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In Conversation with Michelle Novotny

By: Lucia Duarte
June 16, 2021

    Michelle is a Ryerson alum from the class of 2020 who has made an important contribution through her work as a Research Assistant. She is now pursuing a Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson, while still working for the Institute for Hospitality & Tourism Research. Michelle was so kind to meet with me over a Zoom call to talk about her experience as a student working for the Institute, to share what she has been working on since graduating, and to discuss some of her future plans.

Lucia Duarte: I am intrigued to know, what led you to study Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson? 

Michelle Novotny: Funny enough, I didn’t start out in the Hospitality and Tourism Management program. I originally joined Ryerson through the Business Management program and was planning to major in marketing. During my first year, however, I knew it wasn’t the right fit for me, so I started looking around at what other programs Ryerson offered, and something really stood out to me about the hospitality and tourism program. In high school, I really enjoyed working in food service and being part of student groups that planned and coordinated events. I felt so much joy in creating these memorable moments for people, and I knew that this program would allow me to continue to do that no matter which direction it took me. So, I applied, got in, and I knew immediately that it was the right place to be. I was so welcomed into the community and all the professors were so amazing. It’s just such an exciting industry! There’s an energy to it! This program, and the people in it, resemble that same energy and hospitality. 


LD: This industry can take you down so many different paths and the people you encounter always have that energy, so it’s definitely exciting. Focusing on your experience with the Institute, how did your involvement as a Research Assistant contribute to your undergraduate experience? 

MN: Working as a Research Assistant had a huge impact on my undergraduate experience, and my only regret is not doing it sooner! I am so happy that I went for it and took the opportunity because, for one, it gave me the chance to meet other like-minded students in the program that I hadn’t previously had a chance to work with. It also provides a chance to work and learn one-on-one under the supervision of the outstanding HTM professors. I am so grateful to Dr. Rachel Dodds for hiring me as her Research Assistant and for selflessly offering invaluable insights, guidance, support, and opportunities. Dr. Dodds has become a mentor to me in this journey and is now my Master’s Supervisor. Working as a Research Assistant is also a chance to expand your skill set and put what you have learnt in the classroom into practice. My involvement with the Research Institute has allowed me to feel part of a community and has helped me find my path. 


LD: I know you have some publications under your belt from your time working with Dr. Rachel Dodds. What topics did you focus on and what was that experience like?

MN: I feel so grateful to have worked with Dr. Dodds on three projects so far! Two of which have now been published, and a third that is currently in the review process. I am also so honored to be listed as a co-author. It’s such a fantastic experience and invaluable opportunity to have as a young researcher. 

My research experience, so far, has been focused on festivals and sustainability. From the published papers, the first one, external link is about the extent to which festivals are communicating their sustainability practices online and the perceived value that this creates within their community. The second one, external link is about understanding the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations behind festival organizers implementing sustainable practices and what barriers are stopping them. In both cases, I was mostly helping with the literature review, editing, and revising the results and discussion sections. I also worked a bit on the data analysis on one occasion. It was a chance to apply what I had learnt on the courses within our program, see it firsthand take place, and be a part of the process. 

Something that really stood out to me through this experience, was that research findings can have both industry and academic implications. I specifically really enjoyed learning about the role that theory plays in a study’s design and thus its academic implications. 


LD: Could you please tell me more about the role that theory plays in research and why you enjoyed learning about it so much?

MN: From an academic perspective, the aim of the study almost always revolves around either developing or further proving a theory (or framework). Every aspect of the research design will then be influenced by this and often integrates or builds upon similar methodologies used by other researchers aiming to develop or further prove the same theory. I really found it interesting to learn more about the academic impact that research findings can have in furthering our understanding of how the world works by building off of decades and centuries of findings from past researchers. It really made me feel part of this whole journey of learning and expanding on what we know. It’s really cool!


LD: I can imagine how being able to contribute to that was a very valuable learning experience.

MN: It certainly was. And from an industry perspective, research findings can play a role in influencing future management decisions! Working with the professors at the institute, I noticed that they are so good at mobilizing their research. They want to make sure that their findings are accessible to the people that it impacts and that they are helping to make positive change within the industry, which is so important. A lot of times, access to these journal articles can be difficult and they are not always easy to read. Seeing the way that the institute conducts research in collaboration with industry partners and shares findings through the Speaker Series events is truly inspiring. Mobilizing the findings is just as important as conducting the research in the first place and the HTM Research Institute has really instilled that value in me. 


LD: Thank you for adding that. It’s always good to hear about how the institute is helping make a change in this industry. Going back to festivals and sustainability, this topic is still present in your work! How did you get involved in it in the first place?

MN: Yes, it is! There is a third paper we are currently working on that is also related to festivals and sustainability, as is my Master’s thesis, and I am also going to be representing HTM Ryerson alongside Brian Riback and Raina Patel in the Sustainable Hospitality Challenge, external link finals in September. I remember when Dr. Dodds first started talking about the projects she was working on and I just lit up when she mentioned that she was looking for assistance with her projects related to sustainable festivals. I have always been really interested in the events industry and have always been passionate about sustainability, so this was a perfect way to merge the two! 


LD: It’s amazing to see how it’s all in the same realm and you are still building up on that. You mentioned your Master’s program, what led you to get into it and how has it been going for you?

MN: I never would have thought that I would pursue another degree, but I really started thinking about it in my last year of undergrad. It was my professor Michael Hunter that first suggested I consider doing a Master’s. I remember Professor Hunter saying, “if you are running a marathon and you’ve got two miles left, then you might as well finish it” – referring to what would be two more years of school if I completed a Master’s degree. I talked to Dr. Dodds as well after I had already become a Research Assistant, and she recommended I consider it as well. Knowing how much I enjoyed working as a Research Assistant, in addition to how much I enjoyed the research courses in the HTM curriculum, I decided to look into it and realized that Ryerson had a Master of Science in Management program that would allow me to specialize in Hospitality and Tourism and have Dr. Dodds as my supervisor! 

My experience so far in the MScM program has been amazing, and I would highly recommend it to anyone currently in their undergrad that is interested in pursuing a career in both academic and/or applied research. The professors are outstanding, and the courses are extremely valuable and hands on. Even with COVID-19, they handled it so smoothly and it ended up working out so well. It’s been great and I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of other professors and students within all the different departments of Ted Rogers.


LD: It sounds like you are really benefiting from the experience! What do you hope to be doing in the future? Do you think that research will still play a role in your life?

MN: Yes, definitely! When I first joined the HTM program, I didn’t know that this was even a path I could take. I am so grateful for Dr. Dodds and the HTM Research Institute for helping me discover my passion for research. In the years to come, I hope to pursue a PhD and to gain more industry experience. I would love to continue to conduct research in the area of sustainable tourism and events and I hope to become a professor someday too!  


LD: That’s very exciting! Do you have any advice for current or future Research Assistants and how they can benefit the most from their experience and find success?

MN: One thing I would say is that if you are thinking about doing it, and there is an opportunity to become a Research Assistant, you should not think about it twice. Honestly, I wish I had done it sooner! If you get the opportunity, just dive into it, and try to learn everything that you can. All the professors that work with the institute are industry experts and are always willing to share their knowledge and insights with students who share their passion. It’s just such a wonderful opportunity. Dive into it and don’t forget to make the most out of it!


LD: Thank you so much for sharing that, Michelle! That’s a great way to end our interview! I loved having this conversation.

MN: Thank you!

Thank you once again Michelle for sharing about your experience working for the Institute and your master’s program, as well as filling us in a bit on your future projects. If you liked this story, make sure to follow us on social media to be notified of future blog posts, upcoming events, and more.