Lakehead University PhD candidate heading to the provincial Three-Minute Thesis competition

 Robert Jackson heads to Toronto this week to compete in the provincial Three-Minute Thesis competition.

April 16, 2018 – Thunder Bay, ON

Meet Robert Jackson, winner of Lakehead University’s Three-Minute Thesis competition.

Jackson is working toward a PhD in Biotechnology. He is studying human papillomaviruses at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute with supervisor, Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe.

“I find viruses absolutely fascinating and they are everywhere,” he said, adding that he was excited to study in Dr. Zehbe's lab, which focuses on HPV-related cancers.

Jackson is trying to understand how small changes in the genetic code of viruses, specifically HPVs, can lead to a higher risk of cells becoming cancerous. “I use a variety of biotechnology tools to accomplish this, including lab-grown human skin.”

Even with a thorough knowledge of his research material, Jackson was nervous before presenting his three-minute thesis in front of a crowd of people during Research and Innovation Week.

One thing that helped Jackson become comfortable was when Lakehead University’s Graduate Studies office invited David Goldsworthy, a Toastmasters member, to present a workshop offering public speaking tips.

“That was essential in providing the polish. I loved hearing David's perspective and advice, and sponged it up,” he said. Jackson stepped on stage and was nervous at first, “but it goes away after a few seconds and then it goes by in a blur.”

He didn’t believe he would win. “I consciously knew the chance of winning was greater than zero, but no, I didn’t think I would win . . . especially after listening to the other presenters, who were amazing.”

Jackson offered advice to anyone considering studying at Lakehead University.

“It depends on what they are passionate about and their educational goals, but overall one advantage at Lakehead University is research opportunities, even at the undergraduate level.

“It's never really too early to get involved in research, so I would recommend that if students are passionate about research, they should engage with faculty and other students that are doing the kind of work they would like to do,” he said.

He also recommended participating in three-minute thesis competitions.

“These kinds of events are a marvellous opportunity to hone our communication skills and to engage with people. I feel that as researchers we have an obligation to the public to be able to communicate our work, clearly and honestly, to solidify the role that research – especially basic research – has in strengthening our society,” he said.

Jackson will participate in the provincial Three-Minute Thesis competition on Thursday, April 19 in Toronto.

“I’m nervously excited and most of all very grateful for the opportunity,” he said, thanking Dr. Zehbe and his research colleagues for their support.

“I’d also like to thank the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, NSERC, which funds my research, Lakehead University and the Faculty of Graduate Studies for supporting the competition, Lakehead’s Three-Minute Thesis judges and David Goldsworthy from Toastmasters, as well as the Graduate Student Association for helping with travel costs.”

Update: Robert didn't finish in the top five at the three-minute thesis provincial competition, but he received compliments on his exceptional presentation on Human papillomavirus and he met lots of great people. Congratulations, Robert!


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Lakehead University has approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and 2,000 faculty and staff in 10 faculties at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead is a fully comprehensive university: home to Ontario’s newest Faculty of Law in 44 years, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and faculties of Engineering, Business Administration, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Social Sciences & Humanities, Science & Environmental Studies, Natural Resources Management, Education, and Graduate Studies. Maclean’s 2018 University Rankings place Lakehead University among Canada's Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities, as well as first in Total Research Dollars, second for Citations, and third for Scholarships and Bursaries. In 2017, Research Infosource named Lakehead Research University of the Year in its category for the third consecutive year. Visit

Robert Jackson sitting at his desk and explaing his thesis