WHAT THEY LEARNED: Diana Schoder ’17

The economics major and environmental studies minor combined her academic interests in a thesis exploring the illegal ivory trade.

Diana Schoder ’17 knew that she wanted to combine her interests in economics (her major) and environmental studies (her minor) in her senior thesis, but didn’t land on a specific topic until the summer before her senior year. While working with environmental economist Steven Smith on natural resource economics, she and the other summer research assistants held a weekly journal club to trade and discuss different working papers. It was through that club that she discovered a paper on the illegal ivory trade, and the seeds for her thesis—”Trade Openness and the Illegal Ivory Trade”—were planted.

“I loved that it had social and environmental implications, that new data was making the study of the black market more feasible,” she said, “and that there were still so many questions about how illegal ivory works.”

Her summer work did more than help her discover a thesis topic; it taught her how to undertake the research processes needed to fully understand that topic.

“Going into the thesis process,” she said, “I better understood how to approach empirical research, what challenges to expect and how to overcome them, and how much work goes into producing original work.”

Having had her interest in her major discipline confirmed by her yearlong capstone project, Schoder is now working as an economics editorial fellow at the American Economic Association, the nonpartisan, nonprofit scholarly association dedicated to the discussion and publication of economics research.

“I am excited to be immersed in the discipline for another year,” she said.


What did you learn from working on your thesis?

From my results, I learned that trade openness motivates increased poaching, and that the new surplus of ivory is at least partially stockpiled. At the same time, there is no increase in ivory seizures at the intercepting border, and the ivory is not being disproportionately funneled to different countries. Personally, I learned how rewarding it is to be able to answer a question that no one else has examined before. I loved watching my initial thoughts grow into datasets and regressions and then being able to figure out how a part of society works.

What are the implications for your research findings?

My findings could help policymakers to consider the full consequences of trade openness for wildlife and encourage them to explore ways to mitigate these consequences. I developed a new way of analyzing stockpiling behavior, which I hope other researchers can build upon in the future.


Photo: (cc) Deneys De Beer/Flickr

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.