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Dr. Adam Miller: From advertising to academia
The University of Guelph-Humber’s newly appointed Assistant Program Head of Media Studies, Dr. Adam Miller, began his life in academia in an unlikely way: by following in the footsteps of his father and pursuing a career in the advertising business.
Dr. Miller was a copywriter at the famous and venerable Canadian ad agency MacLaren – now called McCann Canada – when he decided a post-graduate degree could help him advance his career. Given that he already had a bachelor degree in English literature from the University of Toronto, Dr. Miller felt pursuing a master’s degree in English language and literature from the University of Windsor seemed like a natural next step.
It was there, in his role as a teaching assistant, that he was thrown into a stressful situation that ultimately proved invaluable in helping him decide his path.
“I did an assistantship for a professor, and she fell ill,” Dr. Miller recalled. “I found myself teaching this enormous class of 200 students. It was terrifying. But once I had the hang of it and I was a little less nervous, it was great. I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
“It was one of those unexpected discoveries,” he added.
Charting an educational path
With his newfound passion for teaching, Dr. Miller wanted to find a PhD program that would give him more experience in that environment while also drawing upon his advertising background.
From his earliest moments enrolled in York University and Ryerson University’s joint Communication and Culture program, he knew it was a good fit.
“I was really interested in the way audiences are manipulated by what’s out there in the world,” Dr. Miller explained. “I was interested in how something like media and entertainment are written off as frivolous and for our own indulgence when, in fact, how we relate to each other is through these mediated principles of film, journalism and television.
“A professor early on talked about film as a system of social engineering, how we think we’re going to blockbuster films for entertainment, but we’re getting instruction about family life and values and normalcy.
“I found that really interesting and that drove my research, because it was a very academic interpretation of something that, as a writer and someone working in the advertising industry, I hadn’t thought about.”
An ever-changing industry
After completing his PhD, Dr. Miller began teaching at post-secondary institutions all over the greater Toronto area. An avid runner with a long history of participating in marathons and half-marathons, Dr. Miller certainly didn’t shy away from shouldering a major workload – at one point, he even juggled 11 courses in a single semester.
“I was living in my car,” he joked.
Dr. Miller also joined Humber College as a Professor and Program Coordinator, first for a post-graduate certificate in the field of Multi-platform Storytelling for Creative Producers and Screenwriters, and more recently he worked on the Content Strategy program.
In that role, Dr. Miller gained valuable insight into the shifting and fluid nature of many roles within the media industry.
As he begins his role at the University of Guelph-Humber, Dr. Miller is encouraged that UofGH seems particularly well-positioned to offer the range of academic and experiential learning opportunities students are now looking for.
“This program is really unique in the sense that it’s really offering students exactly what they need,” he said. “In the industry, people are looking for graduates who can not only produce the content that they’re after, but also think critically about the message that is going out with that content. Diploma programs do an amazing job of producing students who are great at what they do, but they’re not always equipped with the critical thinking skills they really need, so often those students will go for a degree anyway.
“A lot of institutions are trying to mimic what’s already in place at the University of Guelph-Humber, and that’s a big part of what drew me here.”