In 1973, Dr. Jackson became the first Black woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduating from MIT, she became a research associate at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a visiting scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland. Jackson was faculty at Rutgers University in Piscataway and New Brunswick, New Jersey from 1991 to 1995, in addition to continuing to consult with Bell Labs on semiconductor theory. Her research during this time focused on the electronic and optical properties of two-dimensional systems.
She lectured at the NATO International Advanced Study Institute in Antwerp, Belgium in 1982. Her research on high-energy theory has given her international recognition. In 1995, President Clinton appointed Jackson to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), becoming the first woman and first African American to hold that position.
Dr. Jackson is presently the 18th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she became the first woman to hold this prestigious position in 1999.