Summer 2020 Earth Institute Internship Opportunities

by |March 23, 2020

The Earth Institute is offering undergraduate, graduate and PhD students with opportunities to intern in various departments and research centers in a variety of administrative, 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. Internships are funded at a rate of $16 per hour for up to 35 hours a week. The summer internship period runs June 1 – August 31. Positions are available within the following projects:

  1. Assessing Ecological Conditions and Stressors in Long Island Sound Using Shipboard, Laboratory, and Satellite Observations
  2. Examining the Historical Connections Among Migration, Food Security, and Climate in West Africa
  3. (2 positions available)
  4. The Green Energy Transition and Human Rights: Incentivizing the Respect of Local Communities by Renewable Energy Producers
  5. Initiative on Communication and Sustainability
  6. Reconstructing Past Oceanographic and Climatic Changes in the North Pacific Ocean
  7. Satellite Observations for Hurricane Formation
  8. Validity of Social Vulnerability Indices Across Hazard Types

More details are below.

To apply:

Complete the online application available here by April 19 at 11:55 p.m. 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 2021.

Contact Samantha Ostrowski ( with questions.

1. Assessing Ecological Conditions and Stressors in Long Island Sound Using Shipboard, Laboratory, and Satellite Observations

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: This is an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in exciting field research activities and get involved in a highly interdisciplinary project that examines how human activities, episodic events, and seasonal processes impact the water quality and ecology of the Long Island Sound ecosystem. The student will receive interdisciplinary training in the fields of wetland ecology, biogeochemistry, biology, oceanography, and ocean optics, and will build skills in a wide variety of field and laboratory techniques, data analysis, and the use of analytical instruments. Water samples will be collected from rivers, coastal marshes, and the sound’s estuarine waters for further chemical characterization and optical analyses in the lab. In-situ measurements of water physicochemical and bio-optical properties will be collected during one-day field cruises to characterize estuarine biogeochemical and ecological processes. 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, problem solving, and communication of findings, 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 required: We are looking for highly motivated undergraduate and graduate students with strong background and interest in environmental sciences, quantitative skills, and willingness to be part of an interdisciplinary team effort. Experience in programming, field data collection methods, and/or remote-sensing data analysis is preferred, but not required.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate

2. Examining the Historical Connections Among Migration, Food Security, and Climate in West Africa

Department: Center for Climate Systems Research and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: The objective is to establish a data-driven understanding of the links among food insecurity, climate, and migration. Through this understanding, we will be able to better anticipate the factors that could trigger future migration crises in a changing climate. The anticipated tasks include:

(i) Analysis of existing historical food security metrics: The student will analyze the food insecurity metrics developed by the USAID Famine Early Warning System Network, which have been released quarterly from 2009-2019 in the form of spatial files detailing food security status for all countries of West Africa at the subnational level.

(ii) Analysis of the causal factors influencing migration: To understand the factors influencing migration, the student will perform a joint analysis of the forces driving migration using baseline econometric analyses and including potential social, economic, political and environmental drivers.

Skills required: Advanced data analysis and programming skills (Python, R).

Type of student desired: Undergraduate

3. GlacierHub (2 positions available)

Department: Center for Research on Environmental Decisions

Anticipated tasks: This website GlacierHub addresses mountain glaciers, one of the areas in the world where climate change has been a powerful force for several decades. As glaciers retreat, they alter water resources, create natural hazards, reduce tourism, and transform cherished landscapes. There is strong global awareness of climate change in the Arctic and in low-lying islands, but the impacts on mountains are less widely known. This is an opportunity to build public awareness about climate change, showing its direct impact on human communities and natural ecosystems. GlacierHub covers the science and policy of climate change in mountain areas, as well as presenting community-level adaptations and responses, and discussing cultural aspects of climate change. It also serves an outreach function and an education function, since it attracts science teachers and communicators. It has begun to operate as a nexus for communication between different mountain communities that share similar concerns about climate change. Glacierhub has featured guest posts by people from Peru, Iceland, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal—all countries with retreating glaciers.

The internships will be an opportunity to develop skills in climate change communication. The interns will research and write posts, as well as finding images for them, and will benefit from working with editors who are experienced science journalists and writers. They will learn how to support the website through social media and through contacts with other websites. They will develop their skills in operating website platforms (WordPress), editing text and images and managing rights and permissions, as well as using Google Analytics to trace website performance. They will have the opportunity to network with other internet journalists. And they will have pieces that they have authored that they can list on their resumes or send to prospective employers.

Skills required: Required skills include strong writing ability and some knowledge of environmental science and/or policy. Preferred skills include social media experience and familiarity with website production.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate

4. The Green Energy Transition and Human Rights: Incentivizing the Respect of Local Communities by Renewable Energy Producers

Department: Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment

Anticipated tasks: Columbia Center for Sustainable Investment (CCSI) is seeking a graduate student to assist with research on the land impacts of renewable energy generation (especially solar and wind), with a specific focus on local communities affected by such investments. Research will contribute to (i) a future company-facing tool on the legal risks for renewable energy companies in not adequately engaging communities and respecting their rights and (ii) other relevant topics touching on the human and land rights impacts of renewable energy generation.

The student will conduct desk research and potentially confidential interviews with relevant stakeholders to explore different sources of legal risks and better understand company incentives for improving business practices to better respect the rights of local communities who often bear the brunt of negative impacts of such projects. This work will be broken down into investigating one type of legal risk at a time, with the expectation that an initial draft memo will be delivered within three weeks of commencing, and that feedback and guidance on each written work product will be provided swiftly and in combination with in-person meetings and coordination. In addition to research, there could be scope for the intern to conduct analysis, synthesize findings, and contribute to drafting (either of blog posts or of parts of other publications).

Skills required: Strong research and analysis skills, including the ability to use academic databases and other online search techniques for legal and social science research; the ability to understand and act on instructions; and an openness to conducting in-person interviews with key informants; the ability to adapt findings and research approaches to the incentives of different types of actors, including the private sector.

Some knowledge or experience with the field of business and human rights and/or responsible land-based investment, and/or any sectoral knowledge of the wind and solar energy generation sectors would be an asset.

Strong writing skills.

Type of student desired: Graduate

5. Initiative on Communication and Sustainability

Department: Earth Institute, Initiative on Communication and Sustainability

Anticipated tasks: The intern will play a key supportive role for the Earth Institute’s Initiative on Communication and Sustainability, with a particular focus on improving the website and supporting the related climate and sustainability communications network and new Resilience Journalism Fellowship program. Tasks include monitoring and managing online network interactivity and needs through Google Groups and/or Slack, writing updates or outreach documents or other content related to the network and journalism fellowship and fundraising efforts, and acting as a representative for the programs when necessary. Tasks may also include writing or producing communication-focused blog posts or podcast episodes and providing support for the planning and execution of events, meetings, seminars, and special programs.

Most of the work would be online: helping run the back end of the Sustainability Communications network; helping with blog posts, social-media monitoring and output; and coordinating with other relevant communication efforts across Columbia (for instance, helping extract and do simple edits to audio from our Sustain What videos, if the output can be repurposed by podcasts or public health blogs, etc. Here’s an example: the Sustain What video chat with global security experts that was adapted for a Disaster Politics segment).

Skills required: Excellent written and oral communication skills required. The candidate must be able to multitask and also work independently with a high degree of efficiency. The candidate must be proficient in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, PowerPoint, and Excel. The intern should be highly motivated, professional, and detail-oriented.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate, Graduate

6. Reconstructing Past Oceanographic and Climatic Changes in the North Pacific Ocean

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: This project is designed to look at the composition of sediments from deep sea cores in order to assess changes in the surface ocean conditions, deep ocean circulation, cryosphere, and climate in the North Pacific region during the most recent cycle of global glaciation on Earth. Learning more about the currently poorly understood past changes in this region of the world’s largest ocean will contribute to our understanding of natural oceanographic and climatic variability.

The summer intern will help sample, process, and analyze deep-sea sediments in the deep-sea sediment laboratory at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO). The lab’s preliminary investigations have revealed that a number of deep-sea sediment cores stored in the LDEO core repository have sediments from the past ice age with the potential to assess climate variability in an unprecedented way for this vast but challenging and therefore underexplored portion Pacific Ocean. This presents an excellent opportunity for a student to work closely with a world-class research team and to make a real contribution to obtaining new knowledge about natural variability in this region. The student will take samples from one or more North Pacific cores, and then help with processing tasks that include freeze-drying, weighing on a microbalance, wet-sieving using a semi-automated processing system, oven drying and re-weighing of the coarse material, settling, and decanting and air-drying of the finest material and bulk compositional analyses. These measurements will help identify the proportion of sediment related to a range of processes, including biological productivity, atmospheric transport by the wind, ocean circulation and iceberg discharge reflecting glacial activity on the circum-Pacific land masses.

In consultation with Professor Jerry McManus, the student intern will then select a subset of the samples for detailed analysis of the sediment composition, microfossil abundance and assemblage, grain size, and carbon and oxygen isotope ratios. These analyses will include a combination of automated bulk measurements and observations using a binocular microscope. All necessary training will be provided. The student will then interpret the results in consultation with McManus. Although this will be a freestanding project pursued by the student intern, it will be placed in the larger context of larger parallel ongoing studies designed to explore the global connection of environment, biosphere, volcanism, and climate changes in the past in the contrasting regions of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Skills required: Training will be provided for all specific tasks and instrument use. It is important that the intern 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, as well as a spreadsheet and plotting program such as MS Excel or Google Sheets. The student and project will benefit most from the right student’s combination of independence and ability to work with others.

Type of student desired: Undergraduate

7. Satellite Observations for Hurricane Formation

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated tasks: The intern will work on satellite measurements from NASA that can show the organization and the thermal structures of convection during hurricane formation. First, the intern will identify the potential datasets from NASA web archive with guidance from the principal investigators. Then they will create a data matrix listing data coverage periods, variables, and spatial and temporal resolutions. After the initial data organization task, the intern will plot sample data over the Atlantic main development region (10-20°N and 30 to 90°W). The results of this work will be used to show existing observations and identify potential gaps for studying hurricane genesis.

Skills required: Python programing; ability to search large databases; ability to plot and display graphs and maps of findings.

Type of student desired: Graduate, PhD

8. Validity of Social Vulnerability Indices Across Hazard Types

Department: Center for Climate Systems Research

Anticipated tasks: The intern will work with the supervisor to develop a unique social vulnerability index that is tailored to the hazard of coastal flooding in New York City based on the supervisor’s prior work that identifies determinants of vulnerability to coastal flooding. The responsibilities will include:

  • Review of literature on application of social vulnerability indices to policy design and document review of current policies designed to reduce social vulnerability to coastal flooding in NYC.
  • Obtaining data from the American Community Survey.
  • Conducting principal component analysis and working with the supervisor to use the results to create three different versions of a social vulnerability index.
  • Mapping the three indices for NYC.
  • Working with the supervisor to compare policy implications of the resulting indices to policy implications of three corresponding versions of a generic social vulnerability index for NYC that have already been constructed.
  • Co-authoring a paper that reports the results if interested.

Skills required: Understanding of principal component analysis; knowledge of GIS; facility with at least one statistical analysis software, such as R; some prior experience working with data; excellent organizational and research skills.

Type of student desired: Graduate, PhD

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