For the past eight years, Dean’s Industry Fellow and Associate Professor of Finance David Becher has supervised students in the Students Tackling Advanced Research program, the annual summer research fellowship for rising sophomores sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research. The research experience for his students is data-intensive, often with extensive manual sorting of financial reports, and Becher likes to bring in a pair of STAR students each summer to share the load and to support one another.
This year, Becher’s students took an ambitious approach to streamlining the data collection process. That level of initiative led to an especially rewarding experience for Becher and his two STAR Scholars, Kevin Gao and Filip Krüeger, enhancing their research outcomes and leading to an Outstanding STAR Mentor award for Becher.
“I was really touched by the students and proud of their work,” Becher says. “I feel I learned as much as they did.”
To facilitate their research projects, Gao and Krüeger developed computer programming to automate data capture from SEC reports. Starting from a base of coding knowledge that they augmented with online resources and consultation with faculty in LeBow and other colleges, they developed a program using the Python programming language to extract information from company filings.
Though the program took weeks to develop, it ultimately allowed Gao and Krüeger to process more information as they researched companies’ compensation — salary, stock options and other incentives — for their boards of directors, and how incentives are linked to stock price and company performance.
Both students chose to focus on smaller firms — ones that generally receive less attention from investors, researchers and the press.
“In business, we typically study the largest firms, the ones everyone’s heard of,” Becher says. “We don’t have a lot of good private data, but these small firms that aren’t in the Wall Street Journal every day — what do they do? Are they doing the right thing?”
Krüeger, a sophomore majoring in business and engineering, chose to focus on incentives in the tech sector, examining smaller firms less in the public eye than Google or Facebook. Gao, a sophomore majoring in finance, looked at small firms targeted in mergers or acquisitions and how company performance compared with incentive offerings before a merger.
“I don’t think I have worked with someone who gives as much attention as he does,” Gao says of Becher. “He is quick to discern problems we have during our meetings and provides strong recommendations and information to direct us on the right path. Instead of telling us what should be done, he always gives us the power to solve problems on our own with him to support us whenever we need him.”
“For us, it was a given that we would nominate Dr. Becher for the Outstanding Mentor award,” Krüeger says. “From the day we started working with him, he has been the best mentor anyone could ask for. He trusted us to take parts of the research in our own directions, but he was always there to help us if something came up.”
Becher was one of eight LeBow faculty to work with STAR scholars this summer and the second LeBow faculty member recognized as an Outstanding STAR Mentor. Professor of Decision Sciences Hande Benson won the award in 2018.