Where’s Your M.A.?

Wow— that’s quite a leap. What happened there?

Finishing eight years of post-secondary education without the letters ‘M.A.’ tacked behind your name often comes with a set of questions.

  1. Wow, from Criminology and Women Studies to Advertising — that’s quite a leap. What happened there?
  2. So what program is next — Vet Tech? Geology?
  3. Don’t you think that’s kind of hypocritical? I mean, advertising is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to propagating negative stereotypes about women.

I’ll tackle those questions a little bit later, but for now allow me to introduce myself. I’m Erika, and at the age of 26 I’ve just recently entered what has so often been referred to as ‘the real world’. I spent four and a half years at the University of Ottawa completing a Joint Honour degree in Criminology and Women Studies, and another three completing an advanced diploma in Advertising and Marketing Communication Management at Algonquin College. I’m a self-admitted education junkie, and I’m passionate about learning more about the world around me. Curiosity about cultural norms runs through my veins, and I’m endlessly inquisitive about pop-culture and patterns in human kind. I’m just as likely to be found reading an academic article on the status of reproductive rights in the Philippines as I am a BuzzFeed article on this year’s top ten cats. I don’t discriminate, I just like to self-educate.

I was raised in a family that places high value on education, but not necessarily on your job title. That’s how I landed in the Criminology and Women Studies departments at the University of Ottawa — I found a topic that spoke to me on a personal level, a series of global issues I wanted to explore and help solve. I spent hours dedicated to the library, volunteered in women’s resource centres, and did a three-month stint at Correctional Services Canada in the Women Offender Sector. I wanted to help, and although I love the routine and discovery that comes with academia — I didn’t feel fulfilled on a personal level.

After graduation, I spent what seemed like months trying to figure out my next steps (from law school, to documentary film making, to the threat of getting an unfulfilling full-time job). I knew that I was passionate about contributing to global change, but I needed a way to transfer that passion into something practical, and perhaps more important — creative. I had always turned to creative outlets like acting, drawing, and painting as a release, and I wanted to find a way to exercise my left and right brain at the same time.

The summer after I graduated, I was up at my family cottage re-visiting Carrot’s Commercial Breakdown, a family favourite that my grandmother had insisted I watch every year around my birthday. I was always amazed at how advertisers were able to communicate the same message: “Use X because Y and it will solve Z” in new, innovative and emotive ways. I started thinking about all of the amazing non-profit campaigns I had studied in university — from Amnesty International to WWF. They were all trying to contribute to the kind of paradigm shifts I wanted to see in the world, and someone had to be running those campaigns. Creative problem solving and communication. That was where I needed to be.

As soon as I got home, I submitted my application for the Advertising and MarComm program at Algonquin College. I spent the next three years in an intense state of exhaustion and creative stimulation. I found myself expanding my skill-set in a way that complemented my natural abilities, and finding creative ways to solve complex problems. I met phenomenal people, and discovered that all of those years learning HTML to custom fit my angsty teenage MySpace or set up embarrassing Tripod and Angelfire websites prepared me for a future in digital marketing. I had found my niche, and I can’t say how lucky I feel to have been given the freedom and opportunities to do so.

So, in regards to those three questions:

  1. My background in the social sciences helped me cultivate my curiosity, and find the tools to answer some of my own questions. My experience in advertising has given me the opportunity to continue tapping into culture, and finding creative ways to solve problems. There’s no leaps, skips, or bounds about it — education is a progression and we’re all responsible for creating our own, meaningful experiences.
  2. What’s next is the process of curating my own career. Advertising, particularly digital advertising and marketing, is about continuous learning, adapting and growth. It allows me to pursue my self-education and push boundaries on a daily basis.
  3. Yes, advertising can lead to negative representations within the media, and yes, it can be harmful when used inappropriately. But advertising is just one of the tools we use to shape our culture, and with a shift in its messaging, we can help to shift our collective thoughts. By adding my own voice to the conversation, I can at least hope to contribute to a positive shift. Good advertising doesn’t need to lie, insult or twist the facts. Good advertising brings light to compelling cultural truths, and adds to its audience’s experience.

So there you have it, the first chapter of my journey. The questions are answered and, like a shark, I can only move forward from here.

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