Graduate Student of the Month - Andrea McGuire
Andrea McGuire will graduate with an MA in folklore this October. She wrote her master’s thesis on hitchhiking narratives and traditions in Newfoundland and Cape Breton, and spent her summer working with the Heritage Foundation’s ICH Office and Conservation Corps NL. She also likes playing bass, gardening, and going outside.
How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?
I love living in St. John’s, and since I completed my BA at MUN, too, it felt like a pretty natural transition. However, Memorial is definitely the place for studying folklore in Canada, and I’d heard many wonderful things about the department itself.
What drew you to explore folklore originally?
Some folklorists have really great “How I Discovered Folklore” stories, but I don’t think I can point to a specific moment or revelation that led me to the program. I started my degree at Memorial as a piano major in the School of Music, but switched to an English major and geography minor after three semesters. I never took any undergraduate folklore classes. It wasn’t on my radar at all. In the meantime, though, I was working at Afterwords Bookstore, and when I look at the books I picked up during those years, I can see that folklore and traditional ways of knowing and making have fascinated me for a long time. I had a few stints of hitchhiking and travelling about during my BA and afterwards, which probably gave me a liking for talking to strangers (which is often what fieldwork is all about!), and also made some friends who’d completed folklore MAs. After picking their brains a little, I started to think that folklore might be a good fit for me. I’ve felt very at home with the discipline (both in terms of subject matter and overall approach) ever since.
Can you tell us a bit about your current research?
My master’s thesis draws on interviews I did with 36 hitchhikers based in Newfoundland and Cape Breton, who have hitchhiked from the 1960s to the present day. I feel like I completely lucked out with my topic; my interviewees offered such an amazing array of stories and points of view, which were often expressed in very humorous, poignant, eloquent ways. I organized my material around a few different “contexts” of hitchhiking that came up during these interviews. I looked at histories of informal transportation in general and also in Newfoundland and Cape Breton, so that included a discussion of trainhopping, hobos and stowaways along with the evolution of hitchhiking. I also looked at how hitchhiking is often practiced within communities, which I called short-distance hitchhiking, and contrasted this with the longer type of hitchhiking odysseys (cross-Canada trips, hitchhiking in foreign countries, hitchhiking as a kind of rite of passage), which I called long-distance hitchhiking. Gender was another big consideration, since it quickly became apparent that men and women hitchhike very differently. I also examined the transmission of hitchhiking strategies between hitchhikers as a kind of folklore, and discussed the personal stories relayed by the interviewed hitchhikers. This all built towards my overall aim, which was to question the relationship between hitchhiking and trust. I wanted to look at how trust is built during the hitchhiking moment, to see how hitchhiking stories might reveal overarching attitudes of trust, to understand whether the experience of hitchhiking encourages a more trusting, empathetic disposition, and to situate these ideas alongside prevailing cultures of fear.
A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor bring to his role as your advisor and mentor?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had Dr. Philip Hiscock as my supervisor. He actually just retired, so I feel like I began my research at just the right moment. Philip is kind and helpful to all, and is very generous with his time. We would meet every week or two as I wrote my thesis, whether I had accomplished very much or not, and he was relentlessly encouraging the whole way through. He responded to emails immediately and always had a quick turnaround on every excerpt I sent his way. Philip is a former hitchhiker, too, so it was easy to banter on that level. He was such a supportive supervisor, and his style definitely worked well with mine.
Have you attended any conferences/delivered any papers this year? Can you give details?
The last conference I attended was held at the University of Aberdeen in July 2016, so that was actually over a year ago, but I can give a few details anyways! It was a small conference of current graduate students and young researchers in Folklore studies, and I had an amazing time. It was totally interesting to learn about how folklore is studied outside a North American context, and I came away feeling so inspired by all the presentations.
Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?
I was involved in the Graduate Folklore Society, and also sat on the editorial board for Culture and Tradition, the student-run journal in our department, but have clued that up since I’m on the verge of graduating. I play shows pretty regularly with two bands I am in, Ribbon Tied and Lo Siento, so that tends to take up a fair bit of time. I also have a garden plot at the Cavell Park Community Garden. Most of my volunteer efforts in the past year or so have been one-off affairs. In June, I organized a show fundraiser for the Labrador Land Protectors, and it’s been great to play other fundraisers and community events with Ribbon Tied and Lo Siento, too. I hope to take on organizational roles with a bit more longevity and responsibility in the future.
What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?
I have been both an undergraduate and graduate student at Memorial, so it’s hard for me to compare the overall Memorial experience with anything else, but I am certainly very fond of the folklore department (and am finding it a little hard to relinquish the tie!) The faculty members and other students are very kind and supportive, and I’ve had a lot of wonderful opportunities throughout my degree.
What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?
I am definitely in the throes of trying to figure that out. I hope to work in a field where I can build on the skills I developed during my masters, so anything involving research, writing, or fieldwork would be great! I’d also like to try and share my thesis with a wider audience. I am not sure where I’ll end up, but I know that writing my thesis was an invaluable experience in and of itself, and I’ll take that with me as I continue on my way.