Students’ take on academic research

Aaron Ellis-Bloor, Benjamin Robson and Henry Munns

6 minute read

If you’ve ever struggled to understand an academic research paper, you’re not alone. 

Three students from The Australian National University (ANU), Aaron Ellis-Bloor, Benjamin Robson and Henry Munns, have made it their mission to help bridge the gap between high-level research and everyday learning. Through their initiative, elucidate, Aaron, Ben and Henry write articles on academic papers from around the world for a general audience – interacting with the authors and breaking down complex research, so that it can be understood in wider society. 

elucidate incorporates Academia Unveiled, through which they delve into a variety of interesting topics, as well as The Curious One, their recently launched blog, that goes beyond academia and looks at events and trends shaping the way people live their lives and do business.

The trio, who are all completing a Bachelor of Finance, Economics and Statistics (Honours) at the ANU College of Business and Economics (CBE) this year, came up with the idea for elucidate while completing a group assignment in their third year of studies. Working together to discuss the method, results and impacts of a mathematically tricky economics paper, they realised that while there is much to be learned from reading academic research, most of it is incredibly inaccessible to a general audience.

Through elucidate, Aaron, Ben and Henry are striving to improve research accessibility, and early results are encouraging: Their recent article on the 2021 Nobel Prize in Economics received over 2,500 reads from around the world. elucidate is also a fascinating way to learn: 

“We read over the academic paper many times, work together to tackle it, and often reach out and discuss it with the author. It's a very unique and creative way to educate ourselves,” they share.

In this interview, Aaron, Ben and Henry talk teamwork, honing their critical-thinking skills, and finding new volunteers to join elucidate.

Q. How has your BFES (Honours) degree helped you develop elucidate?

Aaron: Broadly, there are two things we do – extract meaning and explain simply. With academic research, there can be quite a difference between what is on the page and what matters to the reader. Academic papers are often riddled with necessary but confusing jargon, complexity and abstraction, making it easy to lose sight of the underlying point. Our degree has taught us to ask the right questions and decipher the important conclusions and methods of academic research – in other words, to extract meaning.

The next step in the process is even more difficult. It takes a high level of understanding to explain complex concepts to others in a way that they can understand them – our degree has given us this skill in a few niche areas. This is why we’re so keen to get more writers on board, hopefully with very different interests and expertise. We want to expand the coverage of our team to write about academia on a much broader scale.

Q. What is the most important thing you have learnt about working as part of a team?

Ben: We would all say that supporting and valuing every colleague and fostering an open and transparent group are essential aspects of a successful team. There is an abundance of smart and capable students out there, but unfortunately it can be easy in a university environment to put in lacklustre effort – after all, we’ve all heard the saying “P’s get degrees”.

Our consistent drive to publish the best content we can is what makes our team unique. It takes an extremely supportive network to drive you to realise your ability at university. I would also add, being comfortable receiving constructive feedback is essential. Everyone in the team must be comfortable not only with receiving criticism, but more importantly, giving it as well. Fostering an environment in which that is welcomed is crucial to a successful group.

Q. What are your plans for elucidate this year?

Henry: This year is shaping up to be an exciting step in elucidate’s journey. We are focusing on three main avenues of growth: Bringing on more writers, expanding the breadth of our content and winning corporate clients. We want elucidate to be a platform through which curious students can write about their field and interests, and most importantly, have their voice heard. We have found the process of researching and writing about academic papers intellectually invigorating – we want to share this experience with as many students as we can.

We are also branching out from just writing articles on academic papers to writing shorter, blog-style articles as well. We believe this will cater to an untapped audience and provide our writers flexibility to talk about their own interests. Finally, we are also excited to start working with corporate clients to write articles for their businesses.

Q. You are currently looking for new volunteers to join the team. Tell us, in one word, what key attribute are you looking for in a new team member?

Aaron: Excited.

Ben: Curious.

Henry: Sceptical.

elucidate are currently looking for new volunteers to join their team. Applications close Wednesday 16 March. Click here for more details.

The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs. Click here for more details.