When Julie Robertson woke up after 10 days in a drug induced coma, she could barely move her fingers.
Her eyes wouldn’t focus, her words were jumbled.
Doctors said it would be years before the Ryerson graduate student could go back to school.
However, less than a year later, Robertson took her reserved spot in the environmental applied science and management program.
She won second place in the third annual Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT) on March 3, for her thesis about the discrepancies between reported government data and traditional Inuit knowledge regarding the amount of caribou in the Arctic.
Robertson, who has an indigenous heritage, has always been fascinated with the Arctic.
According to Robertson, the Canadian government’s maps show that there are no caribou in the region. However, Inuit elders, who have lived and hunted on the land for generations, say otherwise.
“Their health, their spirituality, and the culture of the community is all around caribou,” Robertson said. “The hunt, the sharing of the food, so it’s important for them to have it documented correctly.”
Robertson, along with 13 other contestants had to boil down years of intensive research into an articulate three minute speech, using a single PowerPoint slide and no speaking notes.
Participating in the competition was a personal testament to how far she has come since August 2012, when she found herself making frequent trips to the hospital due to numerous medical complications.
“I have a vascular disease that attacked my lungs. Through a series of mishaps in the hospital, [the doctors] goofed up and I ended up in a drug-induced coma,” she said.
Robertson had to learn how to do everything all over again. Her language skills were severely impaired and her short-term memory was non-existent. She only recently learned how to jump and how to use the stairs.
Robertson still occasionally stumbles over words and said that, “it’s still a recovery process.”
“This competition was a way of challenging myself and trying to make my brain come back to the level it was at before.”