Research assistantships provide opportunities for Columbia University undergraduate students to participate in hands-on sustainable development research on a range of projects with Earth Institute faculty and researchers. Some examples of projects include: researching the impact of temperature and precipitation on malaria transmission, identifying natural hazards and risk management strategies for the Dominican Republic, and researching the impacts of infrastructure improvements in rural Africa. The program gives students a valuable opportunity to collaborate on substantive matters of inquiry and a chance to gain meaningful insight into various fields of study and the research process as a whole. Twelve research assistantships are offered during both the fall and spring semesters, for a total of 24 per year.
These research assistantships offer students a unique educational opportunity to participate in all phases of research under faculty guidance. Students contribute unique knowledge and skills that allow projects to develop in a way that would not be possible without their assistance. According to Richard Plunz, director of the Urban Design Lab and a professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia, “Students bring with them valuable combinations of enthusiasm and experience in interdisciplinary scholarship—the latter which is a direct result of the unique education and research opportunities they receive from Columbia University and the Earth Institute.” Students receive invaluable exposure to cutting-edge research and gain applied knowledge in the field. Arielle Radin, a psychology major in the Columbia College Class of 2013, says, "My research assistantship at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) allowed me to truly get a feel for research and working with a research team. I now know that I want to end up in research and academia due to this positive and rewarding experience.”
Student research projects focus on environmental sustainability and development. These projects include subtopics in sustainability, development economics, earth sciences, ecology, atmospheric research and environmental policy, among others. Fostering interdisciplinary connections among the social and natural sciences is a part of the Earth Institute’s mission, and research assistantships work to expand those efforts This approach reinforces an interdisciplinary research agenda and accommodates students from a range of backgrounds and fields of study, including anthropology, economics, electrical engineering, humanities, environmental biology, environmental policy, history, political science, mathematics, human rights, religious studies, urban studies and writing. Many of the projects focus on international sustainable development, while others have a domestic focus. Derek Willis, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Earth Institute, supervised several research assistants. He says, “The research assistants made important contributions, even though they had minimal previous experience working on the research topic of malaria. In addition to conducting literature reviews, the research assistants identified a software program capable of efficiently analyzing our data. I hope to have the opportunity to work with Earth Institute research assistants again on future projects.”
Students work directly with faculty members on current research projects on a part-time basis for approximately 10 to 15 hours per week at 15 dollars per hour. Many faculty members work with research assistants to initiate their projects prior to receiving outside grants or to further supplement ongoing projects. Being a part of a research project that spans a semester or year allows undergraduate students to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom in a constructive way.
Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 positions will be posted on the Earth Institute Education News page. For Fall positions, students will need to submit a resume and cover letter online by September 11. For Spring positions, students will need to submit a resume and cover letter online by January 31. For more information on the process or for individual inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on past projects, read reports from the 2011 Showcase.