Grad Spotlight: Aaron Staples

Aaron is a second-year student in the Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE) Ph.D. program.

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Aaron Staples, AFRE Ph.D. student

Aaron is a Ph.D. student studying food value chains, environmental sustainability, and behavioral economics. He earned a BA in Economics from Westfield State University in 2018 and an MS in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University in 2019. Aaron wrote his master's thesis on consumer preference for sustainability attributes in beer and has continued to use America's beer industry to explore systemic complexities across agricultural value chains. More recently, his work has emphasized the development of localized beer value chains, hop terroir, and the effect of cognitive load on choice in agricultural marketing. Aaron currently serves as the Chair‐Elect for the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association's Graduate Student Section.

What is your favorite thing about the AFRE department?

That would have to be the seemingly endless opportunities for project involvement and a commitment to extension, outreach, and public engagement. Michigan State is true to the land grant mission: identifying a problem, conducting research, and disseminating this information to the people that will benefit from it most. By the end of my first year of the program, I had the privilege of working on various extension-based projects, presented to Michigan hop and barley growers, and discussed sustainable brewing with industry folk and various media outlets. The AFRE department is truly a special place with esteemed faculty and mentors looking to pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation.

What has been your favorite class in the AFRE major, and why?

Without a doubt, AFRE 810: Behavioral and Institutional Economics taught by Dr. Trey Malone and Dr. Eric Scorsone. Not only did this course introduce me to various economic schools of thought, heuristics and biases in consumer choice, and numerous methods to elicit willingness to pay, Dr. Malone also introduced us to the “academic writing template.” Realizing that journal articles generally follow a specific structure—for example, the introduction: hook the reader in, state your question and objective, address the previous literature, and state your contributions—has been key to achieving higher levels of writing productivity.    

If you could go back in time and give any advice to yourself as a first-year AFRE student, what would it be?

Find balance and set work constraints. As corny as it may sound, graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint. Find time to talk with friends and family, discover a new hobby, and practice self-care.   

What is a saying or expression that you probably say too much?

“Focus on learning, not the grade”

The Ph.D. coursework offers a tremendous opportunity to understand economic theory and modeling as well as an avenue to develop a rich, diverse skill set. But, of course, with this comes the tradeoffs: countless hours of studying, high levels of stress, and questioned self-confidence, especially when it comes to homework and test grades. Failing an exam after devoting so much time and effort to the material can be demoralizing, and this feeling is completely normal. But, when you take a minute to reflect on all you have learned in such a short timeframe, it is remarkable all that you have accomplished. And you should take this chance to be proud of yourself.  

Lastly, it is important to remember why we pursued graduate school. It was not to get a 4.0 in micro theory. It is about bettering ourselves, developing a professional network, finding our niche, and giving back to our communities, industries, or profession. Graduate school should be a holistic experience, and while classwork and grades are important, it is just one piece of the graduate student experience.

What thoughts instantly make you feel more relaxed?

The thought of Sunday afternoon football. Earlier, I had mentioned finding balance and setting work constraints. I was born and raised in Massachusetts, so sports have always been a big part of my life. Watching football on Sunday afternoons is my time to set work aside and just relax. 

What is something about yourself that you should brag about, but usually don’t?

I brew delicious beer. I have been homebrewing for almost a year now, and I have made some stellar homebrew. To name a few: a wheat beer brewed with 3 lbs of MI blueberries, 8 oz. of MI honey, and 2 oz. lemongrass; a chocolate peanut butter milk stout; and a New England IPA brewed with a boatload of hops.

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