Reader Response: What Should a High School Student Do to Be a Space Writer?

I’ve received another reader email seeking insights on what to do to pursue studies to become a tech writer in the space business. Between my fan mail and my Google Analytics, it’s clear that I’m reaching my target audience. Huzzah! Now, let’s see what my reader had to ask and I had to say in response (Note to Caroline: I might have added one or two things)…

Hello Mr. Leahy,

My name is Caroline and I am a junior in high school. I’m currently doing a lot of research on possible college majors and I stumbled upon your article “How an English Major Got A Job at NASA.” The title of your article caught my eye because that is exactly the kind of question I’ve been asking myself with regard to choosing a major. When I read into it and saw that you got a job writing in Alexandria, VA I was really interested because, coincidentally, I live in Alexandria! 
I’ve been a writer all my life – I started writing short stories when I was 10 and I haven’t stopped since then. My mom was an English major and her uncle was a published writer and poet, so I’ve been always surrounded by a love for reading and writing. 
This year, I took an AP Calculus course at my school as well as an intro-level Physics course. I ended up developing a huge appreciation and interest in both subjects, so much that I’m now rethinking my choice to pursue liberal arts as a major. I would love to hear more about your experience as an English major and whether or not you would recommend pursuing both English and STEM fields in college. As for you, working at NASA would be a dream job for me. However, I don’t want to abandon my love and talent for writing. 
If you have the time, I would also just love to hear some more about your experience working your way into a “space writing” job. What were some of your responsibilities as a technical writer? Where are you now? 
I hope this message finds you well! I’d love to hear back from you.
[X] High School
Hi, Caroline!
Thanks for writing (and reading)! Wow–I’ve got high school readers now, too. Cool!
Let me see if I can cover some of your questions by referring you back to the blog. Not trying to be lazy–okay, yes, I’m being lazy–but I don’t want to leave out things I’ve said before, so here are a few other blog entries regarding my path toward being a “space writer.”
  • This post talks about the different types of writing I’ve done as a NASA writer.
  • And here’s a post that was written in response to a college student with a computer science major who was interested in being a space writer.
  • What are the job duties of a space writer? Click here for the answer I gave another reader.

Those should cover my “history” getting into the space business, though you can also check out my LinkedIn profile for some of the career progression. I’ve removed some jobs from the profile because they’re not relevant to my current work (Disney, Department of Defense).

Re: Alexandria

My first post-Disney job was proposal writing for a defense contractor just inside the Beltway. That work, plus my volunteer work with the National Space Society gave me the background I needed when I finally applied to a job at Marshall Space Flight Center. If you like space and want to stay in the DC area, many of the large aerospace companies have branches nearby, and there’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Also, there’s always NASA Headquarters!

For overall career advancement, I’m probably being a traitor to my fellow English majors, but I’d focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and take writing as a minor, maybe…definitely take a course in technical writing! I don’t speak STEM as well as I should sometimes, and so I find myself having to get smart on a lot of different subjects every time I get a new assignment. Also, it’s been my observation that engineers and scientists get paid better than writers, so there’s always that. If you’ve got the talent, interest, and patience to do the math (my big weakness), you’d be foolish to waste that ability. The writing will serve you well in your work communications and you can always write well-informed science fiction or science fact content in your free time.

Re: where I am now

In addition to the LinkedIn profile, you can see what I’m up to lately by reviewing my Resume page. In the space field, I have a steady journalism gig writing for Spaceflight Insider and I’m also doing some internal communications for Goddard Space Flight Center. My volunteer work has included Science Cheerleader, SciStarter, The Mars Foundation, the Space Frontier Foundation, and (soon) the New Worlds Institute.

My two cents. Best of luck to you!

Bart D. Leahy

Technical Communications Consultant

Event & Membership Director
Science Cheerleader

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in careers, education, reader response, technical writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Reader Response: What Should a High School Student Do to Be a Space Writer?

  1. Bart Leahy says:

    Also, if you’re looking for internships, check this out:

  2. Larry Kunz says:

    No, Bart. You’re not a traitor. Even though I’m an English major I’d give the same advice: focus on STEM, and take technical writing courses in addition to that.

    Amid news stories about budget cuts for NASA, I’m truly delighted to read about a talented young woman who dreams of working there. Gives me renewed hope for the future.

    • Bart Leahy says:

      To be fair on the budget, it’s not a cut, more of a reduction in the proposed increase. Specific programs within the agency are being cut to spend money elsewhere, which is annoying in its own right. NASA’s budget is ~0.4% of the overall federal budget; however, because it’s discretionary, it can be and is politicked to death.

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