Dr. Craig J Selby, Academic Director of The Third Degree tells us how they support an ecosystem for postgraduate students, researchers, and institutions.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dr. Craig J Selby: The pandemic certainly has been challenging but, in the end, rewarding too. The working from home (WFH) experience has been great; I appreciate my home office much more, and I’ve learnt to maximize the usage of space, as well as to tune in to and work with my personal ‘idiosyncracies’ even more, and work at a pace (and times) that best suit my experience of the lockdowns and ongoing community crisis. It’s great to be able to record content videos at 3 am without the distraction of outside noise and to connect to students and academics globally as we are increasingly online. I am fortunate enough to have my health, to have my home, and to be in a place where public health and safety concerns override political indecision.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded The Third Degree.
Dr. Craig J Selby: I was born in New Zealand, resident in Australia, and currently live in Malaysia. I started my career quite young (teenager) – always an entrepreneurial mind, but moved into tertiary education when I was still studying for my first degree. First a tutorship, senior tutorship, lectureship, HOD, principal; then as a consultant to investors establishing private tertiary institutes. I taught Economics and Marketing, at undergraduate and graduate levels, along with lecturer professional development training. My love of lifelong learning, research education, and coaching started when I was 18 – a newly minted university tutor thrust into a classroom of people my age and older. I had a lot to prove, but a fantastic sense of accomplishment working with others to help them grow too. Several of my students from the early 1990s are still friends today. From that point on, though, I never stopped!
I co-founded The Third Degree literally a year ago (Happy Birthday) with existing business partner Farrell Tan (Orchan Consulting Asia). We’ve been in the communication and brand landscape for the past eleven years; the pandemic gave us the time and space to explore other interests that we both have (education) and to start taking action on cultivating opportunities.
How does The Third Degree innovate?
Dr. Craig J Selby: By simply approaching an old problem (student research journey and research communication) through a new model of provision. Our innovation comes through bringing established researchers at a global level to regions and universities that typically would not have such access. Our curated approach to the research journey for students enables them to get targeted, on-demand resources, along with access to specialist academics, from the convenience of their laptop or mobile phone.
Is our platform innovative? Not in the modern sense. But our approach to delivering this service to research students is and adds a new dimension to the university experience, as well as strengthening university-private sector partnerships.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Dr. Craig J Selby: The pandemic gave us time to really think, plan, strategize, and commence gaining traction. With our other business slowing down because of client apprehension, we simply had the physical and intellectual space and time to really hone in on The Third Degree. It has gone from a small, localized side business to a scaleable regional platform that really can make an impact.
With the lightning-fast adoption of Zoom and other technologies for learning, this new paradigm for educators meant it has been easier to connect, share, and onboard. We have now reached students as far afield as Africa, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, Australia, as well as our region, South East Asia.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Dr. Craig J Selby: The choices made have centered around balancing time and opportunity with our other business. The decision to go full-force into The Third Degree has meant a massive shift in thinking, no longer the old-school business models of ten years ago, but thinking in terms of scalability rather than the bottom line.
Although full circle for me, it still feels like a massive career change, back into the education ‘game’ on a permanent position, but not within the traditional university environment. The roles and responsibilities and reportage are very different, but adapting to this has also been rewarding.
As an educator, I have had to bring myself up to speed with issues of technology – not the ubiquitous Zoom and other online learning options – but the technology and facilities behind the development of a full-fledged learning platform.
My biggest lesson has been in thinking like a contemporary student in order to develop a platform that will work for them – it’s way more than just my experience, knowledge, and ideas as an academic!
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Dr. Craig J Selby: Our usage of on-the-go and distance communication apps has increased – Whatsapp & Telegram have become a central and comfortable communication route for us, especially with team members and curators based outside of Malaysia. Our LinkedIn has Zoom has also become a great tool for internal communications and for client and academic engagement.
Our leadership style didn’t really need to change. We’ve always been quite hands-on, so in tune with what’s happening.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dr. Craig J Selby: It’s hard to pinpoint direct competitors, as we have an interesting niche in the market. Competitors that do exist do not offer a geographically-scaled alternative, nor can they handle the volume of enquiry that we are setting up for.
Although we are edutech, people are at the heart of what we do and what we provide. Onboarding top-quality content curators and academics will ensure that we are always at the cutting edge with respect to resources but also offering almost exclusive access to some fantastic academics to help mentor and shape our end-users.
Your final thoughts?
Dr. Craig J Selby: In my lifetime, we may only get one opportunity to truly disrupt the education industry. That time is right now. As traditional education providers are forced to not only rethink delivery but their entire operational and business model, opportunities abound for startups and disruptive thinkers to not only help them develop quality opportunities for their students and stakeholders but also to shape how education may look like for the coming few generations. Being part of the process, rather than just being along for the ride, is an absolute privilege and a tad daunting too! But, I’m always up for a challenge.