Laura McDonnell
MD/PhD Student

Laura McDonnell

Dr. David Park


McDonell is registered in the MD/PhD program, which is sort of the “Ironman” of university programs: medical training coupled with a PhD, both completed in seven years. The program is so demanding that only a few exceptionally gifted students are accepted each year.

Personal Background

I began my graduate studies in September 2010 as a Biochemistry Master's student at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in the Bulman laboratory, supervised by Dr. Kym Boycott. As I was completing my M.Sc., I successfully applied to the University of Ottawa's M.D./Ph.D. program in September 2012. I am now conducting disease-oriented basic science research at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario’s Research Institute.

“The MD/PhD program is pushing the boundaries of science, but also pushing the boundaries of clinical medicine and patient management,” says McDonell, whose work involves identifying the genetic causes of rare children’s diseases as part of the CHEO Research Institute’s Care for Rare project.

Audrey Boyce, whose generosity was behind the scholarship—which will help many students like McDonell, in both medicine and law—pushed back the frontiers of philanthropy on her own, saving enough to leave the University of Ottawa one of the largest bequests in its history… all on a personal secretary’s salary. Now that’s defying the conventional!

Boyce was neither an alumna nor an employee of the University, but a dedicated civil servant who spent her entire life in Ottawa and firmly believed in the power of education.

Boyce’s wish that her donation have a “ripple effect” on many generations of students has truly moved McDonell. She is very determined to fulfill it.

“Selfless people like Audrey Boyce, whose motivation was to help students, make you want to work harder and just channel their energy so that their work continues through you,” she says. “I hope to one day transfer my love of molecular genetics and pathology to my patients, my students and my academic field and, as such, continue the ripple.”

Research Focus

Our lab uses high throughput sequencing technologies to identify gene mutations causing rare neurological disorders. These technologies allow us identify novel disease pathways that we are then able to characterize and hopefully modulate. As I continue research in molecular genetics, I am increasingly motivated by the identification of genetic drivers of disease and the interplay between mutation and human development.


  • 2015 Audrey J. Boyce MD/PhD fellowship
  • 2015 CNFS doctoral Award
  • 2014-2017 CIHR doctoral Award
  • 2013-2014 Baxter and Alma Ricard Foundation Scholarship
  • 2017-2019 Baxter and Alma Ricard Foundation Scholarship