A portrait of Alina Smyslova next to a zebra.
Alina Smyslova

What is your role here at NNSA? How does it align to our mission?

I am the Deputy Program Director for Sustainability within the Office of Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence (NSDD). I help countries keep radiation detection equipment running. This includes everything from helping countries develop procedures to training and maintenance. I help NNSA reduce the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism around the world by helping our partner countries build their capability to detect and stop nuclear and radiological material from being smuggled.

What did you study in school and how did it impact you personally and professionally?

I earned a Master’s of International Affairs, with a focus on International Security Policy. Through networking, I was able to participate in various internships during my studies, including one with an intelligence analysis company and a civil-military relations think tank in Serbia. This was a huge boost to my resume.

On a personal level, interacting with students from all over the world and diverse professional backgrounds – military, think tanks, journalist organizations, civil society advocates – broadened my view of international security and helped me see various issues we face from different perspectives. This is an approach I try to carry with me to this day.

How has your personal background/experience shaped your work?

My family immigrated to the United States in the early ‘90s and that drove my desire to work in the U.S. Government. I do not take the opportunities that I received – in education, career growth, lifestyle – for granted. I wanted to give back and serve the country that provided me with these opportunities. This is never far from the back of my mind, and on difficult work days I remind myself why I chose this career path.

What led you to a career in nuclear security?

My experiences in international security range from intelligence analysis on terrorist groups in Chechnya and the Balkans, to addressing border security issues and civil-military relations in Serbia, to minimizing the effects that U.S. military supply lines might have on governance in Central Asia. These experiences gave me insight into border security and how U.S. security impacts global security. When I was graduating from my master’s program, I was looking for an opportunity to continue working in this space and was fortunate to be selected for the NNSA Gradate Fellowship.

What is the best part about your job?

Being able to work daily with an extremely capable, committed, and creative group of people in my office here in D.C., across the Nuclear Security Enterprise, and with our partners around the world.

I am embarrassed to admit that I have been to many more countries than U.S. states. Now I am making it a point to visit a new state for vacation every year.

Alina Smyslova
Deputy Program Director for Sustainability, Office of Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence

Tell us something interesting about yourself.

I am embarrassed to admit that I have been to many more countries than U.S. states. Now I am making it a point to visit a new state for vacation every year.

What do you find most challenging and/or rewarding about your profession?

The most challenging and rewarding part of my job is the numerous partner countries we work with on a daily basis.

The challenging part is that every country has a different professional culture, negotiation style, organizational hierarchy, and personality. It has been critical to learn and understand the differences of each in order to maximize the effectiveness of our negotiations and partnerships.

The most rewarding part is being able to experience the different cultures and sit in rooms with people from so many different parts of the world.

How is NNSA different from other organizations you’ve worked for?

The diverse professional experiences that its employees bring to the table. Nowhere else in my professional career have I had the pleasure to sit around a table with international affairs professionals, nuclear scientists, and military staff. This mix brings different viewpoints and perspectives to discussions, and I believe it allows us to come up with the best solutions.

How has NNSA affected your career?

NNSA is such a large organization that you can always find a project or career path to explore. As part of my time here, I not only worked in my current office on nuclear smuggling, but had the opportunity to work directly for former Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty and the former Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. These experiences helped me understand how NSDD fits into broader U.S. nonproliferation efforts, how NNSA fits into broader U.S. security efforts, and what it takes to run a large organization.

What advice do you have for young women and girls interested in a career like yours?

Pursue opportunities to ask questions. Talk to people in jobs that interest you. Try out various internships. Do anything you can to understand what is out there. As a young person it is easy to forget that there is a world out there beyond the careers of the people in your immediate circle. Learning about the different options and paths that are available is the critical first step to getting to the career you want.

Who is a woman that inspires you and why?

I am inspired by my mother who worked extremely hard her entire life and never wavered from pursuing the career she chose, even when it was difficult or did not make financial sense. I am also inspired by the numerous women I have had the pleasure to work under in NNSA – Kasia Mendelsohn, Christine Bent, Tricia O’Brien – just to name a few. All these women have very different work styles, but each of them is extremely knowledgeable about their area of expertise, a creative thinker, and shows poise and patience during challenging situations. These are characteristics I am consciously trying to hone in my professional life.