Thesis Corner: Max Coleman

Welcome to Thesis Corner! This week I spoke with graduating senior and former Sound Economics writer Max Coleman to talk about his thesis.

Q: What was your thesis about?

A: I wrote my thesis about agricultural contracting in the hop market. So hops as in Humulus lupulus, which is what they use to flavor and preserve beer.

Q: How did you decide on this topic?

A: My family grows hops, and originally I was like What would be useful to actual real life? I didn’t have an area of study that was calling out to me, so I was like What is something that I, uniquely, could do as an Econ major with my background? I started looking a little bit into the contracting literature. It originally started out as I want to look at how agricultural owners make their decisions for what to plant and when. And then I realized that’s a huge, entire field all by itself, so I switched over to contract literature, which there isn’t a whole lot of because it’s hard to get that data. But with my family connections, I was able to get some contract data for hops, specifically.

Q: Were you surprised by any of your results?

A: My results weren’t really groundbreaking. The problem I was running into was that I built a model that would look at how contracting or lack of contract could impact someone in the hop market. A big piece of it was that in order to really build an effective model, I would have needed about 1,000 more contracts, but nobody would really give me their contracts because they provide strategic information about who’s getting paid what and it can vary between grower and grower, even of the same crop. That was kind of the main thing I got out of it… Part of the issue is that since my model is fairly assumption-driven, I looked at the percentage of contracting that occured in a market, and assumed that the rest would be filled by spot. However, I had to oversimplify the real world a little bit by making it so that all of the crop had to be sold by the end of the year, otherwise my numbers would have kind of meant nothing and there’s not enough good data to predict what would actually happen if they didn’t sell and some hops got held over until the next year, and things like that.

Q: When did you start researching and when did you start writing?

A: I started research on ag for my thesis this last summer [2017]. However, I didn’t get to my actual research topic until probably September, when the class was going on. I was trying to figure out what to do. I wrote a little bit in September, and then I procrastinated a lot and wrote big chunks when the due dates were coming up in class.

Q: What advice do you have for people who are writing theses in the future?

A: Listen to the professors. They know what they’re talking about. I had a lot of breakthroughs late in the game, that I think if I had been working on my thesis continuously, I would have made a lot sooner and been able to really flesh out more like I would have liked to. So I would say, start early, pick something that you actually care about, so that you can find some way to make it worthwhile. It’s hard to write about something you don’t actually enjoy.

That concludes this week’s thesis corner.

*(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and concision).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *