Lauren Worley (@SpaceLauren on Twitter), has a truly out-of-this-world job. As Press Secretary and Senior Advisor at NASA, her primary role is to communicate NASA’s activities to the public at large. She is part of the senior leadership team, serving as advisor and chief spokesperson for NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
Lauren earned a degree in news journalism from Kent State University and her career has focused on government relations, communications strategy, project management, public relations, grassroots organizing and advocacy. At NASA, she has been involved with many diverse projects, including promoting small businesses that contributed to landing the Curiosity Rover on Mars, augmenting President Obama’s call for investment in 3D printing, and organizing Google+ Hangouts with Administrator Bolden and other NASA leaders.
Q. What is your official job title and what is a typical day like for you?
A. I’m the Press Secretary and the Senior Advisor in the NASA Office of Communications here in Washington. My job is to tell the American public what NASA is doing in space. There isn’t a normal day, but I spend a lot of time with Administrator Bolden checking out progress on our missions to get humans further into space, our science missions, and the development of important space technology that is going to take us deeper in space than ever before. I then communicate to you and the public what those important findings are.
Q. I think on a list of cool jobs, this would be right up there near the top.
A. I got into a discussion about this with a couple of people. This guy asked me, “What do you do at NASA?” I told him and said I have the best job at NASA. I was sitting next to ‘Mohawk Guy’ [Bobak Ferdowsi] and he said, “No, I have the best job at NASA. I was part of the team that just landed a rover on Mars.” The other guy sitting next to me was [astronaut] Mike Massimino and he said, “I’ve been to space twice. I have the best job at NASA.” And I was like, “Okay, Mike, you win.” What I’ve found about people who work at NASA is that they all feel they have the best job. They are so committed and so dedicated to exploring the wonders of our solar system. It’s inspiring to come to work every day.
Q. As fun and varied as your job is, I imagine there’s also a lot of stress being in such a high-profile position. What attributes does someone need to possess in a job like this to successfully deal with the challenges?
A. Flexibility. I have a little sign on my desk that says, “What’s another way to meet the goal?” By that I mean, if Plan A didn’t work, let’s do Plan B. Prioritizing your health and working out is absolutely essential. If you take care of yourself, you can take care of the world around you.
Q. Tell me about your career path and how you ended up in the job you have now. What did you want to be growing up?
A. I wanted to be three things: a marine biologist, a doctor, and President of the United States. Growing up, I was always going to summer science camp and I participated in science fairs, even in high school. I started out as an anthropology/pre-med major with the intention to try to write for “National Geographic.”
Then, “The West Wing” [TV series] came out and I watched that show and said, “I want to be [White House Press Secretary] C. J. Cregg.” I changed trajectories from science and started working on political campaigns and worked at various levels in state government. I found my way to NASA, and now it’s like I’ve come home.
Q. How old were you when that TV show influenced you?
A. I was probably 19 or 20.
Q. Given your experiences, what career advice would you offer to young people today?
A. You’ve got to do something that you love, and you’ve got to work hard at the thing you love. I think sometimes people think that it comes easy. Nothing comes easy. It all comes with lots of hard work.
At my first internship, they kept asking me to clean out the storage closet and I was like, “Um, okay.” But instead of being bitter about it, I sort of embraced it. Every time they asked me to clean it, I would reorganize it. Sometimes I did it alphabetically, sometimes I did it by height – I just kind of approached it like, “They’ve entrusted me with their supplies and I should take this seriously.” What resulted, though, was that, after a while, when people needed supplies, they had to come through me to get them, because I knew where they were. That ultimately led to my first job right out of college – I was the Executive Assistant to the Political Director at the Democratic National Committee here in D.C. – and I got that job because I had taken the time to get to know other people, understand their jobs, and – even if it was delivering Post-It notes to their desk – making sure that I got that done. No task is too small and we learn something from every task, every job that we have.
Q. How has social media changed the role of the NASA Press Secretary from what it might have been in the past to what you do today?
A. It’s everything. What’s great about social media is that it comes at a time when newsrooms are shrinking. There are fewer and fewer space and science reporters and there are fewer and fewer minutes on the nightly news devoted to space and science. We’re seeing a divergence in the media where people will get their news from all sources.
Using social media, I’m able to connect directly with people who care about what I’m talking about. I can get really down deep in the weeds, sharing that information with them, and I can just come up with neat stuff to share with them in a graphical, visual format, whether it’s an infographic, a video, cute tweets, or whatever it is. I love it. It’s a lot more fun tweeting than putting out a stale press release.
Q. As a whole, NASA has really embraced social media. It seems they have a Twitter account for every project and every experience.
A. We have over 420 Twitter accounts.
Q. Wow. How many of those do you personally oversee?
A. None, but I collaborate with the team that works on the @NASA account. We have folks dedicated to each of the projects and programs that we do.
Q. It makes you wonder what’s coming next in social media. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t even know what Twitter was.
A. Without a doubt. The other thing is that I can actually communicate more with reporters. It pulls down barriers. I can just as easily tweet with a reporter as I can with the lead singer of my favorite band, or a kid that wants to know more about NASA.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
A. Everyone’s like, “Oh, you have the best job.” I haven’t always had the best job. You have to stay committed and dedicated, even when you don’t know if what you’re currently doing factors in to your long-term plan. When I changed trajectories from wanting to be a science journalist to working on political campaigns, I never in a million years would have fathomed that there was a Press Secretary at NASA. It never entered my mind; I know it didn’t. So, all those experiences culminated in this ability to do this amazing job.
Even on the days when you wake up and you’ve got a head cold, or it’s cold outside, I’m like, “I have to get to work because there are people who want to know what we’re doing. It’s such an honor to get to work around such amazing scientists, engineers, thinkers, researchers, and people who are really pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. I’ve gotta get to work.