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Academic excellence

Humanities and Social Sciences' doctoral student receives $150,000 Vanier scholarship

By Jeff Green and Chad Pelley

Memorial University has secured a promising PhD student, Caighlan Smith, via the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

The federally funded scholarship program helps Canadian universities attract or retain highly qualified doctoral students by awarding them $150,000 over three years to complete their degree.

Unique award

A unique feature of the award is that candidates must seek a nomination from the post-secondary institution at which they wish to study, and that university must submit a formal nomination for the student.

Ms. Smith’s successful application marks the third time the English department successfully nominated a Vanier scholar; Andreae Callanan was a recipient in 2019 and Sharon King-Campbell in 2021.

“Caighlan … is deeply passionate, superbly intelligent and profoundly humble.” — Dr. Danine Farquharson

Ms. Smith did not hesitate to choose Memorial.

“Memorial’s Department of English is incredibly welcoming and supportive, not to mention open to exploring new ideas and research opportunities,” she said.

“I knew I wanted to come back and work with them again when I decided to pursue a PhD, and so far my time back has been even better than my first experience.”

Memorial is allowed to nominate only three potential Vanier scholars each year.

Dr. Danine Farquharson, associate professor and graduate co-ordinator for the Department of English, says backing Ms. Smith’s Vanier application was “a no-brainer.”

“Caighlan has all the academic achievements, all the research credentials,” she said. “But the Vanier is about so much more than academic success — it’s an award that recognizes and champions those graduate students who also exemplify leadership and connections to community. This area is where Caighlan shines. She is deeply passionate, superbly intelligent and profoundly humble.”

Not all heroes should wear capes

Ms. Smith’s doctoral work questions the use of the hero archetype in modern media.

She says we tend to think of heroes as being universally good — people or characters who fight against injustice and inequality — but we don’t talk as much about how the hero may get in the way of equality.

“Every story that features a hero character inevitably casts the hero as superior, be it in their physical power, intellect, moral standing, appearance, personality, etc.,” she said. “The characters around the hero, whether they’re villains or the masses the hero saves, are presented as inferior in comparison.”

As a result, and depending on how these “inferior” characters are narratively framed, they can serve to further reinforce marginalizing worldviews.

While it’s true that the hero archetype can have the best of intentions, or even teach us a positive lesson and inspire us, Ms. Smith’s question still stands.

“Can’t we receive these same benefits another way, without an archetype that encourages us to view certain types of people as superior to others? Why do we keep coming back to the hero archetype, even in relatively new narrative mediums, like video games? What makes us want, or want to be, heroes?”

Proud moment for Memorial

“Warmest congratulations to Caighlan Smith on receiving this prestigious award,” said Dr. Tana Allen, acting vice-president (research).

“This most recent honour builds on the success of Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and our entire research community, in attracting highly qualified researchers. The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program provides foundational support to the next generation of scholars and who exemplify academic excellence, allowing them to collaborate with our dynamic research community and pursue game-changing studies. I can’t wait to see what comes to light in her doctoral studies on the hero archetype.”

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