Alumni Profile: Alexa Mills

Infinite Careers is a new collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.

Alexa Mills

Education

  • Cornell University, SB English, 2003
  • MIT, Master of City Planning, 2008
  • Northeastern University, Master of Journalism, 2008

Biography

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Alexa Mills is a journalist, editor, and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. She is a writing coach for early-career reporters at The New York Times, and was previously the editor of Washington City Paper, D.C.’s alt-weekly newspaper. She has written for The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and several other publications. She earned her master’s in city planning at MIT, where she produced a short movie about predatory mortgage lending in Lawrence, Massachusetts. After graduation, she took a job at MIT Community Innovators Lab, or CoLab, within the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. At CoLab, she organized community media projects and taught classes about media production. She has since taught at Emerson College, University of Toronto, and Universidad de los Andes, among other schools.

Alexa's Story

What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?

I was going on instinct when I chose to major in English. I liked reading and writing, and I’d always done better in English than any other subject. I picked my major before I arrived on campus, not really understanding how many different majors exist. When I got to Cornell, I learned about the field of city planning and started taking classes in that department. I liked city planning a lot, and eventually studied it at MIT.

What influenced your choice of graduate programs? How have they shaped your career choices and professional ability?

I chose to pursue a master’s in city planning because I liked all the different course descriptions I saw. I love that the field of city planning is so diverse, incorporating design, economics, health, real estate, history, policy, international relations, and many more subjects.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently or more of while you were at MIT?

At MIT I focused on enjoying my classes, and I don’t regret that. But at all three schools and at several points in my career, I wish I’d taken a little more time to stop, breathe, think, and rest.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Writing articles is very rewarding for me. I especially love the research part – turning up documents and interviewing strangers to find whatever truth I’m looking for.

I’ve also taught a number of classes, and one of the most rewarding things is to witness a student become a better writer or achieve a goal that’s meaningful to them. Although I generally feel that students and writers make their own way, it’s rewarding to play a part, or to create an environment where someone can succeed.

What professional development activities do you really find useful these days?

Lately I’ve especially enjoyed keeping in touch with people. An email or a text message from an old colleague always brightens my day. I like hearing how people are doing and what they’re thinking about. I keep in close contact with a few freelance journalists, and it’s nice to hear when they have a new story idea or get something published. Every once in a while, I can do someone a favor, or someone can do me a favor, like edit a draft story pitch or recommend a new editor to a contact. 

What career advice to you have for current MIT students, or those interested in entering your industry?

On a practical level: Write as much as possible, and write for a lot of different editors until you find the publications you like.

What do you like to do outside of work for fun/relaxation/inspiration??

I love to cook! I can’t say I’m a fabulous cook, but I really like every aspect – planning a recipe, grocery shopping, preparing ingredients. I love eating and feeding people. I love doing something with my hands and stepping away from the computer.