China Landscape

Global Scholars Program in China: Adaptation to Changing Climates

Language of Instruction: English
Term: Summer

Learn how animals deal with changing climates across the globe by examining their behavioral ecology, population biology, and biogeography in the field.

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The Global Scholars Program (GSP) is an innovative study abroad program, offering undergraduates a unique hands-on international research experience in topics of transnational importance, using social science, humanities, and scientific frameworks. Global topics are explored in more than one location, giving students first-hand opportunities to understand and compare how local communities approach these issues.

Program Overview

  • The full GSP experience is composed of:
    • A Spring 2019 course to be taken on the Columbia campus (4 points)
    • A Summer 2019 three-week field work component held in China (4 points)
  • Explore a broad range of topics in behavioral ecology
  • Learn about theoretical and empirical approaches to the study of behavior
  • Perform data collection and analysis
  • Perform hands-on research while working on team-based group projects
  • Complete ecological or behavioral projects with burying beetles in Sichuan
  • Learn about flora and fauna in the region
  • Engage with local government and park officials
  • Study with local university students from Columbia University, Beijing Normal University and National Taiwan University

Eligibility and Application

  • Open to undergraduates from Columbia College, School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of General Studies, and Barnard College in good academic standing.
  • Must plan to enroll in and successfully complete the accompanying Spring 2019 course: EEEB UN3019: Principles of Animal Behavior.
  • Environmental Biology I and II EEEB W2001 and W2002 are recommended, but not required

  • Minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA.


Want to apply? Click the “Start Your Application" button at the top of this page. If the button doesn't appear above, the program is not yet accepting applications. You will be asked to set up a short profile, which will allow us to send you relevant information about your application. Once you’ve created a profile, you will see a checklist of items that you will need to submit. These generally include:

  • Application questionnaire(s)
  • Personal statement
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Official transcript(s)

NOTE: This program includes an interview process for admission.


Mandatory spring course

Note: The University reserves the right to withdraw or modify the courses of instruction or to change the instructors as may become necessary.

EEEB UN3019: Principles of Animal Behavior. 4 points

This seminar provides an overview of animal behavior and behavioral ecology, with an emphasis on evolutionary theory. It will explore both the proximate and ultimate cause of behavior, taking an integrative approach that links levels of analysis. A mix of lecture and discussion will introduce students to a range of topics from the textbook and from critical theoretical and empirical papers. The course is writing intensive, and written assignments will encourage critical assessment of theory and reviews of the literature.

Topics include:

  • Survival Strategies
  • Reproductive Behavior
  • Mating Systems
  • Communication
  • Parental Care
  • Social Evolution
  • Social Behavior and Sociality
  • Genes and Behavior
  • Neurobiology and Behavior
  • Physiology and Behavior

Please note that this seminar course is part of the Global Scholars Program in China: Adaptation to Changing Climates. The introductory seminar in Principles of Animal Behavior will provide students the foundation in animal behavior and behavioral ecology necessary to take Adaptation to Changing Climates in China during the summer. Only students admitted to the program can enroll in this course.

summer field work experience

Note: The University reserves the right to withdraw or modify the courses of instruction or to change the instructors as may become necessary.

EEEB OC3021: Behavioral Adaptation to Changing Climates. 4 points

Understanding how animals cope with and adapt to changing environments is essential to conserving them in the face of both land use and climate change. Behavioral Adaptation to Changing Climates will introduce students to the behavioral ecology, population biology, and biogeography of animals dealing with changing climates across the globe.

The course will be grounded in behavioral and evolutionary theory, building from basic and interdisciplinary principles to give students a framework for understanding how species adapt to change. The lecture component will emphasize theory but provide empirical and comparative examples from a diversity of plant and animal systems. We will cover both changing climates (temporal environmental variation) and land-use change (spatial environmental variation). We will emphasize these changes in Asia, but also explore systems in other parts of the world. The field component will give students intensive and high-quality experience with hands-on research, and hence a significant portion of the field time will be spent designing and implementing ecological studies in small groups. These projects will aim to test explicit ecological or behavioral hypotheses generated from the lecture portion of the course through observation or experimentation.

Week 1:

The first week of this course will be taught at Beijing Normal University. Local guest lecturers may be recruited from Beijing Normal University, the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Animal Behavior Society, as well as from other locations with the aid of the Columbia Global Center. Rubenstein and Shen will give lectures each morning. In the afternoons, students will begin working in groups with their instructors to develop project ideas for the field component of the course, and to complete lab exercises. In the evening, students will have paper discussions and/or guest lectures from local scientists.

Weeks 2 and 3:

At the end of the first week on intensive lecturers, students will go to the field site in Sichuan Provence (see below). A primary goal of this portion of course is to give students intensive and high-quality experience with hands-on research doing small team-based group projects. These projects will aim to test explicit ecological or behavioral hypotheses through observation or experimentation. Student will complete three projects, and all projects will require at least two written drafts. Extensive peer review will be provided by the instructors. Students will be given lectures on basic statistics and work with their instructors to learn how to analyze data. Projects will involve a variety of instructor-designed experiments (the first two projects)—with the goal of introducing different field methodologies in ecology and behavior—followed by those designed by the students themselves.

Most students will do ecological or behavioral projects with burying beetles, a system that they will be introduced to in Beijing. Team projects might include sampling beetles at different elevations and/or land-use types to determine differences in abundances and social systems, observing mating behaviors at different times of day and elevations, or experimentally manipulating access to resources or numbers of individuals at carcasses to examine cooperation and conflict. Students will also have access to our long-term data on behavior and climate, as well as experimental equipment including video recorder and trapping tools.

In the field, students will also be expected to learn the flora and fauna of the region to gain a better understanding of this critical biodiversity hotspot. Students will take daily bird walks in the mornings and work with local researchers to learn the local vegetation. Students will also engage with local government and/or park officials to discuss challenges that the UNESCO site faces, including such illegal timber harvest and poaching, human population expansion, and more.

Grades and Transcripts

Grading Policy

Click here for the Columbia summer program grading policies.


Upon successful completion of the program, grades are entered into Columbia's online grading system and students can request a Columbia University transcript. Non-Columbia students (including Barnard) can request electronic transcripts online through the Columbia University registrar.

No credit is granted to students who do not complete the full program.

Financial Considerations


Summer 2019 Program Fee: The program fee covers tuition, in-country transportation, course materials, course excursions, and accommodations. It does NOT cover flight to and from Beijing, visa costs, meals, and personal expenses.

Program Fee: $6,500

Please see our cost breakdown for detailed information on additional estimated expenses.

Tuition and fees are subject to Board of Trustees approval and may change.


If you are on financial aid, check to see if it can be applied to studying abroad. In general summer financial aid is not available to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering students, but may be available to School of General Studies students. Non-Columbia students should check with their home schools for funding availability.

Scholarships are available for all students in need on the GSP through generous funding provided by the Office of the Provost. Application for the scholarships will take place in early January.

For more general information and resources on financing your time abroad, please see the pages below:


If you decide to withdraw from the program once it has already started, please be aware of the financial consequences and the office policies by clicking here.


Dustin R. Rubenstein is an Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University in the City of New York, where he is also Director of the Center for Integrative Animal Behavior, Chair of the University Seminar in the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, and Director of the Program in Tropical Biology and Sustainability, an undergraduate semester-long study abroad program in Africa. Additionally, he is a faculty member in the Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior and a lecturer in Frontiers of Science, part of Columbia College’s undergraduate Core Curriculum.

Rubenstein received his A.B. from Dartmouth College in 1999, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2006 as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellow in the Biological Sciences. He was then awarded a Miller Research Fellowship to conduct postdoctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley from 2006-2009. He has held appointments at the American Museum of Natural History, the National Museums of Kenya, the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. His research takes an integrative approach to understand why complex animal societies form and how organisms cope with environmental change through studies that combine behavior, ecology, and evolution with those of the underlying molecular and neuroendocrine mechanisms. He has studied a variety of animals, including reptiles, birds, mammals, crustaceans, and insects throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Rubenstein is the author of nearly 80 publications, as well as the co-editor of the book Comparative Social Evolution, and the co-author of the market-leading textbook Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach.

In recognition of his research accomplishments, Rubenstein has received young investigator awards from the Animal Behavior Society, the American Ornithologists’ Union, the Society of for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, and the University of Michigan. He has been recognized by the National Academy of Sciences as both a Kavli Fellow for his research accomplishments and as an Education Fellow in the Sciences for his innovation in STEM teaching. Additionally, he has been acknowledged for his teaching, scholarship, and mentoring by Columbia University with a Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award and by the Society of Columbia Graduates with a Great Teacher Award.

Resources for Accepted Students

Fact Sheet

Barnard College, Columbia College, Columbia Engineering, Columbia General Studies
Language of Instruction:
Asia and the Pacific

Dates & Deadlines

Application Deadline: 
Monday, December 10, 2018
Admissions Decision Date: 
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Program Dates: 
Friday, June 28, 2019 to Sunday, July 21, 2019
There is an interview process for this program. Summer program start/end dates are not yet finalized.