Nicolle Domnik


Assistant Professor

BSc Life Sciences, Cardiorespiratory Research Stream, Queen's University
PhD Queen's University
Post-Doctoral Fellowship Respiratory Investigation Unit (RIU), Queen’s University
Office: Medical Sciences Building, Room 286 
t. 519.661.2111 x. 87905
f. 519.661.3827

Google Scholar Link: Nicolle Domnik
See Publications by NJ Domnik on PubMed

A major lesson my research journey has taught me thus far is flexibility and openness to possibility. In 2011 I applied to be a visiting researcher at the University of Tasmania in Australia. My letter of acceptance was lost in the mail for months, which resulted in me having to fly across the world on very short notice when the mix-up was finally clarified. Originally, my project there was supposed to be a direct continuation of the mammalian cardiorespiratory research I was doing in Canada. However, upon arrival I was informed that my supervisor’s priorities had shifted almost exclusively to aquaculture: I could either work on salmon or oysters. I chose oysters, knowing nothing about them, and it turned out to be an incredible experience, reinforcing how powerful it can be to be open to opportunities outside your comfort zone. During this project, I got to work on with invertebrates for the first time, apply concepts of heart rate variability that were initially developed in humans and mice in a totally new and applied setting, and develop appreciation for both how similar – and unique – different species truly are.

Back in Canada, in 2014 I completed a research placement at Sick Kids Hospital (Toronto) with a colleague and collaborator of my PhD supervisor. In this role, I was tasked with working as the intermediary between their lab groups, combining their respective strengths in animal physiology and pathology to link the functional studies we were performing in Kingston with the structural types of analysis being pursued in Toronto.

Why Science?
I like that science allows you to understand why things are happening and not just see what is happening. It creates a link between being able to observe an event and being able to understand how and why this event occurs. Specifically, my fascination with cardiorespiratory sciences is the product of my undergraduate experience in life sciences. During these times, I gravitated towards topics that were presented in more mechanistic ways where I could think my way through problems and solve them from this perspective, rather than having to remember my way through problems. The cardiorespiratory system piqued my interest as it was presented through not only a molecular and biochemical lens, but also through an overtly mechanical one. Arguably, every organ is critical to life and to sustaining life, but there is something about the heart and lungs that I find people connect to very viscerally: you can feel your pulse, and you can feel your pulse changing, for example, during exercise. We use expressions like, “my heart was pounding” to express emotions like fear or excitement. The same applies to the lungs. For example, if you’re sick with a respiratory illness, you become acutely aware of your shortness of breath. But awareness of breath can also be a beautiful thing: when singing, playing an instrument, or when a gorgeous landscape ‘takes your breath away’. Their complex physiologic behaviour combined with their essential and visceral nature contributes significantly to the appeal I find in the cardiorespiratory system.

Teaching Goals
I always try to make teaching practical. I think it is great to learn foundational knowledge, but it is also important to learn how to apply skills in different ways. Depending on the job you get, you may directly use the factual knowledge you’ve gained (like in graduate school or medicine), but depending on your setting, you may also have the opportunity or be required to learn that type of knowledge again. However, skills like writing, communicating effectively, conducting critical and thorough research, performing efficient and effective literature searchs, and analyzing data are useful skills that improve with practise and are expected in a lot of different settings. Accordingly, I think it is helpful to cultivate these types of practical skills while learning about course-specific material with the ultimate goal of developing specific and transferable skills. It is also important for me to align what I want to teach students (or what I might find important) with what their motivations to be in a given course are and what skills will be most useful to them after graduation.

I also believe in science outreach, and in making things accessible - not just for scientists, but also for youth and for the public as a whole. Initiatives like the publication “Frontiers for Young Minds”, which curates peer-reviewed (and youth-reviewed!) science to children and teens are a wonderful way of bridging the gap between what happens in the lab to life.

Undergraduate and Graduate teaching
MEDSCIEN 3900G IMS Laboratory (course manager and instructor)
The Master of Science (MSc) in Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences (instructor)

Most Rewarding Moments
The most meaningful moments for me come from seeing people grow and evolve as individuals and as scholars or being able to act as a catalyst for bringing people and ideas or opportunities together.

Some of my most memorable moments have been at conferences, where people from similar or related disciplines get together all in one place. You can see all of the complex pieces of the puzzle that is a discipline come together in real-time. Those pieces, otherwise, only exist on separate papers floating around in cyberspace. It is amazing to be able to talk to people who look at related problems but often in completely different ways. It gives you new insights and perspectives, whether thinking about your research or teaching.

Advice to Students From A Professor’s POV
Try to be open to opportunities and try not to let your inner self-critic (or imposter syndrome) hold you back. I can very honestly say that most of my best experiences happened when I felt I had absolutely no hope of being selected or “getting it”, yet was still willing to try. As an instructor, I talk to so many students who do not apply for opportunities because they don’t think they’re a competitive enough candidate – when often times, they really are.   Life will invariably have disappointments and setbacks, but being willing to try and try again is what will keep you going. Importantly, I would also strongly encourage you to read your emails. They often contains notices and deadlines for very cool opportunities – and the difference between getting or not getting that opportunity could be as simple as whether you immediately clicked “delete” in your inbox or took the time to see what it had to say.

Interests Outside Academia
I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, releasing stress through cooking and baknig. I also find music incredibly cathartic and have played a couple of different instruments and sung in choirs most of my life. The latter is something that I have tried to continue doing even during COVID-19 – we still hist our rehearsals on Zoom. It feels a little weird, but it’s also very nice. Finally, I love spending time outdoors. Whether hiking or biking … or gardening (there’s nothing quite like seeing something transform from a seed into a vegetable or fruit you can eat) .

Select Recent Awards and Funding
June 2020
European Respiratory Society Grant for Best Abstract in Sleep Respiratory Medicine (abstract: “Inspiratory Neural Drive and Muscle Activity During Sleep in Moderate-to-Severe COPD”)
April 2017 – April 2019
(one of 24 awards of 178 reviewed applications) - CIHR Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship
January 2019
The Lung Association Better Breathing Research Symposium 1 st place 3 Minute Thesis (Clinical) winner
May 2018
Canadian Thoracic Society Frederick Hargreave Clinical Research 1 st Place Award
September 2012 - September 2015 NSERC Post-Graduate Scholarship








Highlighted Publications
Deterioration of Nighttime Respiratory Mechanics in COPD: Impact of Bronchodilator Therapy. Domnik NJ , James MD, Scheeren RE, Ayoo GA, Taylor SM, Di Luch AT, Milne KM, Vincent SG, Phillips DB, Elbehairy AF, Crinion SJ, Driver HS, Neder JA, O'Donnell DE. Chest. 2021 Jan;159(1):116-127. doi:

Clinical Utility of Measuring Inspiratory Neural Drive During Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing (CPET) . Domnik NJ , Walsted ES, Langer D. Front Med (Lausanne). 2020 Sep 18;7:483. doi:

Elevated exercise ventilation in mild COPD is not linked to enhanced central chemosensitivity. Phillips DB, Domnik NJ , Elbehairy AF, Preston ME, Milne KM, James MD, Vincent SG, Ibrahim-Masthan M, Neder JA, O'Donnell DE; Canada Respiratory Research Network (CRRN). Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2021 Feb;284:103571. doi: