Talk about a steep learning curve.
When Srijana Baral arrived at the University of Georgia in 2017 to begin her master’s degree, she was navigating a graduate program thousands of miles away from her home in Nepal in a dense topic: forest taxation.
“I studied the economic impact of forest tax policies on family forest owners in 10 southern states in the US. Forest tax policies can be confusing and complicated to understand for landowners. It took me quite a while to understand different tax policies influencing forest owners, but I absolutely enjoyed doing that project”, she says.
Ultimately, Baral’s first project as a master’s student in the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources turned into a published paper, one of several she can claim over the several years it took her to receive first a M.S. and, this year, a Ph.D. Now, she will serve as student speaker for the school’s fall Convocation—the first graduate student to have the role in recent memory.
Baral says it’s an honor to come back from her new home in Colorado, where she is an assistant professor at Colorado State University. Her time at Warnell was formative and set her on a course for success, she says.
She finished her Master of Science in 2019 and defended her doctoral dissertation earlier this year—just three years later. Both degrees are in forest business.
“My PhD journey was fun yet challenging to finish within three years. I knew that the drive to the finish line would be bumpy, at least in the first year, but I was determined and received continuous support and guidance from my major advisor Richard Mei,” she says.
Her research has focused on the financial performance of timberland and farmland investments in the US. While learning the intricacies of the American forest tax codes and financial models was tall orders as a new graduate student, it’s not far from her goal as an undergraduate forestry student in Nepal, where she yearned for classes on forest finance and economics. “We had very few economics courses in our undergraduate degree, but I was always interested to explore more about the economics of forest management. In the long-run, I hope to contribute back to my community,” she says.
As she searched for a good program in the United States, she discovered the UGA Langdale Center for Forest Business at Warnell. Soon after, she was offered a graduate assistantship with forest economics associate professor Yanshu Li.
Today, Baral is using this economics training to better understand how natural disasters like wildfires are affecting forests in the American West. In Colorado, forests face different management challenges compared to those in the South, and it’s an opportunity for Baral to expand her research into new areas. Specifically, she is working to understand more about how natural disasters and market forces affect timber markets, and the economic impacts these forces on forest landowners.
This fall’s Convocation ceremony is also a bigger event for Baral, as she celebrates with her husband Anil Koirala. The couple met as students in Nepal and later both came to the United States to continue their education. Koirala is also graduating with his doctorate from Warnell in forest biometrics.
Baral laughs as she recalls the final frantic days before each defended their dissertations—the final step in a years-long journey. His defense was scheduled a day before hers, and for about two months the couple lived at desks and ate frozen dinners as they worked to finish.
“I used to do work at school and he would work at home, or we would switch and we might see each other just for a couple of hours—we were working hard to finish up together,” she says. “In the end, everything worked out well and we are glad we were able to do this together.”
In her speech to students, Baral plans to share some of her story and the challenges she’s overcome.