By Shannon Boklaschuk
Megan Fairbairn is ending her undergraduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) on a high note.
On June 3, during the College of Arts and Science Graduation Awards Livestream event, she will be celebrated as one of the college’s most distinguished graduates—receiving both the Award for Excellence in English Studies and the Copland Prize in Humanities.
“I feel incredibly honoured to be the recipient of these awards, especially given all of the talented, hard-working and deserving graduates from my cohort,” Fairbairn said.
“While I recognize that I would not have received these awards without many years of self-discipline, passion and commitment, I also realize that playing an equal part is the support, encouragement and wisdom that I’ve received from so many people throughout my degree and my life. I am so appreciative of my partner, family, friends, peers, colleagues and mentors for their essential roles in helping me to reach this point.”
Fairbairn, who was born and raised in Saskatchewan, began her studies at USask in 2016. During Spring Convocation, she will receive her Bachelor of Arts (honours) degree in English and is set to begin a Master of Arts (MA) degree in English at USask this fall—after receiving a prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master’s (CGS-M). Her long-term goal is to become a university professor and researcher.
“I chose to study English because literature is a space through which ideas from all disciplines and areas of life are represented, questioned, challenged and worked through,” she said.
“I have a very broad range of interests, from the empirical findings of science to the most abstract philosophical ideas about life, existence and human nature. Stories are how we think through our feelings and ideas, and so they are the best place to learn about all of life’s questions and the processes by which we go about asking them.”
Throughout her undergraduate studies, Fairbairn was the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including the Reginald J.G. Bateman Memorial Scholarship in English (2020), the Hannon Scholarship in English (2019, 2020), the John Spencer Middleton ad Jack Spencer Gordon Middleton Undergraduate Scholarships (2017), the John A. Collier Memorial Scholarship (2016) and the Frances Elizabeth Murray Scholarship (2016).
In addition, Fairbairn received the Yuans Award in Canadian Literature in 2020 for her essay, “Haunted Life, Haunted Literature: Derrida’s Hauntology and the Spectral in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Literature.” It was written in ENG 418.3 for Dr. Jeanette Lynes (PhD), a faculty member in the Department of English and the head of USask’s MFA in Writing program.
“This essay uses a concept developed by Jacque Derrida called ‘hauntology’ which is a play on the philosophical field of ‘ontology,’ known as the study of being and existence. Hauntology claims that past, present and future exist simultaneously in the sense that ideas from one time period can appear as ‘spectres’ in the present—in other words, the present moment is always being haunted by ideas from the past and future,” Fairbairn said.
“In this sense, themes that recur throughout history are metaphorical ‘spectres’ that continue to ‘haunt’ humanity. While my essay for English 418 focused on applying this concept to 19th-century Canadian literature, my SSHRC-funded MA project will focus on applying hauntology to the works of Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. Though writing in different modes, centuries and geographical contexts, I have found a common theme that drives both writers’ bodies of work. I will use the concept of hauntology as a comparative framework for the two writers, showing how a common theme recurs in different contexts, and how it continues to recur today.”
Another highlight of Fairbairn’s undergraduate experience was publishing an article in USURJ, the University of Saskatchewan Undergraduate Research Journal, titled “Glimpsing Truth and ‘[Making] it whole’: Art as Personal and Social Unity in Virginia Woolf.” The article began as Fairbairn’s final paper for a 400-level seminar on Virginia Woolf taught by Dr. Ann Martin (PhD), a faculty member in the Department of English, in the winter of 2019.
“This was my first real introduction to Woolf, and I was taken in by her unique style and the philosophical implications of her work—specifically, the role of artistic expression in finding personal unity and in achieving collective unity,” Fairbairn said. “This paper was the end result of a research thread I pursued throughout the semester, and I felt personally connected to the material in a way that I hadn’t felt with any of my previous research papers. The following summer, I wanted to use my evenings and weekends to work on getting a paper published, and this one seemed like the natural choice. I chose to submit it to USURJ because it is peer reviewed and dedicated to showcasing undergraduate research.”
Outside of the classroom, Fairbairn was very involved in extra-curricular activities on and off campus. For example, she was a heritage interpreter at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre, a volunteer at the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) Pride Centre, a co-president of the English Undergraduate Society and a writer at The Sheaf, USask’s student newspaper. She also played ball hockey, acted as vice-president marketing for the Philosophy Students’ Society, worked as a student peer advisor in the College of Arts and Science Undergraduate Student Office and shared her insights on academic excellence as a tutor with the campus Writing Help Centre.
“I began working as a student peer advisor in the summer of 2018 and finished this year. I was drawn to the position because I wanted to use my knowledge about undergraduate academics to help less-experienced students who were encountering the same challenges and questions that I had faced in my first years of university,” Fairbairn said.
“My role at the Writing Help Centre was a natural extension of my English degree—I wanted to use my skills in writing, editing, formatting and communicating in order to help students grow their confidence and succeed in their written assignments.”
For Fairbairn, the best part of studying at USask “was being allowed and encouraged to both broaden and deepen” her knowledge. She was able to take a wide array of elective classes that interested her, providing her with multiple perspectives through which to approach her main area of study.
“My experience here was that the college really facilitated curiosity and exploration, and having that type of attitude really helped make the hard work of each class feel more manageable and enjoyable,” she said.
Fairbairn also appreciated the sense of community that is fostered in the Department of English. She noted the students and faculty there are connected by a common passion, so she felt like she “was a part of a larger community that supported, understood and valued” her contributions.
“My advice for new students at USask would be that while it is helpful to have a general plan of the direction in which you’re heading, it’s even more important to be open to the opportunities that arise along the way,” said Fairbairn.
“If you are pursuing a path that you are passionate about, then there will be unforeseen opportunities that reveal themselves. Regardless of how niche your interests may be, you will find that there is indeed a place and a need for you.”