Explore Econ 2021 was held virtually this year and was as engaging as ever. We caught up with Antara Roy on her winning paper (“Investigating the impact of the US-China trade war on US soybean farmers”)
I have just completed my third year of BSc Economics at UCL and have always had a keen interest in research. Prior to my degree, I worked as an intern at IBM where I learned a great deal from their cutting-edge research which informed many of the projects I worked on. The following experiences at UCL further shaped my interest in conducting my own applied research.
In my first year at UCL I joined the Academic Events division of the Economist’s Society. With the help of the department, we organised keynote speeches, panels, and conferences to enable students to hear from some of the most interesting and influential thinkers of our time.
Following this, in second year I became the Director of Academic Events, continuing to help students become aware of research beyond the course. This gave students the opportunity to learn from world-class economists first-hand by offering an open forum discussion. Expert economists included multiple Nobel Laureates (E.g. Professors Robert Shiller and Paul Milgrom) and the previous Governor of the Bank of England (Mark Carney).
Over the past year, in order to further pursue my interest alongside my degree I worked as a Research Assistant for Professors Wendy Carlin and Daniel Wilhelm within the department. This gave me the opportunity to implement the skills and knowledge I have gained through my research-based degree.
Why did you decide to apply for Explore Econ 2021?
In my first year, I presented in the Ignite session of Explore Econ 2019, supporting the research of Dr Alejandro Estefan’s paper on ‘Women’s Access to the Labour Market and Domestic Violence’. This experience developed my skills in presenting and gave me the opportunity to understand the research process from my professors and fellow students.
I was inspired by the work of students in senior years, and at the time couldn’t imagine being able to conduct independent research of this kind on my own. However, over the course of the degree and using the toolkit we have been given, by my final year I gained far more confidence in my independent research ability. Explore Econ provided an invaluable opportunity to design my own hypothesis, find the relevant data, build empirical models and present these findings to an informed audience. This process greatly improved my confidence in research and I learned from every stumbling block I encountered, whether it was in analysing data or considering the best way to present to keep an audience engaged.
Tell us about your submission
My research paper analysed the impact of the US-China trade war on US soybean farmers. The submission was inspired by research I conducted in Professor Parama Chaudhury’s ECON0023 International Trade module. My conclusion was that the US-China trade war was so damaging to US soybean farmers that many of them left the market.
I focused on soybeans because among the goods affected by the US-China trade war tariffs, soybeans were the largest agricultural export from the US to China. The paper examines the welfare impacts of both the initial and retaliatory tariffs, specifically on US soybean farmers. US farm owners are significant because they have a disproportionate political sway in key districts.
The data demonstrated how China’s soybean imports from the US significantly shrunk and I found a strong inverse correlation between corn and soybean plantation; when the price of soybean falls, US farmers plant more corn, which was not subject to tariffs and vice versa. To investigate this, I ran a regression analysis of millions of acres of corn planted in the US between 2011-2020 against the acres of soybean planted.
My estimations found that, had the trade war never occurred, in the year following the implementation of the soybean tariffs, 6.3 million more soybean acres would have been planted in the US (an increase of 7.6%). In conclusion, I found that the welfare of US soybean farmers was negatively affected as demand and prices fell. Many farmers adjusted to this in 2018 by leaving the soybean market, switching their crop to corn to protect the value of their harvest.
What was your experience like working on your research and then presenting?
Working on the research was an incredibly valuable experience as this was the first time I had complete freedom to choose a title and topic to focus on. When starting this project, I was following President Trump’s claims that the tariffs on China were intended to protect American workers. I was keen to use my research opportunity to look into this data and test whether this claim could be supported. Upon further investigation, I found some very interesting empirical results which confirmed my theoretical model.
Presenting online due to Covid-19 was very new to me and came with its own challenges that I hadn’t previously considered, such as not being able to see the reactions of everyone in the crowd. However, a fantastic aspect of ECON0023 was that our research projects were not only assessed on written presentation via the research report but also oral presentation via an elevator pitch. This was great preparation for the video required for the Explore Econ conference as I was able to devote time to making my research accessible by summarising the key points.
What does winning this award mean to you?
I am delighted to receive this award! I have always been inspired by the Explore Econ shortlisted students of previous years, so to be among them is an honour and to have been awarded ‘Best Research Paper’ even more so! Especially after a tough past year due to Covid-19, it feels very rewarding to have ended my degree on a high.
Any tips for students thinking about applying next year?
• Start your research early! The research process is long and can’t be rushed. I found one of the toughest parts was to actually come up with a very specific question that I could answer. Follow a path that interests you and take the process one step at a time otherwise it is easy to get overwhelmed by how large the task is. Trust yourself, you can do it!
• Ask your professors for guidance on both the research and the presentation– they are a wealth of knowledge and can provide really useful resources. Also reach out to senior students, they’ve been in your position and their learning experiences can save you a lot of time!
• If you have an interest in research, there are a number of great modules offered by the Econ department which involve a research project as part of your course assessment – take them! The research you do in these modules can inform your Explore Econ project (or vice versa).
• Look through the previous years Explore Econ shortlist. The 2021 conference was entirely online – whether you are applying with a poster or a research paper, this gives you an idea of the work of previous students. Don’t let it intimidate you, but instead inspire you to delve into your own interests using a similar framework.
• Focus on the presentation as well as the research. It can be easy to get lost in the technical detail when communicating your findings. Take a step back and try explaining the essence of your work really simply to someone with no knowledge of the subject – if they’re interested- you’re on the right track!
Yes! Massive thank you to Professor Parama Chaudhury for her support and encouragement with my research. From the ECON0009 module in first year to the ECON0023 module in final year, I think she has nailed teaching the research-based learning approach and I would recommend these modules to all undergrad students who have an interest in research.
Also, thanks to Professor Ramin Nassehi, for the presentation skills labs he ran throughout the year. The Economic Skills labs were very helpful in teaching how to make your research engaging and understandable to a varied audience. The sessions provided me with a foundation of how to write and present academically and were really helpful in informing the structure of my work.
And of course, many thanks to the expert panel for this award and the CTaLE team for organising such a great conference. I loved seeing the research of my fellow classmates and the excellent professors of UCL. In a year when I hadn’t been able to see many of them in person, Explore Econ was a great showcase of their super interesting hard work and I feel very lucky to have been a part of it!