Student Information

Student Name

Lauren Bersek




Internship Information

Company/Organization: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Heal

Mentor(s):Dr. Jeffrey L. Shaman

Topic of Internship

Environmental Science

Background Information

The Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University is a leading institution in researching and addressing critical, public health issues of the world. The sole accredited school of public health in New York City was ranked as one of the top 5 schools of public health by the U.S. News & World Reports in 2011. The institution was also the third largest recipient of sponsored research and National Institute of Health (NIH) funding for all schools of public health. With 6 departments (Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences, Epidemiology, Health Policy and Management, Population and Family Health, and Sociomedical Sciences), 22 research centers, 10 dual-degree programs, and a world-renowned reputation for servicing both the New York and international communities, the Mailman School gives its students and faculty the resources and the confidence to face today’s health problems and bring change to the public.

Summary of Internship

At my internship, I had the opportunity to work collaboratively in an academic setting for the first time. Like the post-doctorate and graduate students around me, I communicated with Dr. Shaman one-on-one to both learn and obtain the skills necessary to complete specific tasks. Although I began the internship without real prior knowledge of the science of climate and weather, my mentor provided me with an understanding of the field through scientific papers from different databases. I soon was able to learn about climate change, heat waves in France, and disease outbreaks in response to specific storms, including Hurricane Katrina and the Orissa cyclone in India. Each Thursday, I worked with my mentor to develop and complete a research project of my choosing. At first, I wanted to conduct research on the diseases that resulted from conditions caused by certain storms, which had been the focus of the articles I had been reading. However, this idea soon proved too expansive and impractical. While trying to find a new topic to pursue, I continued to look at hurricanes and develop a chart of storm characteristics. In the process, I found a Historical Hurricane Tracks Tool from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) online that gave detailed representations of hurricanes and tropical storms from the mid-1800s to the present day. I decided to research how specific factors of hurricanes affected the mortality rates of the areas in which the storms made landfall. From the database, I was able to compile a more detailed spreadsheet with data from landfall hurricanes in the North Atlantic area from 2001-2011. After gathering these data, it was my responsibility to create plots to analyze this information and to interpret their significance. This internship at the Environmental Health Sciences Department has been a rewarding one. Working with Dr. Shaman on this research project has allowed me to not only learn about environmental science, but also learn what it means to be able to have a relationship with a professional and how much one can learn about life from these experiences.

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