc volcanoes, enter the referenced data into a relational database together with the volcanoes’ geolocation and constantly monitor progress by visualizing the results on maps and by graphics. The research project is working on magmatic mass fluxes at convergent margins and their feedback with the mechanisms of the Earth’s surface system, including the global climate.

Skills required: Knowledge of Excel, online searching skills; basic knowledge of programming is a plus, but not essential.

 


  1. Dissolved Organic Phosphorus Utilization by Phytoplankton

Department: Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

Anticipated tasks: The research assistant will grow marine cyanobacteria in controlled cultures with different dissolved organic phosphorus (DOP) substrates. They will monitor temporal changes in cell abundance as well as phosphate concentration in the cultures. The activity of enzymes that transform DOP to phosphate will also be measured. They will be responsible for analyzing their data, preparing figures and interpret their findings.

The overall goal of this project is to determine the mechanisms and comparative magnitude of specific DOP transformations, their relative contributions to microbial community-level P demand, productivity, and structure. To achieve this goal, laboratory experiments in culture will assess phytoplankton growth on different DOP molecules and monitor DOP utilization and remineralization to phosphate. The activity of enzymes that transform DOP to phosphate will also be measured. The intern’s tasks are thus central to the project overall objectives. Based upon these results, the PI will design follow up experiments for planned fieldwork that will interrogate DOP transformations in the wild.

 Skills required: The research assistant should be organized and meticulous. Previous experience with culturing and microscopy techniques will be an advantage.

 


  1. Human-tick Interactions in Anthropogenic Landscapes: Coupled Social and Ecological Consequences of Habitat Fragmentation

Department: Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology (E3B)

Anticipated tasks: The main objective of this project is to understand human exposure to ticks in urban areas, and we are working in collaboration with the NYC Department of Health. This summer we designed and tested a smartphone application that was used as a survey tool to collect data on human behavior and risk factors for tick-borne diseases. The student intern will participate in the evaluation of the app implementation and follow up with participants, design and recruitment for the intended focus groups, analyze data collected over the summer months and draft reports. The student will also aid in designing and improving content of the app based on participant’s feedback. Finally, the intern will help handle communication with different stakeholders and news outlets, and keep the website of the project updated.

Skills required: Experience in qualitative and/or quantitative data analysis, particularly in the field of public health, epidemiology, social or behavioral sciences. Writing and communication skills required to handle communications.

 


  1. The Transport and Fate of Man-made Radioactivity in the Arctic and North Pacific Oceans

Department: Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

Anticipated tasks: The major tasks anticipated for a research assistant are related to organizing, processing, and analyzing samples collected on the US GEOTRACES Arctic section cruise completed in October 2015 and the US GEOTRACES Pacific Meridional Transect (currently underway from Alaska to Tahiti). Samples include filtered seawater, suspended particulate material, sea ice, snow, and bottom sediments. All work will take place on the Lamont campus. On a day to day basis, an RA can expect to perform the following tasks:

  • Organizing: pulling sample sets identified for analysis, helping to keep our large inventory of samples organized. Other tasks in this category could include organizing sub-samples and sample weights.
  • Processing: preparation of samples for separation and measurement of several anthropogenic radionuclides according to established laboratory protocols. Specific activities include use of an analytical balance, pipetting, preparation and cleaning of lab ware required for separations.
  • Analyzing: While we do several different analyses, an RA will focus on analysis of Cs-137 using our gamma spectrometer and the analysis of filtered particulates using our XRF spectrometer. These are tasks that can be accomplished within the expected timeframe.

Skills required: In general, the position requires someone with common sense, who is mechanically inclined, and willing to work carefully and hard with a degree of independence. There is a significant amount of laboratory work, which requires thoroughness and careful note-taking. Some data analysis background would be helpful, but is not necessary. It would be useful if the student is willing to summarize the data and methods he or she works on in the form of concise written reports.

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