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By Amy Wolf
It all started when Alexandra Doten, BA’18, walked into an early morning astronomy class to fulfill a science requirement. Fast forward to today, Doten, better known as Astro Alexandra, is connecting with millions of viewers on TikTok and other social platforms, putting a fun spin on learning about space.
“When I started, I realized that science can be fun and it can also make people feel good and feel empowered and inspired,” she said.
Doten has more than 2 million followers on TikTok alone. She recently received the honor of being a Forbes 30 Under 30 winner in the social media category.
Her micro-lessons cover everything from deciphering fantastical telescope images to explaining how astronauts really live in space.
“The James Webb Space Telescope is my generation’s space shuttle or Apollo,” she said. “This is my generation’s first time really seeing the inspiring wonders of space.”
But she admits one of her first big viral videos explained something just about everyone wonders—how do astronauts really go to the bathroom up there?
“When I first started in 2020, I posted a video that explained the complex restroom on the International Space Station. I knew all about it, because I had worked at NASA and met many astronauts and heard about the struggles,” she laughed.
“I think being an astronaut is so idealistic, and people look at it as the ultimate dream job,” she added. “I thought it was kind of interesting to add some mess into that and make them human.”
SPACE AGENCIES TO STREAMING
While at Vanderbilt, Doten interned for NASA for two summers. She started her career as a communications specialist for NASA right after graduation, traveling around the world speaking to schools and groups. She later worked in a communications position for the U.S. Space Force.
But the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.
“When COVID hit, and I was no longer speaking to groups, I realized a big part of my life and my passion was gone. So, I turned to social media to start talking about my passion for space,” she said.
Doten admits that the world of social media is ever-changing, and she’s prepared for the ride.
“It was really difficult going from a government job with the most loved agency in the United States to creating something on my own. That was very scary,” she said. “But I had to grow in terms of realizing that I can make my own path.”
She envisions expanding with books, TV and other plans to open up space knowledge to the masses—especially young girls.
“I’m passionate about promoting women in STEM. Women are a huge, underrepresented part of the space industry,” she said.
THE SPARK THAT LED TO A CAREER
“Professor Weintraub’s grace in teaching and his encouragement of curiosity is what I try to emulate in my career,” Doten said. “He is really the one who allowed me to explore something that I was embarrassed that I didn’t already know much about. And I am forever indebted to him for that,” she said.
Doten graduated with a degree in human and organizational development—not the major traditionally associated with a future in science.
But she said the combination of her growing knowledge of astronomy, along with the writing, business and communication skills she was learning, sparked an exciting career trajectory.
“People message me daily and ask, ‘I want to be a scientist, what classes should I take in college?’ And I’ve surprised a lot of them because I always say ‘writing.’ I think that science only goes so far if you can’t tell people about it—if you can’t explain to people why it’s important, why they should invest in it, why they should care about it,” she said. “That’s what I try to do every day.”
HOW ARE YOU STILL CONNECTED WITH VANDERBILT?
“I keep Professor Weintraub updated on all of the things I’m doing. And I’m marrying a Vanderbilt alum, Jeremy Mani. There will definitely be a Vanderbilt table at our wedding—and maybe even an ‘Anchor Down’ picture!”
(Mani, BS’18, MA’19, is a pediatric neurology resident at Emory University Hospital.)
WHAT DOES ‘DARE TO GROW’ MEAN TO YOU?
“This hits so close to home for me because growing is terrifying. Growing is leaving behind familiarity and comfort and trying something new. And trying something new has a really good chance of failing. But it is also what makes anything worthwhile… I think that learning and growing and evolving is what makes life exciting and fun and worth it.”
ADVICE TO FUTURE STUDENTS?
“I have two pieces of advice I would give to anyone applying to college. I was terrified to apply to Vanderbilt because I was scared of rejection… I would say to anyone who’s considering it, apply to Vanderbilt, it could change your life.
“My other piece of advice relates to doing something unconventional. I didn’t have a minor. Instead I took as many classes as I could in as many topics as I could… I looked at where I was at this amazing university, and I was surrounded by experts in their fields, experts who have published amazing research. I took classes in subjects that I probably will never have the opportunity to take again and talked to experts that I might never again.
“It may not seem like these classes will fit with a major or career, but you may just fall in love with something you’re learning, and it could become your career. But no matter what, you become a more curious, well-rounded, educated person.”
- Watch a story and video about Doten while she was an undergraduate
- Watch Alexandra Doten talk about astronomy as Astro Alexandra
- Learn more about Communication of Science, Engineering and Technology
- Read more alumni stories here