Student Spotlight

Library Research Prize Winner Kevin Staight Tracks Effect of High-Frequency Trading on Markets

Staight on his graduation day in front of Geisel Library

The stock market, as we all know, has been characterized over the last few years by dramatic ups and downs, leading many experts to speculate that this wild volatility may be the new normal. Kevin Staight, who graduated from UC San Diego in June, won second prize in the Libraries’ 2011 Undergraduate Library Research Prize contest for his research on how computer algorithmic trading is shaping the landscape of investment.

"This research is important considering the fact that 10 years ago, computer trades performed without human intervention were almost unheard of,” said Staight. “Today, this manner of trading account for more than 73% of all trading volume and we still don’t completely understand how this fundamental shift in the way people buy and sell stocks impacts financial markets and the individual investor. However, based on my research, I think high-frequency trading actually hurts liquidity and may be detrimental to the average investor."

Staight, a management science and linguistics major, was lauded for his extensive use of library resources, including data regarding historical stock quotes. With guidance from his faculty advisor, UCSD Economics Professor Ross Starr and economics and business librarian Adele Barsh, Staight tapped into sophisticated financial databases to conduct his research.

Kevin Staight, U.S. Marine, on duty in Iraq.

"Kevin's ambitious undertaking was to master literally billions of data points and then develop computational techniques to analyze the raw data for indications and implications of high-frequency trading,” said Starr. Starr called Staight’s research paper “a tour de force of intensive analysis of a voluminous body of economic data."

While Staight, who is now at New York University in the MBA program, clearly has a knack for numbers, he is also fluent in Arabic, and while at UC San Diego he spent two years studying abroad in the Middle East both at Damascus University and at the American University in Cairo. Before enrolling at UCSD in 2006, Staight completed four years of active duty service with the U.S. Marine Corps, and was deployed to Iraq twice. During his four-year stint in the military, he was stationed in Fallujah and Ramadi. His experiences there helped foster a greater interest in the Middle East and in learning Arabic. In Iraq, he immediately saw how communications could be enhanced if soldiers understood the local language and culture.

Staight in Syria with a friend

After he graduates from NYU with his MBA, Staight hopes to work in international business, in a capacity where he can help to bridge the gap in understanding between the West and the Middle East.


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