UCL Department of Economics


Explore Econ Student Feature: Yashir Piracha

27 April 2021

We chatted with Explore Econ 2019 Ignite session winner, Yashir Piracha to chat about what made him decide to enter, his competition experience and tips for anyone thinking of applying this year.

Yashir Explore Econ

Why did you decide to apply for the Ignite session in Explore Econ 2019?

I love to try new things and go for opportunities. When I saw the advert for this Ignite session, three things came to my mind:

  • I will research and present on a unique topic in economics. This would involve learning something new and explaining it to other people, things I love doing.
  • I will work closely with a senior experienced researcher and develop a good connection. This would help me gain deep insights into a career in economic research, something I wanted to learn more about.
  • At the research conference there will be lots of other presenters too which would be an opportunity to explore more interesting avenues of economic research and meet many interesting people.

Tell us about your presentation.

My presentation was on the topic “Stock price fluctuations and uninformed traders”. I started off by the idea of how the craze to make more and more money leads to problems like stock market crashes.

The question of why markets move led to the discussion on the Efficient Market Hypothesis and the debate between Eugene Fama and Robert Shiller. I added a small video clip from Robert Shiller to add to the audience’s experience.

Then I moved onto an interesting paper from Harvard researchers Andrei Shleifer and Brock Mendel in which they built a model to demonstrate how uninformed but rational traders end up chasing noise. To explain the concept of informed traders in easy terms to the audience, I related it to a student who gets to know the questions before the exam. And similarly, describing the noise element as sometimes a consequence of illogical behaviour such as when people invest in stock market on the advice of self-proclaimed financial gurus. To add a bit of humour, I added a picture of myself with Professor Wendy Carlin and told the audience that this was a picture of me with my guru. The audience gave a nice little laugh. I got back the Mendel and Shleifer paper again to present its conclusion that uninformed traders use prices as information signals, and often mistakenly interpret noise as information and amplify the sentiment shocks moving the price away from fundamental values.

With this, I asked a rhetorical question whether uninformed traders have no access to tools and knowledge to separate noise from information or is it the case they just could not be bothered? This was a transition to a discussion about the Prospect theory by Daniel Kahneman, in which people fail to analyse complex situations and make rational choices. An example of this is when a person buys stocks without any understanding of the market only because they see their neighbours riding a nice car with money they made from stock market.

My conclusion was that with all the complexities involved in the market pricing process and the numerous types of market participants acting in so many different ways, it is a very difficult yet interesting research area to understand and predict asset price movements.

What was your experience like working on your research and then presenting at the conference?

I think it was one of the most interesting experiences for me. I visited Professor Albert Marcet’s office several times to have a discussion on the topic as I was working with him. I learnt a lot of interesting things about how the approach to analysing asset prices had changed and evolved through the years, and how Professor Marcet has been putting innovative ideas to test in his own research work. These discussions built a solid foundation for my presentation, gave me a great insight into a career in academic research, and developed my interest in financial economics.

I had attended a few Economics Skills Lab sessions including one with Professor Ramin Nassehi about good presentation skills. That session proved to be very helpful to deliver a nice impactful presentation. I focused on things like simple and easy to understand slides, expressive body language, audio and visual experience, relatable stories etc. One of my close friends with an interest in financial economics helped me a lot in structuring my presentation, cutting out unnecessary parts and ensuring it flows well. I practiced on my own and then presented it to Professor Marcet and my friend beforehand who both thought it was good. I also had a chat with the previous Ignite session winner who gave me some useful tips for the day.

During the presentation, I felt energetic and enthusiastic to explain the interesting things around this topic. The audience seemed engaged which gave me more confidence, especially their positive reaction to the little bit of humour I had intentionally added. It flowed well and I really enjoyed the entire experience.

After the presentation, I got to meet my fellow presenters and other students to discuss what they had worked on and found it all to be very interesting and meaningful. After the winners were announced, I had a nice chat with several Professors present there and got to know more people in the Department. In summary, I gained much more than I had expected to gain from this presentation.

How has participating in Explore Econ helped your studies in the last 2 years?

It was a pivotal experience in my three years at UCL. After this one event in my second year, I wanted to do more research and discovered my interest in financial economics. It also gave me a good idea of what research is all about.

I took this interest further by doing an empirical project on energy prices for one course module and enjoyed it. This interest continued in the summers when I worked as an Economist intern and in my third year where I undertook a full unit dissertation on the topic “Impact of oil market and policy environment shifts on stock prices in China”. I also studied relevant and interesting modules in my third year including Economics of Financial Markets, Econometrics for Macroeconomics and Finance, Advanced Macroeconomics, Game Theory, Stochastic Methods in Finance, all of which I really liked.

I got to know several students interested in research and developed connection with Professors from my department who I would occasionally visit for discussion and guidance. With my understanding of the discipline and the motivation to further explore this field, I secured a full scholarship for a two-year Masters in Finance course (which I did not pursue for personal reasons). In short, as I said in the beginning, participation in the event turned out to be a pivotal experience.

Any tips for fellow students thinking about taking part in Ignite Session this year?

First tip is to just go for it. If you are worried about having time constraints, other important priorities, or uncertainty about your interest in research, I had thought the same initially, but I took the chance anyway. And it was very beneficial. I gained knowledge about an interesting new field in economics, got to know so many interesting people, and found myself more energetic and motivated in my studies and work.

Second tip is to talk to a lot of people about the topic. Professors, fellow students, faculty at other departments, people you meet at networking events and even family. What I gained from this was a pool of diverse stories and ideas, some of which I incorporated in my presentation that made a lot of difference.

Third tip is to explore podcasts/documentaries/research articles/movies related to the topic. Often times we tend to think economic research is only about big lengthy highly quantitative papers that are too complex to understand, and therefore we want to stay away. But that notion is not factual, economic ideas can be found everywhere and the research can be present in any form. Think of short YouTube videos by The Economist, short articles written by leading economists on Brookings Institute website, interesting data driven stories on Our World in Data, interviews of leading researchers. It’s so much more than long and boring research papers.

At the end of the day, anything we learn or come across has to be explained in the form of an impactful story. The more quality material we have in our story and the more we have practiced delivering it well, the better our presentation will be.

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