Student Reflection 2022

Looking Closer, Even from Afar: What Undergraduate Research Has Given Me in the Pandemic
By Gavriella Troper-Hochstein '23

“. . . we waded into a great unknown built of unknowns.”

I was hired to the SCRoLL Lab in March 2020, just days before Brandeis shut down all in-person learning and asked students to leave campus. In fact, my interview with Professor Ziva Hassenfeld was my very first in what would become an unending series of zoom meetings - she in her office, and I from the common room of my residence hall. Twenty-four hours later, I helped my international friends desperately pack their dorms up to get the last flights out of the country, and then booked my own ticket home to the West Coast and prayed the airports would stay open long enough to get me there.

So, my time with SCRoLL Lab has been defined in many ways by the pandemic; and I believe the lab itself has as well. From the very beginning, in the fall semester of 2020, we found ourselves forced to reimagine our first research project, which had initially been intended to explore the interpretive stances of children in response to Professor Hassenfeld’s pedagogy. Instead, we waded into a great unknown built of unknowns. There were four of us undergraduate researchers at the beginning, and none of us had any prior experience in qualitative research. Our observations were of an entirely new phenomenon - the online interactions of a mixed-age early elementary Bible class - and we had to create a community in the unwieldy and unfamiliar context of zoom meetings and socially distanced outdoor lunches.

Although my experience at SCRoLL Lab has been shaped by COVID-19, the lab has also opened new windows for me. Through data collection, analysis, co-writing papers, and meetings discussing findings, it has provided me with an unexpected intellectual community.

I confess, I applied to the lab looking only for a job. I had no strong inclination towards research, and only a background in Jewish education that I sought to move away from in the future. In the SCRoLL Lab, I have learned a new way of thinking, of looking at the world. I have practiced asking questions I never could have imagined and sitting with possibilities of knowledge that I am in awe of.

Once a week, first on zoom and then in-person at last, I have had the privilege of gathering with the other Lab members to work on our research. These weekly meetings have become more than a job for me. They have become an opportunity to learn from and with other students who I might not have connected with otherwise. They have also provided a chance for me to try completely new things like data analysis, applying pedagogical theory, and developing and refining research methods in an exciting and supportive environment. I look forward to my weekly lab meetings as a time to be engaged in fun and interesting work, and as a chance to see people whose company I greatly enjoy.

Through my experiences in the SCRoLL Lab, I have developed a strong interest in research. I have learned that I find the iterative process of building good research and doing deep analysis with a team immensely satisfying. This self-knowledge has changed the way I envision my future – I now see a possible path for myself in academia. The understanding I’ve developed of the research process has changed how I read academic literature, and, in turn, how I read the world. I never could have anticipated the things I would learn or the interesting people I’d get to learn from when I first applied to the lab, back when the world was turning upside down. But throughout the maelstrom of the last two years, I have been lucky enough to have thoughtful teammates, inspiring intellectual leadership from Professor Hassenfeld, and engaging work in the SCRoLL Lab.

Gavriella Troper-Hochstein is majoring in Education Studies. In addition to her work in the Mandel Center SCRoLL lab, she is a proud educator in and member of Habonim Dror North America, and enjoys spending her weekends as part of the teaching team at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek Religious School in Newton, MA. In her free time, Gavriella loves spending time in nature and practicing fiber arts.