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BONUS BALTICAPP - Race Against Eutrophication Blog

I started my work as a PhD student 1.5.2015. I am an environment and resource economist and I received my M.Sc. from the University of Helsinki December of year 2014. Within this project I’m modelling agri-environmental management related to various scenarios associated with the future development of the Baltic Sea. In this blog I will share my experiences and thoughts as a PhD student and beginner researcher.
05.06.2017 09:26

Upsides and downsides, mostly downsides..

Matti Sihvonen

We had a very interesting PhD course on econometrics in Bergen Norway. We were introduced to modern methods of empirical data analysis including instrumental variables, differences-in-differences and regression discontinuity. The topics of the examples were from environmental and resource economics and included themes such as relationships between conflicts and resource discoveries, price shocks and civil conflicts, the political resource curses and environmental speed limits in Oslo. The course took three days. During the visit in Bergen we also got an opportunity to explore the beautiful city (or village). The surrounding mountains were particularly impressive. It also became apparent that the Bergen is a rather rainy place; there is approx. 300 rainy days a year, we were told. It also became clear that Norway is a very expensive country. The oil money seems to increase the prices beyond the level that at least we Finnish people would consider reasonable. The get the points from the course we have to hand in a home assignment by the end of the September. In this assignment we are asked to get some data related to our PhD research and to explore the data via some method introduced in the course. Then we are asked to write a paper about the data, method applied and the results. Thus, if data are good, one could expand this home assignment to a real paper. This is of course what I am planning to do if I get good data. Therefore the quest for data is now one of the priorities during the summer.  I was thinking about data regarding some policy or regional shift. Thus, for example, data could be about an effect of a subsidy policy on different agricultural regions. Then I could apply regression discontinuity method for the data analysis.

We also had another PhD course, namely a project management course. However, although the lecturer was very good and inspirational person, I did not found the course very useful. I took it mostly as a language improving exercise than anything else since I have no interests in project management or managing in general. Of course it is useful to be able to manage ones own work but I don’t think that getting a course on that is very useful. Anyway, I’m sure that some participants did found the course useful and we did have some delightful conversations during the course. 

There was also a third PhD course, namely Economic Growth and Natural Resources. We had to hand in some home assignments and then there was an exam. This was very interesting course because the topic was in the field of macroeconomics, which I am not familiar with. Therefore it was good introduction to the unexamined territory. Macroeconomics is good for environmental economist because most of the macroeconomic analysis is dynamic. Therefore I might take another macro course in September, which focuses on dynamic optimisation methods. I think it might be particularly useful for me.

It has also become clear that to publish a paper is rather hard task. We got a refusal from a first journal because “the article did not fit the scope of the journal”. The refusal, however, might have been a fortunate thing because the journal, namely the Environmental modelling and software, was probably not a good journal for the article because in the first paper we did not model any environmental aspects. The first paper discussed simply agricultural system consisting of nitrogen and phosphorus yield responses and the development of soil phosphorus. Therefore the scope of the article is clearly agriculture and not environment, although those two scopes are quite related. Only after the refusal I started to understand that the scope of the journal is rather important thing. I started to examine the potential journals for our paper. During this examination I realised that our paper is kind of a weird mixture of data analysis and optimisation. Therefore it might be difficult to find a journal that would consider the paper a good fit for the scope. Anyway, I did submit the paper for another journal and I am now waiting for a refusal or some other answer. I just hope that it will be accepted to some journal since the second paper is a direct extension for the first paper.

The refusal also reminded me of the saying of Hannu Vartiainen after the first Microeconomic lecture: “the PhD work consists of upsides and downsides, mostly downsides”. It certainly is so that the work has been mostly downsides and there have been times when I have considered calling my model a setback-model because there have been so many setbacks down the road.

The second, and actually the most important priority during this summer, is to get a second paper ready. I have been working on it now rather intensively and I think it is coming together quite nicely.  So far the analysis has been theoretical, which is a nice change from a mainly empirical and numerical analysis carried out in previous paper. However, the next step is to include leaching functions for nitrogen and phosphorus into the numerical analysis. Therefore the scope is wider in this paper since it will discuss agricultural and environmental aspects via bio-economic modelling. As such the second paper will most likely be easier to sell to journal (compared to the first paper). But, it remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, we still wait for the summer to start here in Finland.

See you next time,

Best regards: Matti Sihvonen

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