Education News

Spring 2011 Announcement: Research Assistant Positions

2011-01-14

The Earth Institute, Columbia University is pleased to announce 11 research assistant opportunities for undergraduate students during the Spring 2011 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 2011 semester.

This year, the 11 research assistantships are:

  1. Climate Information Based Design of Low-Cost Rain Water Harvest Systems for Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Rural Communities of India
  2. Sustainable Urban Agriculture: Confirming Viable Scenarios for Production; New York Regional Foodshed Analysis – Phase 1; and National-Integrated Regional Foodshed
  3. Anthropogenic Radionuclides in the Atlantic Ocean
  4. Low Latitude Diatoms and Impact Ejecta in the GISP2 Core – Is Carpentaria the Source?
  5. Impact of Temperature and Precipitation on Malaria Transmission in the Millennium Villages
  6. Historical Analysis of Factors that Facilitate Malaria: Policy Makers Learning How to Maximize the Impact of Anti-Malaria Programs
  7. Haiti Regeneration Initiative
  8. Natural Variability and Anthropogenic-Forced Change of Hydroclimate in the New York City Watershed
  9. Effecting Sustainable Conservation and Development Through Problem Driven Research and the Testing of Indigenous Hypotheses
  10. Dominican Republic Natural Hazards and Risks Assessment
  11. Impacts of Infrastructure Improvements in Rural Africa

To Apply:
To apply for these positions, please complete the online application available here: http://fs21.formsite.com/earthinstitute/form6/index.html by January 28, 2011 at 5PM.  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. 

Please note that students who are awarded research assistantships will be expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase which takes place in the spring.

1. Climate Information Based Design of Low-Cost Rain Water Harvest Systems for Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Rural Communities of India

Department/Center: Columbia Water Center

The Columbia Water Center (CWC) is working with the PepsiCo Foundation to study the growing water resources crises in India and to develop sustainable solutions in the water stressed regions. The hydroclimatology group at CWC is focused on addressing the questions about the choice of storage infrastructure needed for rural agrarian India under erratic climate and developing suitable local solutions such as designing economical rain water harvesting structures that can meet the current rate of water demand. The Earth Institute Research Assistant will work with the multidisciplinary team in developing the Reliable Infrastructure for Sustainable Agriculture Model (RISAM). RISAM will be an innovative design approach that will not only estimate the storage requirements and the low-cost design specifications for a farmer but also estimates the reliability with which this rain water harvest system can meet various agricultural and domestic needs under highly variable rainfall patterns. The student will be under regular supervision and guided by the project team during the group meetings on a regular basis.

Job responsibilities:
-Work with the interdisciplinary research team at CWC to review literature, formulate hypotheses and design the algorithms to build RISAM.
-Develop sensitivity analysis for economic feasibility and social adaptability of the designed RWH systems.
-Assist the team in data collection, processing and analyses.
-Present the research finding at various student conferences and submit a final progress report to
CWC.

Desired qualifications:
-Student should be of junior standing.
-Working knowledge of programming in MATLAB or R.
-Familiarity in issues relating to hydrology and water resources, especially in developing nations.
-Working knowledge of the standard Office tools. Experience in ArcGIS is a plus.
-Strong organizational and interpersonal skills.

2. Sustainable Urban Agriculture: Confirming Viable Scenarios for Production; New York Regional Foodshed Analysis – Phase 1; and National-Integrated Regional Foodshed

Department/Center: Urban Design Lab

The research assistant (RA) will assist in preparing materials and conducting research for three separate but related projects to evaluate agricultural capacity and food systems infrastructure at the local and regional levels. The first, “Sustainable Urban Agriculture: Confirming Viable Scenarios for Production,” is an in-depth evaluation of the feasibility and efficiency of various urban agriculture techniques. The RA would assist in developing maps of available sites, including working with existing land-use and rooftop GIS databases and potentially assisting with energy modeling analyses. The second and third projects, phase 1 of the “New York Regional Foodshed Analysis” and the “National-Integrated Regional Foodshed” project, will involve working with land cover and soil maps to evaluate regional agricultural capacity, and conducting research on food processing and distribution infrastructure on both the regional and national scales. The national-level project is a collaboration with research colleagues at MIT’s Collaborative Initiatives and will receive advisement from colleagues at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN).
 
Job responsibilities:
The RA will work closely with Urban Design Lab senior researchers and CIESIN’s director of Geospatial Applications to gather data, develop maps, conduct social and economic research, and assist with drafting reports and publications to disseminate the outcomes of the urban food systems research to policymakers and other stakeholders. The preliminary findings have been very well received and will have far-reaching implications for food production and distribution – and nutrition – around the world.

Desired qualifications:
The desired candidate - an undergraduate student in Sustainable Development or a related field- will have a design, planning, or engineering background, display strong verbal and writing skills and be able to aid in public presentations. Basic knowledge of Geographic Information Systems (ArcGIS), Adobe Creative Suite, Word and PowerPoint PC software is preferred. Experience with performing systems life-cycle analyses preferred. Selected candidates will be asked to present a portfolio of previous work for the interview and exhibit strong layout/design creativity and attention to detail.

3. Anthropogenic Radionuclides in the Atlantic Ocean

Department/Center: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are seeking an  Earth Institute Undergraduate Research Assistant to assist with a project that was recently funded by the National Science Foundation. The proposed study will focus on determining the total concentrations of the anthropogenic radionuclides 239Pu, 240Pu, 237Np, and 137Cs in selected full depth profiles from the various Atlantic GEOTRACES cruises occurring in 2010 (US, Netherlands, and Germany), which will allow the broad brush characterization of the anthropogenic radionuclides some 37 years after GEOSECS. The isotopes of interest, in addition to being transient tracers, exhibit a range of Kd values (sediment water distribution coefficients, Pu>Np,Cs), and geochemical behaviors as well as provide a means to resolve different sources of radioactive contamination. This will allow us to address processes such as advection (new water mass tracers), sources and sinks (characteristic isotopic signatures), as well as processes related scavenging and particle dynamics across a range of contrasting regions.

Job responsibilities:
The research assistant can expect to gain solid experience in and provide valuable assistance with several phases of water sample collection, processing, and analysis. Acquired analytical techniques would include separation and purification techniques and preparation of samples for our ICPmass spectrometer, and gamma spectroscopy for the analysis of natural and man-made radionuclides, as well as data processing and interpretation. 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, and students would be integral to the published manuscripts from this research. There may be some local field work as well as some analytical method testing and development.

Desired qualifications:
Common sense, good laboratory skills, mechanically inclined, willingness to work carefully and hard. Some data analysis background would be helpful, but is not necessary. All of the analytical work will take place at the Lamont-Doherty Campus.

4. Low Latitude Diatoms and Impact Ejecta in the GISP2 Core – Is Carpentaria the Source?
Department/Center: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Diatoms are rare in ice cores and marine diatoms are even more rare. We have recently found 23 examples of low latitude (subtropical or tropical) marine diatoms in the GISP2 ice core from Greenland.  To our knowledge, these are the first diatoms ever found in the GISP2 core despite an earlier extensive search for them.  The diatom concentration is higher than the highest concentration of diatoms ever found in any ice core. Their age is circa 536 A.D. Tree rings from this time period show prominent frost rings at 536 and 537 A.D. The climate downturn at this time has been characterized as the worst weather in the last 2000 years, which produced famine and may have ushered in the Dark Ages.  

With the diatoms we found high Ni Fe Si bearing fragments with additional elements that preclude an origin as local atmospheric contaminants (e.g. stainless steel dust). All samples were stored and processed in a flow through hood to preclude such contamination. High Ni is characteristic of dust of extraterrestrial origin and impact ejecta.  We have also found thousands of micron sized calcium carbonate crystals (PM2.5) that could be the source of the dust veil that lasted for 18 months in Mesopotamia from March 536 A.D. until June 537 A.D.  Other components include zircons, barite and non-volcanic glass. This combination of components points to a low latitude impact source on a continental shelf at low latitudes with high productivity (upwelling).

We have a candidate source area for this event- the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia- for which we have found no published work on the diatom assemblage in the sediment.  We have samples of sediment from the Gulf of Carpentaria that were previously sieved and also sieving residues (<38u). We also have small samples that were taken to evaluate water content. These latter samples could be processed to make slides for diatoms (typically 4 to 60 microns in diameter) and to look for other components that are 4-60 microns in diameter. Some slides will be examined and photographed optically.  Other parts of the sample will be processed for examination by a scanning electron microscope (SEM).

Job responsibilities:
The student will help to make and photograph the slides, and to pick and process the samples for the SEM. The student will also look for data and papers on upwelling zones and diatom assemblages at subtropical and tropical latitudes. The idea will be to see if there is another low latitude continental shelf that could be the source area for the material in the GISP2 core.  The latter work can be done at Columbia to accommodate an academic schedule. 

Desired qualifications:
The preferred candidate should enjoy microscope work, laboratory work, and literature searches.  Previous experience is desirable but not essential. The student should be interested in geology and climate research.

5. Impact of Temperature and Precipitation on Malaria Transmission in the Millennium Villages

Department/Center: International Research Institute for Climate and Society

The annual malaria incidence in endemic countries is related to both climatic risk factors (e.g. temperature, precipitation, humidity) and the anti-malaria interventions present in the country (e.g. insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, anti-malarial drugs). Over the last decade there has been a dramatic scaling-up of anti-malaria interventions in endemic countries due to funding provided by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). The efficacy of anti-malaria interventions may decrease over time due to the development of, for example, insecticide resistance, drug resistance and changes in vector (mosquito) behavior. It is important to monitor changes in the efficacy of these interventions in order to determine when alternative insecticides or interventions should be introduced.

However, annual fluctuations in climatic risk factors in many malarious countries due to El Niño, Neutral and La Niña climatic phases create uncertainty of the degree to which changes in these countries’ annual number of malaria cases are due to changes in the efficacy of anti-malaria interventions versus changes in climatic risk factors. For instance, an unexpected increase in the number of malaria cases reported in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, relative to declines in recent annual reports, has led to calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) to examine the significance of these climatic phases.

Job responsibilities:

January/February: Study relevant literature on malaria transmission and role of temperature and precipitation; Using dataset provided by Millennium Villages Project, extract all data related to malaria risk factors and malaria indicators that were collected from each Millennium Village; Summarize methodologies used to collect data in each village.
March:  Extract relevant temperature and precipitation data for each Millennium Village using IRI’s climate tools.
April: Integration of temperature and precipitation data into dataset. Analysis of impact of temperature and precipitation on malaria transmission in each Millennium Village.

Desired qualifications:
Academic interest and coursework in Global health, climate change. Basic statistics skills and moderate proficiency with Excel. Expertise in basic data analysis.  Preference will be given to students from following departments:          E3B, Economics, Environmental Biology, Environmental Policy, Sustainable
Development.  

6. Historical Analysis of Factors that Facilitate Malaria: Policy Makers Learning How to Maximize the Impact of Anti-Malaria Programs

Department/Center: Center for Research on Environmental Decisions

A policy maker’s decision of which anti-malaria interventions to implement in their country is highly complex due to heterogeneities in the impact of these interventions across space and time. These heterogeneities are due, in part, to differences in the feeding and biting behavior of mosquitoes that transmit malaria as well as the susceptibility of these mosquitoes to insecticide-based interventions (e.g. insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying). Given the cost of collecting and accessing information to inform this decision, a policy maker must determine the most appropriate information to collect and use.

The objective of this research project is to identify the relationship between how a policy maker collects and uses information and the policy maker’s rate of learning of how to maximize the impact of their anti-malaria program. Specifically, we will focus on how a policy maker determines which information to collect from their country and which information to use from other countries. The relationship between how a policy maker collects / uses information and their rate of learning will be conducted for each of the following two periods:

  1. 1901 – 1955: Pre-malaria eradication campaign period
  2. 1955 – 1978: Malaria eradication campaign period

The geographic area of focus will be Southeast Asia given that the quantity/quality of historical records from this region over these two time periods are superior to those of other regions. Based on this analysis, we will develop recommendations for how to modify the current methodologies used to monitor and evaluate anti-malaria programs funded by the Global Fund in order to facilitate a faster rate of learning among policy makers.

Job responsibilities:

January: Develop familiarity with factors that affect malaria transmission and terminology commonly found in historical malaria documents
February: Obtain historical documents through use of online search engines, libraries
Summarize current monitoring and evaluation strategies of Global Fund
March: Using historical documents, analyze relationship between how policy makers collected / used information and their rate of learning
April: Contrast main findings from historical analysis with monitoring and evaluation strategies used by Global Fund

Desired qualifications:
Academic interest and coursework in global health policy. Well versed in the use of search engines for literature review, familiarity with Excel for extracting relevant data from historical documents, strong ability to organize and systematically review relevant documents.  Preference will be given to students from following departments: Anthropology, Environmental Biology, Environmental Policy, History, Politics, Sustainable Development, and Political Science.

7. Haiti Regeneration Initiative

Department/Center: Center for Research on Environmental Decisions and Center for International Earth Science Information Systems

The Haiti Regeneration Initiative (HRI) aims to reduce poverty and vulnerability to natural disasters through the restoration of ecosystems and livelihoods based on sustainable natural resource management. Some thematic intervention areas include agriculture and forestry sustainability, land use management, sustainable energy alternatives, and environmental awareness and behavior, to name a few. This initiative is being strengthened by strong synergies among multiple Earth Institute departments, the United Nations Environment Programme, and local, regional and national Haitian agencies and NGOs. The geographic focus area of the initiative is the southwestern coast of Haiti.

So far, all the work conducted in the field has generated an extensive and valuable multi-media and informational materials collection. Working with CIESIN and CRED, the student will assist in the creation of a media gallery intended to show interesting stories from the ground, as well as to expose the main environmental challenges of the region. The student will also assist in the preparation of a photo exhibition, and in the organization and classification of other informational material.

Job responsibilities:
The student will be responsible for conducting research on best practices for communicating environmental and development related topics, as well as issues regarding property and publication rights, open access licenses and distribution permits. In addition, he/she will be responsible for the compilation, selection and classification of multi-media and informational material collected during previous field trips to Haiti. He/she will also generate written narratives from the media and informational material to be used in both the HRI website and the HRI photo exhibition. This will require significant research and analysis of material. Access to the HRI’s and CIESIN’s archive will be granted to perform these and other potential tasks, as required. The student will also be asked to help maintain a document library. The student is expected to work 10 hours per week. Work location is at CIESIN on the Lamont-Doherty campus.  

Desired qualifications:
-Excellent communication skills.
-English and French (at least intermediate level) is required.
-Professionalism and serious work ethic.
-Basic knowledge of Photoshop, Illustrator and/or In Design.
-Ability to work independently and to participate effectively in a team based information sharing environment.
-Initiative and creativity.
-Flexibility and willingness to assist with tasks outside the formal terms of reference, as needed.

8. Natural Variability and Anthropogenic-Forced Change of Hydroclimate in the New York City Watershed

Department/Center: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory-Ocean & Climate Physics

New York City and some surrounding regions rely for their water on parts of the Hudson and Delaware River watersheds in the Catskill Mountains. Past expansions of the water supply system were triggered by serious droughts, including first development of the Catskill sources following the 1890s drought, and capture of Delaware flow after the epic early 1960s drought. Recent successful efforts have been made to reduce New York City water consumption and preserve the watershed in recognition of the inability to tap any new resources. However water supply emergencies are frequent even as consumption has dropped and regional precipitation amounts have increased. This raises the question of just how vulnerable New York’s water supply is in the face of both natural variability and greenhouse gas-driven climate change. Neil Pederson has recently developed an expanded network of centuries-long tree ring records for the watershed. The project will use this record to assess the full range of natural hydroclimate variability much better than the short instrumental record can. It will address the question of whether the 1960s drought was the worst the region can experience or whether even worse droughts occurred in earlier centuries. The project will also use climate models to assess if droughts in the watershed are in any way predictable in that they are forced by slowly varying sea surface temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (we suspect not). The project will also develop an anatomy of the seasonality, severity and large-scale atmosphere-ocean circulation context of the 1960s drought, which is to date New York’s ‘drought of record’. The causes of the recent wetting of regional climate will also be examined.  The project will also assess what climate models project for how precipitation and evaporation will change in the near term future as a consequence of rising greenhouse gases. This will combine into a thorough assessment of drought risk in a watershed that supplies water to 9 million people.

Desired qualifications:
A working knowledge of the Ingrid climate data server and analysis software would be a plus as well as knowledge of standard methods in statistical analysis of spatial fields and time series and ability to perform analyses in Ingrid, Excel or Matlab. Some familiarity with climate dynamics is also needed. 

9. Effecting Sustainable Conservation and Development through Problem Driven Research and the Testing of Indigenous Hypotheses

Department/Center: Barnard College
Our ongoing project seeks to understand indigenous perceptions of socio-ecological changes in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea (PNG), to test the indigenous hypotheses offered to explain these changes, and to create conservation and development projects based on the research outcomes. Our project began with a focus on the social and ecological effects of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) cultivation. It has evolved over the past two years to focus on multiple drivers of socio-ecological change. Through understanding local conceptions of and concerns about socio-ecological change we are pioneering 'problem driven research' in PNG.  By this we mean research that derives from engagement with communities and their assessment of problems and issues and that eventually helps them make decisions about how to best conserve both biological and cultural diversity. Our ultimate goals are to develop a methodology for designing socio-ecological research projects that are generated by the concerns of local people in PNG, to understand the social and ecological changes in New Ireland Province, PNG, to help people assess threats to their cultural and biological diversity and come up with plans to mitigate these threats, and to contribute to the development of a new generation of students from PNG who are trained in socio-ecological research design, method, analysis, and result dissemination.

Job responsibilities:
We currently seek student support for phase three of our project. In particular, we wish to have students working with us on integrating ecological, economic, and anthropological findings into awareness materials. These materials will be concerned with the aquatic-terrestrial interface. Students will learn to work with data from three disciplines (anthropology, ecology, and economics) and learn about the process by which academic research is distilled into understandable education materials and products for stakeholders and government groups.
Desired qualifications:
-Excellent communication skills.
-Professionalism and serious work ethic.
-Ability to work independently and to participate effectively in a team based information sharing environment.
-Initiative and creativity.
-Flexibility and willingness to assist with tasks outside the formal terms of reference, as needed.

10. Dominican Republic Natural Hazards and Risks Assessment

Department/Center: Urban Design Lab, the Earth Institute

The government of the Dominican Republic has approached the Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to conduct the first phase of a large-scale, multi-year natural hazards risk assessment for the country.

Job responsibilities:
The EI/SEAS/LDEO team, which is being led primarily by the Urban Design Lab, has made two preliminary research trips to the DR and is now in the process of compiling the initial research report using data acquired and compiling new data from online sources to plan a multi-year collaborative project. The intern/RA will assist with the finalization of this initial research report and planning for long-term involvement, including research and text generation for the long-term project extension and funding proposal – a key project that must be led by the EI and completed during spring 2011 (extended from original date of December 31, 2010 due to additional funding received by the Dominican government from the IMF).

 Desired qualifications:
The desired candidate will have experience in technical report production and, ideally, in grant proposal writing. She or he will display strong verbal and writing skills in both English and Spanish. Knowledge of Geographic Information Systems (ArcGIS) and Adobe Creative Suite is preferred; Word and PowerPoint PC required. Basic knowledge of seismology and international disaster response agencies preferred, as is basic knowledge of building codes and structural engineering concepts and terminology.
 
Preferred students are undergraduate student in Sustainable Development, Earth & Environmental Engineering, Architecture or related field. Students in Economics or Political Science could also be considered.

11. Impacts of Infrastructure Improvements in Rural Africa

Department/Center :  Millennium Villages Project

In rural Africa, girls and women are disproportionally tasked with domestic activities including fetching water and gathering firewood and other biomass for cooking – activities that demand extensive time and physical labor. These burdens have a negative impact on the lives of girls and women in many ways, such as by forcing them to skip school and study time, miss opportunities for economic activities, and suffer health consequences.

Job responsibilities:
The Millennium Villages project (MVP) in sub-Saharan Africa has been working to reduce the time and health burdens on girls and women through interventions in the infrastructure sector, including the distribution of improved cookstoves and the construction and rehabilitation of water sources. This research project proposes to conduct a more exhaustive investigation of the impact of infrastructure interventions on the time burdens of girls and women through a thorough analysis of existing quantitative and qualitative data from the MVP and additional primary impact research.

Desired qualifications:
The student will be expected to provide background research, including conducting a literature review and building an Endnote bibliography. The student should have good writing skills and be able to provide concise summaries of relevant research. Quantitative and statistical skills are a plus but not required. The student may also provide overall support and assistance for the research project and report writing. Background research can start immediately.


To apply for these positions, please complete an online application available here: http://fs21.formsite.com/earthinstitute/form6/index.html by January 28, 2011 at 5PM.  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.  Please note that students who are awarded research assistantships will be expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase which takes place in the spring.