Spring 2022 Undergraduate Research Assistant Opportunities

Undergraduates from Columbia will be able to serve as research assistants on projects related to sustainable development and the environment.

By
Guest Blogger
December 20, 2021

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is offering undergraduate students with research assistant opportunities during the Spring 2022 semester. Undergraduates from Columbia will be able to serve as research assistants on 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. Successful applicants will work directly with faculty on projects on a part-time basis.

Spring 2021 positions include:

  1. Mixed reality applications for ice-sheet science
  2. Calibrating foraminiferal proxies for reconstructions of past climate changes
  3. Understanding environmental and anthropogenic impacts on the restoration of a key ecosystem engineer
  4. What controls the CO2/SO2 ratio in arc volcanic gas?
  5. Identifying empirical links between climate change, food security and migration

To apply:

Complete the online application available HERE by Sunday, December 26 at 11:55pm. While you may apply for more than one position, you must submit separate applications for each.

Only full-time Columbia undergraduates are eligible to apply. Barnard students are not eligible for the undergraduate RA program. Undergraduate research assitantships are funded at a rate of $18/hour. Decisions will be made shortly after the deadline.

Students who are selected for a position will be expected to participate in the Earth Institute Student Research Showcase in Spring 2022.

Contact David Morales-Miranda (dmiranda@ei.columbia.edu) with questions.


1. Mixed Reality Applications for Ice-Sheet Science

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: A few anticipated tasks include: The development of an augmented reality application in Unity and its deployment to multiple platforms. Creating an intuitive user interface for interacting with geospatial data. Creating coordinate system transformations that enable the integration of geospatial datasets into Unity. Making modifications to the existing application, such as fixing minor bugs, adding more scaling functionality for the radar images, adding scripts for moving around different components of the scene, among other programming tasks. A research assistant is necessary for completing these tasks because this project requires a team member with expertise in computer programming and AR development. The research assistant will be responsible for leading this application development.

Skills Preferred:

  • Experience with Unity, preferable experience using the Mixed Reality Toolkit
  • Exposure to head-mounted displays
  • Experience working with geospatial data
  • Knowledge of 3D graphics
  • Exposure to earth science broadly
  • Proficiency in one or more of the following: ArcGIS, MATLAB, Python, R

2. Calibrating foraminiferal proxies for reconstructions of past climate changes

Department: Department of Earth and Environmental Science

Anticipated Tasks: In the spring, the RA will work alongside a GRA and will be guided to test and pack laboratory field equipment. The RA will also be offered to gain insight into paleo-applications, including picking fossil foraminifera from sediments and assisting with welding filaments in the mass spectrometer laboratory. Fieldwork includes collecting juvenile plankton offshore of Catalina, identifying and measuring individuals under the microscope, preparing and analyzing experimental seawater, tending to live specimens in culture. If interested and qualified, a SCUBA-certified RA may join a research diving class on Catalina in June 2022 and help with the hand collection of foraminifera during the fieldwork. Workdays in the field are fun but long, and the PI is assembling a team of senior, graduate and undergraduate collaborators. Getting to know the research team in the spring semester, the RA will be able to join the fieldwork with confidence.

Skills Preferred: The RA will work in the micropaleontology, sedimentology, and geochemistry laboratories at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, a 30-minute shuttle bus ride from Columbia University. Previous laboratory experience is advantageous but not required. The RA is expected to obtain training for working with chemicals, diligently use personal protective equipment, and follow the research instructions carefully and accurately. Students will work as part of a team of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and collaboration in the laboratory with others is expected.


3. Understanding environmental and anthropogenic impacts on the restoration of a key ecosystem engineer

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: The RA will be involved in all aspects of the research process, including sample classification, cleaning, preparation and analysis. Specific project tasks for the student RA will include, but are not limited to: oyster shell sample cleaning, collection of shell morphology and density data, acquisition of data for geometric morphometrics analyses. Given the scale of the project, which involves analysis of multiple specimens sampled from various locations within the two estuaries, the assistance provided by the RA will be very valuable for gathering a significant amount of data from the different study systems. The additional data collected by the RA will, therefore, increase spatial models’ predictive power and provide a better understanding of oyster reef responses under a wider range of environmental and anthropogenic disturbances.

Skills Preferred:

  • The RA should feel comfortable commuting to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to work one/two days a week
  • Academic background in environmental/natural/biological sciences is advisable
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills
  • No previous laboratory experience is required, but the RA must be very well organized and methodical, with attention to detail. Training will be provided in any of the research tasks before commitment.
  • Good time management and ability to work effectively in a team environmental are also desirable

4. What controls the CO2/SO2 ratio in arc volcanic gas?

Department: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Anticipated Tasks: The RA’s lab tasks include handpicking olivine crystals, conducting high-pressure experiments with a piston-cylinder apparatus, doubly polishing the recovered samples, and analyzing the melt inclusions with Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and electron microprobe. The RA will also be involved in compiling existing geochemistry data for San Cristóbal volcano, computing gas composition using the obtained melt inclusions data and a python-based degassing model and comparing the modeled gas composition with the volcanic gas data from San Cristóbal volcano. The novelty of this project is to obtain high quality CO2-S data from melt inclusions that have resorbed the CO2 in the vapor bubbles by high-pressure experiments and interpreting it under the context of the observed CO2/SO2 ratios from volcanic gas. Therefore, this project’s success heavily relies on the detailed lab work and data processing mentioned above. The involvement of an intern with patience and enthusiasm for learning about volcanic degassing is essential.

Skills Preferred: Knowledge of mineralogy and geochemistry at the introductory level is needed to accomplish this project. The intern will also need to use Excel for data compilation, basic data processing and plotting, and PowerPoint for brief presentations. During the data processing, we will run some python codes. Experience with Python/Matlab would be preferred but not required.


5. Identifying empirical links between climate change, food security and migration

Department: Center for International Earth Science Information Network

Anticipated Tasks: The RA will complete the literature review on climate change, food security, and migration linkages. Along with finalizing the draft manuscript, completion of the project will require further quantification of the patterns identified in literature review and creation of figures for the manuscript. As such, the RA will be responsible for writing and editing the manuscript, coordinating with co-authors, and writing Python code. The RA will submit the manuscript for publication to Population and Environment by the end of the spring 2022 quarter. Further, the RA will communicate findings to members of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Network and the Climate Mobility Network throughout the spring 2022 semester.

Skills Preferred:

  • Excellent written communication skills
  • Knowledge of food security, climate change, and migration scientific policy and literature
  • Experience publishing a scientific manuscript
  • Experience working with a multinational organizations or humanitarian/development nonprofit organizations
  • Proficiency in Python and knowledge of GitHub