"The professors cared about how I did and really wanted me to succeed."
When Caitlin Yant '24 arrived at Bucknell from Fredericksburg, Va., she was initially interested in studying finance. However, that changed after taking Foundations of Accounting, which was taught by Professor Daniel Street, accounting & financial management. "I fell in love with accounting after that," says Yant. She explored this interest by spending time in Holmes Hall, home to the Freeman College of Management, and connecting with several other faculty in the accounting & financial management department. "The professors cared about how I did and really wanted me to succeed," says Yant.
She had one particularly intriguing conversation with Street about the GameStop disruption of Wall Street that made headlines in 2020 and 2021 — a phenomenon that saw smaller individual investors who were, collectively, able to plan together and swing the value of stocks in significant ways. As a result of their discussion, Yant hatched a new research idea to explore the psychology of these investors. She and Street enlisted the help of Professor Janice Traflet, accounting & financial management, to learn more about "prospect theory," or how investors value gains and losses differently. What they learned ultimately propelled the start of the project. (Yant notes that she was further inspired to conduct undergraduate research after seeing her sister, Meaghan Elizabeth Yant '22, have similar opportunities while pursuing a degree in chemical engineering.)
Under the guidance of Street, Yant began digging into the r/wallstreetbets community on the popular social platform, reddit, where she found countless people chatting about stock and option trading. "We took a look at how these average day traders emotionally invest themselves on platforms," says Yant.
The hope was to find patterns in how they responded to gains and losses in the stock market — and they did, indeed, make some interesting observations. For example, they were shocked about the unconventional lingo used online. "The finance language has its own dictionary," she says, "and they basically don't use it all." Another observation? Posts were populated with emojis and memes. Finally, through statistical analysis, Yant found that investors mostly used the platform to vent about their problems, not celebrate their wins — a fact made evident by higher word counts and negative language in posts. (This behavior is consistent with the basis of "prospect theory.")
There was a challenge to all of this research: Yant didn't know how to code, which was key to collecting the data. With the help of Street, she learned how to use Python and other software programming. Soon, she figured out how to target relevant posts and pull the information — keywords like "stock tickers," plus the author and date — and make sense of it all. "It turned out to be extremely fun," she says. "I never realized how much of my accounting education I would apply to research," she says.
During the summer of 2023, Yant had another impactful experience as an auditing intern at the KPMG accounting firm in Hartford, Conn. It's work she plans to pursue after graduation. "I was surprised at how much Bucknell prepared me for my internship," she says. "After you start working, you're able to connect the dots."