Anna Wexler, an adventure traveler, writer, filmmaker, and brain researcher, lives a colorful life. There’s the story about the time she bought a one-way ticket to Katmandu at age 18 and traveled alone through Asia for a year. She once biked solo across Mexico. She’s been a professional fire dancer. She juried Serbia’s World Testicle Cooking Championship.
These days, she is telling a different story—one about leaving the Orthodox Jewish community. At age 16, Wexler transferred from her all-girls yeshiva in New Jersey to a public high school and stopped observing Jewish holidays. While a sophomore at MIT, she started working on the film Unorthodox, which weaves her experience with the stories of three Orthodox Jewish teenagers spending a transformative post-high-school year in Israel. The film is a labor of love for Wexler and co-director Nadja Oertelt ‘07, who have funded the effort through grants and a recent successful Kickstarter campaign. Wexler, who focused on the project as a 2007–’08 filmmaker in residence at WGBH, expects the film to premiere in 2013.
Wexler earned two degrees at MIT, one in brain and cognitive sciences and another in humanities and science with a focus in writing and neuroscience. In the first week of her freshman year she arranged a neuroscience UROP, and over the years she worked on topics including moral cognition and the neural and psychophysical effects of meditation. She also discovered that writing combines her passions. “There seems to be a dearth of scientists who are able to communicate with the public, so I feel like my work is fulfilling in a deeper sense, advancing the cause of the science,” she says.
After graduation, she moved to Tel Aviv—a city she’d grown fond of while filming Unorthodox—and embarked on a freelance writing and editing career. She credits MIT’s training in critical thinking with helping her become a better technical editor. “I’m not afraid to criticize reasoning, assumptions, and the logical flow of arguments, even if they’re being made by top researchers in their respective fields,” she says. Living in Israel, however, didn’t change her religious views, as evidenced by her six-word memoir: “Started off kosher. Then discovered bacon.”
This fall, Wexler is returning to the Institute. She is beginning a PhD in MIT’s Science, Technology, and Society program, where she will study the social and ethical implications of brain-machine interfaces.