Danielle Acker Susanj '10 is a lawyer in Washington D.C.
What has been your vocational path since graduation? How did you end up where you are and what was the process of getting there? Is this what you expected to be doing?
I enrolled in law school at the University of Pennsylvania immediately following graduation. After three years of law school, I spent a year clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Des Moines, Iowa. I then joined my current firm in Washington, D.C., where I'm a litigation associate in the appellate practice.
I didn't seriously consider going into law until late in my junior year of college. It was something I'd always had in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t brave enough to actually find out what law school and being a lawyer would entail until that point. I finally started to talk to lawyers about their jobs and ended up in an internship in a district attorney's office. I discovered that I loved it, which confirmed for me that I wanted to go to law school. There are no lawyers in my family, so I knew little about what law school would be like, or what a clerkship was, or what area of law I would want to work in. I made the decision to clerk late in law school, and didn't discover that I loved appellate work until my last year of law school. So even though I had decided somewhat on a path by the time I graduated from college, the details have certainly shifted and developed, and continue to.
Can you share some ways that your history major has enriched your life?
The beauty of a history major for me was that I absolutely loved the content of classes, the stories of people and nations and understanding how things turned out the way they did--and I still remember a lot of what I learned and still enjoy reading books on topics or by authors I was exposed to in college. But at the same time, even if I didn't always realize it, the skills built through a history major are so versatile, and will serve you well long after you've forgotten the details of the Crimean War (sorry, Dr. Rapp!).
In light of your own experiences, what advice would you give to undergraduates? Do you have any advice specifically on making the most of a degree in history?
The most important thing I did was finally getting over the fear of reaching out to people I didn't really know, to learn about what their jobs were like and if I might want to pursue a similar career path. You don't have to have it all figured out in college, but it's also important not to think your next step is simply to choose among some list you have in your head of jobs that "people with history degrees" do. History is such a versatile major that the options are pretty much limitless, but you won't even know what they are if you aren't willing to just talk to people about what they do and what their jobs are like (and don't think that by talking to one person in a field you're interested in that you've learned what it would be like to be in that field--I learned that lawyers' job experiences can be so varied they don't even sound like the same career field). And one thing I learned is that people love to discuss their career experience, especially with college students/recent grads who are exploring different fields. I would love to talk to college students who are thinking about law school, and suggest things they might consider when weighing that option. I also think it's important to think beyond the particular school experience (e.g., what would law school be like) and ask what the career path after law school/graduate school could look like.
If you have gone on to graduate work, can you suggest some tangible connections between your history major and your graduate studies?
Since I went into law, the substantive knowledge I learned has been helpful, both as overlap with classes I took in law school and as background to other topics. But I think even more helpful are the skills I picked up in the process. The ability to read/comprehend/synthesize large quantities of information is particularly beneficial in law school, and I'm sure in other graduate experiences as well. The same thing is true for strong writing skills--learning to articulate a clear argument with support, and to think critically about other arguments being made and how to respond to them. History is a fairly common major for people going into law, and I have found it to be very useful.