[00:00:01] Sean Goheen (Host):
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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[00:00:55] Sean: Anna Han, class of 2010, is the director of judicial clerkships in the career Development office at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, and previously worked as an attorney for Covington and Burling. After earning her Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering with honors in 2010 and her JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Anna joins Following the Gong as a past board member for the Scholar Alumni Society to discuss her time as a scholar in biomedical engineering, pivoting from Stem to law, and her time as a teacher. She shares insights on her time on campus as an RA. To off campus in a paid co op and competing on Jeopardy. Before her early career as a teacher. Anna then dives into all things law from approaching law school with an engineering background, the benefit of clerkships, working as a patent attorney and now working at a law school. This episode is valuable for any scholar and especially for those who are in Stem but are considering other paths, those pursuing teaching, and those interested in legal careers. Her full bio and a detailed breakdown of topics to stressed are available in the show notes on your podcast app. With that, let's dive into our conversation with Anna Han Following the Gong.
[00:02:01] Sean: Joining me here today on Following the Gong is attorney and career services professional Anna Han. Anna, thank you so much for joining us here on the show today.
[00:02:09] Anna Han: Thanks so much, Sean, for having me. It's so great to have this opportunity to talk to scholars.
[00:02:14] Sean: Well, I'm excited that you're able to join us all the way from California here virtually today. And Anna, I always like to start by asking, how did you first come to Penn State and the Schreyer Honors College?
[00:02:25] Anna: Yeah, so I went to high school in Pennsylvania. My family still lives in Allentown, and I'd definitely heard of Penn State. I was interested in studying science and engineering, and Penn State was really strong in those areas. I applied to other schools that were strong in those areas. I don't remember exactly how I had heard of Schreyer, but I was taking honors in AP classes. There were people from my high school and class leaders above me who had gone to Schreyer. So I thought it made sense to apply to the Honors College. And when I was making my college decision, ultimately it came down to Penn State and Georgia Tech. I gotten waitlisted at Duke. A lot of things weighed in Penn State's favor. I'd gone into schreyer. I had a scholarship from the College of Engineering. I also have a much younger brother who's now a rising junior in the Honors College, and I wanted to be close to home to see him grow up, not too close to home. So Allentown's still a few hours away, so ultimately, that's why I came to Penn State in the Honors College.
[00:03:23] Sean: I think that is definitely a good reason. I think family oftentimes is a driving factor for a lot of faults as well as the academics, and honestly, that was Duke's loss. So I'm glad that you were able to stay home and go to Penn State and join us here at the Honors College. Now, I'm going to jump ahead just a little bit in your story, and then we'll take a step back into your scholar days. But if you've read the show notes, you'll see that you've had a really cool career, but you're not doing anything with engineering. So how did you realize, once you got to Penn State and you're doing your Honors Work in engineering, how did you decide that that wasn't the path that you wanted to pursue?
[00:03:58] Anna: So I think this is a plug for experiential education, right? Like, getting opportunities to actually observe and do the work that you think you want to do is often where you might learn you actually don't want to do it. So I had worked in different labs at Penn State, including my honors thesis lab. I also did two co ops at a consumer pharmaceutical company outside of Philadelphia. So I did full time pharmaceutical work. And as I was going through those experiences, I realized I wasn't passionate about the work that I thought I was going to be passionate about. And many people alongside that I was working with were really passionate about that work. So I saw the contrast and I realized this is probably not the path that I want to go down. As far as the work in Stem, I didn't enjoy how isolating it was to do the kinds of experiments I was doing. I was working in the dark, looking under a microscope at slides for hours at a time, and it just felt like something that I didn't think I would want to make a career out of. And so around my junior year, that was when I started thinking, what else could be out there? I knew already at the time I was going to take a super senior year because I had done a co op and just pushed some of my class requirements back. So I knew I had a little bit of time still to figure it out.
[00:05:21] Sean: It's interesting because the things that you just said may be a reason for other students who want to pursue work in engineering. If they enjoy, like, maybe they don't want to be around people terribly much. And you're a people person, I think, from my experience with you, and obviously the work that you're doing, a lot of relational work and career services. Is that fair?
[00:05:39] Anna: Yeah. I like to think of myself as an extroverted introvert. I get energy from being around people, but I am shy to begin with and a little hesitant to kind of jump into those social situations. But I really do enjoy working on teams and being around others in professional and personal environments.
[00:05:59] Sean: I agree. That's kind of how I am, too. Once things warm up a bit, I can kind of get going. So I can appreciate that. And for you listening, I think a key takeaway here from Anna is there's that balance, like, what you're good at, what you enjoy, and those situational pieces, too, really matter because you may have been good at the engineering things. Certainly you graduated with honors, but if that's what you're doing day in, day out, it's kind of miserable for you. Find something that gets you out of bed in the morning. Right?
[00:06:24] Anna: Exactly. Yeah. My husband is a scientist, and that's really, like, all he wants to do. And I see the difference between us, and I realize that I would not be good at his job, and he has no interest in being a lawyer or doing career services.
[00:06:40] Sean: That's important to know. And you talked about experiences, so I want to dive in. You had some really cool experiences that you shared from your days on campus as a scholar. And I want to actually start first with the co op. Can you talk about what a co op is for students who may not be familiar? I think most people probably know what an internship is, but a co op is a little bit different, if you can quickly explain that.
[00:07:01] Anna: Sure. So a co op is an opportunity to work full time outside of the academic space at State. So I essentially, like my spring semester, junior year, I left. I moved to the Philadelphia suburbs, and I worked at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, which is a Johnson Johnson subsidiary. They make Tylenol, a bunch of other medications. So I was essentially embedded in one of their pharmaceutical groups, and we were working on Zyrtec, and I worked day in and day out on studying formulations, studying the release of the drug, and basically performing and planning experiments to do that work. It was a great opportunity to get into the corporate world, to see how different that was from working in labs at Penn State and also just a way to make more money, because that was a paid experience.
[00:08:01] Sean: That's definitely a plus when you can get paid for the experiences on campus or in a co op or internship. And speaking of some ones that you had on campus, you shared also that you were both a resident assistant and a scholar assistant. So can you explain those roles? And if students are interested in those, what are they? Why should they consider them if they're looking for different things to get involved with in the college or on the Penn State campus that they're at?
[00:08:26] Anna: Sure. I'll start with being a resident assistant. I was interested in doing that because, like I said, I'm an extroverted introvert, so I wanted to meet people. I wanted to kind of have an excuse to come out of my shell and walk around and talk to people on the first day of school. So I thought being a resident assistant was a way to accomplish that for scholars. I assume if you live on campus, you have a resident assistant. You know that they are a person that you can go to if you have any kind of challenges. They can direct you to resources, and they also are disciplinarians. Right. They go on duty. They make sure that the rules are being followed. I didn't love that piece of it. I don't find myself to be particularly stirred in that way. But I learned a lot in the role about starting out and setting good expectations with residents, for better or worse. I learned about crisis management and what to do in those types of emergency situations. So in order to become an RA, and I think this is still the case, I took an RA class. You learn in that class about being a good listener, how to engage with other people, building trust in them, and how to have difficult conversations. And all of that has played out really well in my future careers. And the residence life community is so great. It's so diverse in terms of people with personal identity, different personal identities, different backgrounds, and different professional aspirations. So we were all in different majors, had different experiences, and I really valued getting that opportunity to meet people that I might not have been able to meet otherwise. And now I'll talk about being a scholar assistant. I was a scholar assistant my senior year in Atherton. I wanted to be more involved in the Honors College, and there were four scholar assistants. So we planned programs, mostly social types of programs like Simmons atherton Social Hour, Sash. I think that still occurs. And we also each worked with a member of the college staff. So I worked with Lisa Kirchzynski, who was then the director of career development. So that was my first exposure to career services and higher ed in that sense. Probably what sparked my interest in career services. So I planned programs with Lisa where we'd have alums come and talk to scholars about their career paths in different areas. And one part of my job today is exactly that.
[00:10:47] Sean: So regardless of the different experiences you've had, you've been able to pull into. I'm sure you're using some of your engineering skills, but also the practical experiences from being an RA and working with people and the program planning from being an essay. So no matter what you go into, you can take skills from what seems like disparate experiences and use them regardless of what you end up doing.
[00:11:06] Anna: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's a lot of transferable skills to be learned in any experience, and you don't have to know what you want to do afterward or ten years from then. But I think everything kind of compounds into something useful, and sometimes those experiences.
[00:11:22] Sean: Anna, are volunteer roles, so a lot of the ones you've already referenced have been paid gigs. But this one kind of jumped out of me. You shared that you volunteered at the State Theater downtown. What inspired you to go volunteer at an arts venue as an engineering student?
[00:11:37] Anna: Yeah. So I think it's important to find balance in your life. School is important, but it's also healthy to have a life outside of school too. The same would go for the workplace. So I had always really enjoyed live music and live theater. I'm a huge Broadway fan, so at Penn State, I'd seen shows at Eisenhower and the BJC and the State Theater, and so I was just looking for more opportunities to do that. And I think I'd seen on the State Theater website or in one of their emails that they were looking for volunteers. And I thought, what a great way to see shows that I wanted to see for free. So the commitment was you show up early, you hand out programs, you help people get seated, find the restrooms and all of that, and then you just stay for the show and you clean up afterward. And I thought it was really fun to do that. And I actually discovered one of my favorite bands today. They were co headlining a show with Carbon Leaf. The band was Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, and I had never heard of them before, and they turned out to know better than I even thought Carbon Leaf was. I've seen them probably like, nine times since then.
[00:12:45] Sean: Sometimes you never know where those formative things in your life are going to come from volunteering or saying yes to go. I think a past guest had talked about a midnight breakfast kind of thing that they did with a roommate, and they're lifelong best friends now, so saying yes to some of these little opportunities can have a big influence on you.
[00:13:05] Anna: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:13:07] Sean: You need to answer this next one in the form of a question, because it's time for a daily double, and I hope that's not copyright infringement. You were on this game show as a scholar.
[00:13:16] Anna: What is jeopardy? More specifically, what is college jeopardy? I represented Penn State in the 2007 college championship. I think I was the first Penn Stater in that particular tournament, and it was really just a dream come true. I think people probably say this a lot about Jeopardy or being on TV. I had grown up watching Jeopardy with my parents at the dinner table. I'd done academic team, like Quiz Bowl in high school.
I just love trivia. And it was one of the first years that they had an online test. So I still remember taking the online test in my room in Simmons. I went to a in person audition in New York. And then over spring break, I think that was my sophomore year, I got the call to go on. I was at my parents'house and I was by myself. And I just remember jumping up and down after I hung up. And my show actually happened to air a little late in the semester, probably in May. And so I organized a watch party with my friends in the Atherton basement. I didn't win, sadly, but it was super fun.
[00:14:20] Sean: That is awesome. And of course, the Schreyer scholar would be the one representing at the Collegiate Jeopardy. That is really cool. And I think we just recently had another student go on the show, too, in the past year or so.
[00:14:32] Anna: Yeah, I think that's right.
[00:14:33] Sean: You set a nice legacy there and a foundation for us, Anna, to represent on kind of a classic American game show. And a final question before we get to your thesis about your undergrad experience. Can you tell the theme here is really just kind of the variety of different things you can do and not being tied down to what your major says. So in a great nod to the C in our mission, you created a club. So how did you go about that? Because a student may say, I have this interest, but there's not a registered organization for this yet. So how did you go about that and what was so special about the one that you ended up making?
[00:15:05] Anna: Yeah, I think the lesson here is it's not that hard to start a club if you feel like there's a gap that needs to be filled. You can go and submit the paperwork and get funding for your club, and you never know what will happen in the process. So the club that my friends and I started was the Biomedical Sciences Club. My friend Kara, who had I also gone to high school with and also was a scholar. We went to a club fair at the beginning of our sophomore year, and there was a professor there who was really, like, recruiting students who were interested in biomedical sciences. And Kara was in the College of AG, I was in the College of Engineering, but we were both interested generally in biomedical sciences, and it turned out the club didn't actually exist yet. But the professor was really interested in kind of spearheading something so there were a handful of us who were interested, including my now husband Dan, who was a biochem and molecular biology major in Everly. And I didn't know him before we started this club, but we know got together, created the structure and the vision, along with Dr. Howell, the professor. And the goal was really to expose students to different careers in the biomedical sciences, different research that was going on. And so we mostly brought professors from Penn State to talk about their research and about their career paths. And they were from all across the university. And we also sometimes would bring speakers from companies or other universities if they were visiting campus to talk about themselves. And we kept this gong for the years that I was in college. I think it still exists. And so for anybody who's listening, if you're interested in the biomedical sciences, you should look up this club.
[00:16:41] Sean: Yeah, I can't speak to whether it's active or not. If it's active, go join it if that sounds like it's something of interest to you. And if it's not active, well, maybe you could be the one to follow in Anna's shoes and get it going again if it for some reason has gone inactive.
[00:16:54] Anna: Right, exactly.
[00:16:55] Sean: So speaking of kind of the hard science part of your story here, time to talk thesis. So how did that fit into your educational journey as an engineering student? And long term, what impact has it had on your career from the skills and lessons learned element of the experience? Because I'm assuming you're probably not using the technical laboratory piece in a career services role, but how has it helped you regardless of what the topic was?
[00:17:20] Anna: Yeah, I did my thesis in a neuroscience lab. So the professor who is no longer at Penn State, Dr. Gong Chen, he was in Everly, but I was really interested in his research. He was doing really cool work on neurodegeneration, and I sought him out. And I was able to still get honors in bioengineering because the research was closely related enough. And I just needed to get an additional thesis reader from bioengineering on my committee. Pretty simple to get honors even outside of my particular major. The research itself was on neuronal polarity and how certain proteins impact the development of neurons. So we were studying essentially abnormal development and how you could try and rescue the abnormal development. So the implications were there for diseases like Parkinson's. Like I said before, I think that's where I realized, though, I didn't want to go into graduate school for Stem, but the skills I learned were really helpful. I was planning experiments. I was kind of thinking ahead to different outcomes and what ifs. Obviously I did technical writing and I also did literature review where I was reading technical papers. And for bioengineering, I don't know if this is still the case. We actually had to do a thesis defense. So we had to do an oral presentation of our research to our thesis committee and then answer questions. Certainly all those skills applied to my later career as a patent litigator. I was reading technical papers and patents. I was trying to synthesize complicated information. I was helping to plan out case strategy and what would happen if the judge said this and what would happen if the judge ruled against us on something. And I also had to do presentations and negotiate with the other side. So all of those things, I think really at the time, I wouldn't have foreseen would be useful necessarily in a career as a lawyer, but for my particular practice, they definitely were.
[00:19:16] Sean: That is awesome. I think some students say, like, oh, I don't want to go to grad school. How is this useful? And I think the experience of writing at the project management and being able to, in your case, go through lots of, I'm sure, very dry technical documents was very helpful.
[00:19:32] Anna: Yeah, definitely. And I would say today, in preparation for this, I looked at my thesis and I was like, this almost feels like a foreign language. I don't remember a lot of it, unfortunately. And it just is so far removed now from the work that I've done.
[00:19:47] Sean: But still useful nonetheless.
[00:19:48] Anna: Yes.
[00:19:49] Sean: So, Anna, we're going to shift into your career now, and at the time of recording, you're in your early 30s, like I am, and you're certainly still early in your career, but you've done a lot, so we're gong to dive into that. So you said you didn't want to go to grad school for Stem. You didn't want to go engineering. So how did you decide which path you were going to take coming out? So kind of going from the negative to the positive here. So walk us through that decision making process, the research. How did you figure out what those next steps were?
[00:20:16] Anna: Yeah, so even as I was continuing in the engineering path, I knew that I had an interest in teaching, and that started even before college. My parents immigrated from China with me when I was very young, and I saw that as their education and socioeconomic status improved, so did my quality of education as I was going to different public schools. The unfortunate reality, of course, is that the quality of schools oftentimes depends on where someone is located. And so my awareness of that growing up made me want to give back and teach in an underserved school. In high school, I participated in the Pennsylvania Governor's School for Teaching, and that's where I first heard about Teach for America, which is an organization that trains and places teachers in underserved schools to teach for two years, minimum of two years commitment. So in college, I worked for Teach for America. I worked on campus as a campaign coordinator, meaning I gave dozens of presentations to classes and student organizations, scholars listening to this may have heard from a campus campaign coordinator during their time on campus. I also worked in New York for a summer for the Teacher America Training Institute there. So given those experiences, I was pretty sure that I wanted to apply, and I was lucky enough to get in. At the same time, I didn't think I was going to be a teacher forever. So that's why I was looking at other career paths and ultimately applied to law school as well.
[00:21:36] Sean: I'm curious because kind of reading through the questionnaire answers that you shared, and again, if this is your first time listening, there's a questionnaire I share with our guests that helps me write the questions I'm asking. And I want to know, what was it like being a teacher without a teaching degree and what advice would you give for scholars who know whether it's through Teach for America or just kind of independently but end up in a similar position?
[00:21:57] Anna: There are a lot of places where you can get alternative certifications. I think being a new teacher is hard regardless of whether you have a teaching degree or not. But if you have a teaching degree or you have student teaching experience or have worked or volunteered in schools before, it's certainly going to make the learning curve less steep. Teach for America has a summer training where you teach summer school for maybe a few hours a day for a few weeks. And it's really like a crash course in lesson planning and classroom management and how to do the kind of nuts and bolts as a teacher. But it's also a very artificial environment, right? Like, my summer school class was tiny. I had a co teacher. I was only teaching one subject. And then you fast forward to the fall. I'm planning Algebra One and geometry. I have six class periods. I've got 150 students or something, and I'm the only one. So it was really intimidating. But I had a great support system, and I think that's really important to find colleagues and peers who are in the same boat as you, who you can talk to and brainstorm about simpler ways to do things or being more efficient and effective in your job. And I think my RA training really helped in terms of setting expectations early. I was known as a no nonsense teacher very early on because I learned as an RA, you can always get more lenient, but you can't really unrang the bell if you start letting students get away with things at the beginning of the school year. So I think for people who are interested in teaching, there are different routes to that, and I think there is definitely a benefit to getting a degree. Once I was in my master's program for education policy, there were a lot of times where I thought, wow, I wish I'd known this as a teacher, or wow, this explains so much about my teaching experience. And I think it would be great if we valued teachers more and really thought of it as a profession where people should be getting a lot of education and higher education in terms of professional degrees. I think we do students a disservice in not doing that. But I think that there's still a high need in many places. When I was teaching in Memphis at the time, my students had a full time substitute for half the year for social studies. Right. So there's a balance there of wanting the most educated teachers that you can get, but also needing to fill positions that are available.
[00:24:19] Sean: I think that's all really good insight for students who maybe end up teaching if that's something that they decide that they want to do or try out for a little bit. And obviously I think there's a lot more we could do for teachers that could be its own. I'm sure there's whole podcast about that out there, so we're not going to dive into that. But did you go into it knowing that it was going to be like a short term thing, or did you decide once you were there that, okay, I need to think about what my next step is?
[00:24:45] Anna: So I was pretty sure that I wanted to go to law school by the time that I was in my senior year and into my super senior year, I was fairly short. I didn't see teaching as a long term career, so I applied to law school at the same time I applied to Teach for America. And when I got into law school, I deferred to do Teach for America for two years, and so I kind of had a five year plan at that point. I was going to do Teach for America for two years, and then I was going to go to law school for three years.
[00:25:17] Sean: So can you walk us through kind of your law school experience from taking the Lsets? We already talked the teaching, so we'll just pretend you went from applying and deciding. How did you look at schools, decide which one to go to and then through the L, one L, two interning and everything up through graduation?
[00:25:36] Anna: Yeah, absolutely. So I remember taking the LSAT the summer before my last year of college. I was at Penn State working on my thesis through a summer Discovery Grant. But I was studying for the LSAT at the same time. I remember looking at the books in the Schreyer Garden, and I think deciding where to apply really depended on my LSAT score and where it would be close to the median of that law school. And GPA is also a component of that. And so I ended up applying to maybe five or six schools. Penn was one of them, Duke was one of them. And I actually got into Duke, and I was looking at know that had good career outcomes. I think. That's really important, right? Because law school is a professional school, and so anybody considering law school should be looking at where did the graduates from that school get jobs and what kinds of jobs? So that was definitely an important piece for it. I decided on going to law school in the first place because I thought it was a good mix of my skills and interests. I had a friend who had gone to Pitt, studied chemistry, and had this goal of becoming a patent lawyer. And so as I was talking with him about his process, I realized this sounds like a good mix for me in terms of getting to do technical related work, but not working in a Stem lab. And I also got to meet a patent lawyer at Johnson Johnson when I was working on My. So, you know, getting to talk to folks who had already gone down this path was really useful for me. And then law school itself, I mean, it's challenging. The first year especially, you're kind of dropped into this environment where it's unlike any other class that I had taken, at least where they're just huge classes. You're learning a brand new language, a brand new topic, at least for me coming from Stem, and there was just a pretty steep learning curve. There aren't any prerequisites to being a lawyer. So you're in a class with people who've studied all kinds of things. I will say I think it's useful to get work experience before going to law school. I think that really helped me in terms of just getting some perspective about working in the real world, especially coming from teaching law school felt like it was really selfish, like all I had to do was worry about myself, and it felt very low stakes. The only thing was really my career outcome at the end. So it gave me perspective when a professor called on me in class doing the Socratic method, and I didn't have the right answer. It wasn't the end of the world at that point, and so I thought that was really important. So my view is no one should go to law school if they don't want to be a lawyer, but you should make sure that you are getting the information that you need to make that decision. I feel like for a lot of my classmates, they had done paralegal work before law school, and I think that gave them a healthy understanding of what it was like to be a lawyer. And they, I think, had a kind of step up in terms of knowing the legal jargon already and how things operated.
[00:28:39] Sean: There was folks with lots of different backgrounds, and so you were able to bring both your engineering undergrad and your teaching experience. So how did that help you in the academic sense? I know you said perceptually. That's a word. It wasn't the states of impacting a student's future, but still helpful nonetheless. So how did that for students who maybe are coming from, I'd say, a less traditional major like mine, like political science or history, the ones that commonly feed into law school students. How did the engineering help you?
[00:29:11] Anna: I think people coming from Stem backgrounds, one, there's a benefit in terms of the way that you're already taught to think in terms of the logical thinking skills. Part of the Lsets at the time was like a logic gains section. So I think Stem majors tend to do well on that. I think in terms of substance, teaching really helped me with time management. It really helped me with trying to break down complicated topics into bite sized chunks that I could teach every day. And that translated to law school, where you're reading pretty complicated cases, you're outlining them, you're trying to pick out the most important details. And so I think that my past experiences helped me in law school, even though they were completely new subject areas.
[00:30:03] Sean: Transferable skills kind of important, might be a theme of this.
[00:30:06] Anna: Yep.
[00:30:07] Sean: Now, Anna, you decided to torture yourself a little bit. Some law programs allow you to pursue a concurrent degree, can be a master's in different topics, sometimes an MBA. You pursued one in educational policy. So what drove you to do that, and how did you balance that additional workload?
[00:30:28] Anna: I already knew that I was going to Penn, I had decided, and the school is really known for cross disciplinary education, so there are a lot of joint degree opportunities. There are a lot of certificate programs that you could do with other schools at Penn. And I knew that Penn had a great education school. It was going to be possible to get two degrees without extending my time in law school. And by the time I applied, I was already in my first year of teaching. I really enjoyed it. I thought I might want to do something in education one day, particularly in education policy, because that's where a lot of the important decision making is happening. So I thought a master's in education policy was going to give me credibility in the future if I wanted to continue in education.
[00:31:11] Sean: Anna, we're going to jump ahead a little bit. So obviously you went and worked for a law firm for several years, did the associate thing. I think we've had some previous guests who've covered that sort of thing, and you can really help scholars. So we're just going to jump ahead to what you're doing now at UC Berkeley School of Law. So can you just explain what you do there first, and then we'll dive into the different types of opportunities that law students can explore?
[00:31:38] Anna: Sure. So I work in the career development office at Berkeley Law. I am the Director of Judicial Courtships, which means I counsel students and alumni who are interested in working for judges at a state or federal court. Courtships are a really great opportunity to see how a court system works, to understand how judges make their decisions, and to build your research and writing and critical thinking skills. As a clerk, you get to review the arguments from both sides. You get to work with the judge to figure out essentially who is making the better argument under the law, what does the law say and what should the outcome be in this particular case? So you get to do drafting of final orders or opinions for the judge. You get to sit in on trials if you're working at a trial court, and it's just a really valuable experience for anybody who wants to be a litigator, especially and be in a courtroom in the future. So I quirked for a federal judge in Memphis right out of law school for one year. And most of the clerkships are temporary. They're one or two years, and then you pursue other, more permanent opportunities.
[00:32:51] Sean: So how did you talk about your clerkship when you were going for your litigator role that you had?
[00:32:59] Anna: Yeah, so I don't know if that is necessarily the right way to go about it, because in law school, you work your first and second summer. So I already knew that I was going to work at the law firm after graduation, and I got the courtship and deferred the law firm. So they didn't actually hire me even on the basis of knowing that I got the courtship, but definitely really valuable experience in terms of building the skills that I was talking. You know, I just happened to work at a firm that got a case that was filed in front of the judge that I clerked. So, you know, a partner initially just said, hey, Anna, we have this case before your like, can we just chat, know how the judge thinks and what, you know, his his past decisions. And then there was a need for an associate on that case, so I got pulled onto it because I had quirked for him. And so it was a great way for me to get more experience and get on a cold case because I had quirked for the judge.
[00:33:58] Sean: So for students who are exploring law school or are in maybe they're a young alum listening and they're in law school, what should they be doing right now to prepare themselves to take advantage of these opportunities beyond kind of the standard internship? Internship? I guess you kind of maybe get a little bit of time off after you graduate, and then you go do whatever job that you got.
[00:34:20] Anna: Yeah, I think for scholars who are thinking about law school, like I said, I think it's important just to learn more about the experience that you're gong into. So if you have opportunities to talk to a lawyer or shadow a lawyer, or if you have an idea of what career you think you want, take a look at that person's bio on LinkedIn or on their website and you can see what internships have they done or what courtships have they done and where have they worked before. If you could work for a judge as an undergrad, great. I know not everyone can. These jobs are often unpaid, unfortunately. But that is another experience that can help you decide what it is you want to do. And within law, there's just so many different opportunities. It's not necessarily that just because you go to law school, you have to be a trial lawyer and you show up in court like law and order, right? There are many different career paths in the law. Yes, you can do litigation and be in court, but there's also corporate and transactional work, which is less adversarial. You're working to get to an outcome that everybody wants, right? You're working on a merger, you're working on a sale, or you're working in tax or real estate. And so those are things where there's nothing really in dispute besides the terms that you want to agree on to get to an outcome. And then just know that there are a lot of different sectors that you can work in too. So you can work in the private sector and you can work for a law firm or a company, but you also have public sector employees, like state, federal, local governments. You have public interest employers who are nonprofits or they're legal aid organizations. So there's a lot of different paths to pursue after just going to law school.
[00:36:08] Sean: Some past guests that we've had, we've had some folks who've worked more. We've had a patent attorney, John Hemmer, on one of our earliest episodes. Kind of similar work to what you have done. I think you were a little bit more on the litigation side. I think he's a little bit more on the client side, helping them file patents and things. Other folks who have been in house counsel for companies and they're doing contracts and like you said, it's less adversarial. I think the only time I've currently employed a lawyer was buying a house, and that's not adversarial at all. Typically where the closing and doing the deed and all the legal paperwork involved there. But I do want to actually go back. I kind of put my foot in my mouth a little bit. I do actually do want to hear a little bit about the work that you were doing before, because you talked about some of these cases and being in a litigation side of things. So what was that like, being on the litigation part of a case, because you were a patent attorney and technical, things like that, and helping people defend their copyrights, their intellectual property. So can you just talk a little bit about what that specific type of law was like?
[00:37:10] Anna: Absolutely. So most of my work involved representing large pharmaceutical companies in legal disputes. So in their litigation, most of the matters were involving infringement of their patents. There are both utility patents and design patents. So I worked on a variety of matters involving either of those. I also worked on at least one matter where they were trying to defend a trademark. And so after a lawsuit is filed, the attorneys will review documents. They will do the case law research. They'll look at what are the applicable cases in this particular dispute. We'll draft memos or legal briefs that get filed by the court, and then the court will decide who's right or wrong. And then if you move further forward in the case, there are depositions, and then you may actually get to trial, where you put witnesses on the stand, and you have to prepare those witnesses, and you have to also prepare cross examination for the other side's witnesses. Sometimes those cases can be fairly long and drawn out. And I did a variety of other kind of science patent related work in terms of reviewing patents for companies that did want to do a sale. So that was non adversarial. But I still got to bring in my science expertise, my technical background, and I also got to do a lot of pro bono work for students who don't know. Pro bono work is the client is not paying, but the attorney is doing the work for free for the client. And so the firm that I was at, Covington, had a really strong pro bono practice. They really supported attorneys who wanted to do pro bono work. And one of my most important cases was representing prisoners in Mississippi who were in a class action lawsuit. The claims at issue were they were suffering from excessive use of force, that they were receiving inadequate medical and mental health care at a facility that was specifically designed or supposed to be the mental health facility for prisoners with mental health issues. And I worked on that case for a couple of years. Ultimately, we went to a five week trial, and the firm sent a whole team down to Mississippi to participate in the trial, and it was really rewarding work. Unfortunately, we lost the case, but our clients got to have their day in court. I think that's one part of litigation that I think is really important is recognizing that people deserve to have their claims heard and that people have the opportunity to get a chance at justice.
[00:39:40] Sean: Well, that is really cool of the firm to be able to support that. And as you were talking about the first know, it's really cool that you're currently able to call back to your experience in your current role with Lisa Kay as a scholar assistant. And in that case, a lot of your cases, you were able to call back probably on your co op at Johnson Johnson.
[00:39:58] Anna: Yep, absolutely. I think there were know. Every patent is different. Every case is going to be new. There's no way to necessarily already know everything going into it. But my familiarity from reading technical documents and reading patents for my time in college was certainly helpful in understanding some of the jargon.
[00:40:17] Sean: Absolutely. Now, outside of work, Anna, you were previously a board member for the Scholar Alumni Society. And all of your professions, teaching, legal, career services, all of those lend themselves to professional and volunteer roles. So how do you approach those sorts of opportunities? And if you can explain that in a way that's dollars to learn the value of getting involved in your industry.
[00:40:39] Anna: Yeah, I think in terms of networking, that's been super important of just getting to build my professional network and know people who have done similar things or know people who can help introduce you to other folks, I think has been really useful. I think that you never know who you're going to meet and you never know who one day might reach out to you for an opportunity or that you might find interesting in terms of getting information about a new job or a new position. It's funny. When I interviewed for my current job in the career development Office, I went back to my law school courtship counselor, and I said, hey, can I talk to you about what it is your role is? And so I think in all of those different career and volunteer roles, just making sure that you're building relationships and keeping that going, it can be really helpful.
[00:41:36] Sean: So what kind of questions about either career services, jobs, law school education, legal practice, and clerkships? Should I have asked that I just didn't know to? Or maybe put a different way, what are some questions that you often get from student mentees that you could answer here?
[00:41:52] Anna: I think one question is in the application process. I worked with a lot of students who are applying to judges, and I talk to a lot of students who are applying to law school. I think it's important for people to know that you can take it in bite sized pieces. It seems daunting at the very beginning, but breaking it down into little steps of I'm going to work on my resume, and then I'm going to work on my cover letter, and I'm gong to work on my essays. Right. I think one piece that is common both in applying to law school and applying to courtships is letters of recommendation. And so that's one part where I would say, start to think about who your recommenders would be. Start to think about, are there professors that you have enjoyed working with? Are there professors who would be able to say good things about you in a letter of recommendation? I remember when I applied to law school, I asked my honors advisor, and he was like, I've never written a letter of recommendation for law school before.
I'm an engineering faculty, so I actually photocopied sections from how to Get into Law School book about letters of recommendation, and I provided that to my professor to say, here's what law schools are looking for. If you can somehow make your letter sound like it's covering these things, that would be really great. So I think that is something just to keep in mind, that you want to make things easy for your recommenders and you want to provide them with the information that they need to help sell you to a law school or to a judge.
[00:43:25] Sean: That is a really good point, and that also applies for job references, generally med school graduate programs outside of so. And I like the going above and beyond with taking the book samples there for your professor. That's awesome. Now, Anna, this is the last part we do with everybody here, and this is your chance to brag. What would you say is your biggest.
[00:43:46] Anna: Success to date, besides being a parent and making it through the first year of parenting a child? I would say my biggest success to date does feel like the pro bono case that I got to work on when I was at Covington. Even though our clients lost, it was a chance for them to have their story heard by a federal judge in public court. We had good publicity for it, and the local press, the New York Times even came and did a story. And so I think throughout the course of the case, the conditions at the prison did improve because there was awareness about it, because the people running the prison knew that there were eyes on this. And so certainly by the end of the case, the prison was not how we as the attorneys for our clients, would have wanted it to be, but we knew that things had gotten better because we had represented them.
[00:44:40] Sean: Yeah, absolutely. When I was reading your bit about that in advance, it's like you got it not only in the federal court, but you also got it out into the court of public opinion, which is its own beast.
[00:44:50] Anna: Yes, exactly.
[00:44:51] Sean: Able to leverage that on your behalf of your clients as well. Now, Anna, on the flip side of that, though, what would you say is the biggest transformational learning moment or mistake that you've had and what you learned from that experience moving forward?
[00:45:03] Anna: My time teaching was certainly challenging. Like I said, I think the first year of teaching is hard for everybody. I think that was a point where I realized up until then, the inputs that I had kind of reflected the outputs. I would work hard at something and I would kind of get the outcome that I had intended or that I wanted. And teaching wasn't really like that. And I remember visiting one of my high school teachers over Thanksgiving break, my first year of teaching, and he asked, how is it going? He was a math teacher, too, and he was like, how's it going? And I said, well, it's really hard. And he said, yeah, teaching is one field or profession where the inputs just don't necessarily match the outputs. It was frustrating to me, but I realized a lot of people feel this way and this is just a reality of the profession. And I think from then on, I tried to really figure out what is within my locus of control, what are the things where I can actually have the inputs match the outputs and try hard at that and then just be okay with kind of letting go of control.
[00:46:08] Sean: I think that's really important to understand in all aspects of your life. And you referenced being a parent earlier, certainly parenting. Yes. Or like, which of these things do I want to deal with or not? That's a good thing to learn at some point early on. Now, Anna, this next question you may be able to build on your answer about the letters of rec. How do you approach mentorship, both as a mentor and a mentee? And how can students proactively seek out those opportunities and make sure that they're getting a variety of mentors in their life and career?
[00:46:40] Anna: I think it starts with finding people that you admire or finding people that you feel like you have a good connection with. And then from there, I think it's incumbent on the mentee to really keep the conversation gong and to ask for what they need, even if they don't know what it is that they need. Just asking questions generally, like, how did you get to the career that you're in? What advice do you have from me? Because I am doing XYZ things or I'm trying to apply to these opportunities. And keeping your mentor engaged in you is really, I think, the key part of it, because it's easy to just get lost in the day to day of other things and get that relationship to kind of trickle away. I admit that as a mentee, I'm also not that great at keeping in touch and keeping my mentors engaged, but I think it's something that everybody can work on. There are no dumb questions I think is also good to remember. I have a lot of students that I work with who are like, this is going to be a dumb question, and I just tell them, it's better that you ask than to go down this path not knowing and assuming something that is wrong. So definitely keep asking questions and keep your mentors engaged. I think people really want to know what's going on with their mentees. They want to be invested in their success and celebrate their success with them.
[00:48:06] Sean: Next time you watch any episode of a sitcom that will reinforce the point animated about, just ask or just clarify something because there are no dumb questions. Almost every sitcom plot would be resolved within the first five minutes if somebody had just asked a clarifying question early on. Right, Anna?
[00:48:24] Anna: Yeah. The episodes are all about miscommunication, so you want to make sure that you are communicating clearly.
[00:48:29] Sean: Yes. Don't be those people. Be the ones that asked. Even if it's a silly question, ask it, because better to know the answer right now. Anna, you did name drop a few people along the way, but if you have any professors or friends from your days as a scholar that you want to give a shout out to, along with maybe the late, great Alex Trebek.
[00:48:47] Anna: Yes, definitely Alex Trebek. I'll also put a plug in for Johnny Gilbert, who is the announcer for Jeopardy. There is a photo of me and my brother with Johnny Gilbert. That was my Facebook profile photo for a little while. So Dr. Howell, like I mentioned, he's responsible for starting Biomedical Sciences Club with us and introducing me to my husband. Dr. Hancock was my honors advisor who helped me get into law school. Dr. Chen was my thesis advisor who also helped me get into law school, even though he had also never had any students apply to law school before. I made a lot of great friends at Penn State. One group in particular stands out. Most of us were scholars, and we started an email chain after college to stay in touch. We called it the Happiness Thread because it was first conceived as, like, a way to share gratitude and memorialize the positive things that had happened to us. But it turned into something much greater. It turned into just keeping in touch with each other, sharing highs and lows, getting advice, venting, all of that. And we kept that going for many years. So from the time I was teaching through law school, it was really important to me to have that outlet during what was pretty challenging years for me professionally. And so I really appreciated that. And I would say, keep in touch with your friends that you made in college.
[00:50:00] Sean: Well, if you've fallen out of touch, sharing this when it's published is a great way to get that thread going again. So shameless little plug there for this.
[00:50:08] Anna: We started it up again during the pandemic, and we added spouses and we added other people.
But it has been a while. I think family and other obligations have gotten in the way.
[00:50:18] Sean: Absolutely. I think I shared this on the episode that I was interviewed on here, where that meme of adulthood, where it's in friendship is like, oh, we should hang out. And you keep saying that back and forth until one of you like, I think that's a real meme. Pretty accurate. So good chance to pick up the thread there.
[00:50:37] Anna: Yeah, I want to recruit people also to just move to Berkeley because most of my friends are still on the.
[00:50:43] Sean: Well, you know, if you have any questions about that we didn't even talk about moving to California. But maybe as we're wrapping up here, Anna, if you want to leave some final advice, maybe, about that or something else that you want to help scholars make the most of their time in the college, including your brother.
How can they do that?
[00:51:00] Anna: Being flexible and being open to new things is really my kind of parting advice. It's okay to change your direction if you feel like you're going down a path that you're not going to be happy with. In terms of moving to, like, that's something I never would have expected graduating from Shrier or even graduating from law school. I figured I was going to practice on the East Coast. I really wanted to be in Pennsylvania kind of long term, and so I took the Pennsylvania New Jersey bar exams. I have never practiced in Pennsylvania, or so I think, you know, just be okay with the unexpected and unpredictable.
[00:51:35] Sean: That is solid advice, no matter what major or profession you are in. Now, Anna, if a scholar does want to reach out to you and they have questions about any of the different experiences you have, maybe about clerkships and what they can be doing now to prepare, how can they connect with you?
[00:51:50] Anna: I am happy to connect with anyone on LinkedIn. You can find me. I'm Anna Han. I'm the director of judicial clerkships at Berkeley Law. I think somebody from a student organization, empowering Women in Law, had reached out earlier this year on LinkedIn, and I presented virtually to their club this past semester. So I'm happy to talk to anybody who's interested in teaching the law career services bioengineering. I think they're probably better people for you to talk to if you're interested in bioengineering. But, yeah, people should feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.
[00:52:21] Sean: Well, if they're bioengineering, but they don't want to do bioengineering, I think, Anna, you are exactly the perfect person to talk to. And now for a really hard hitting question, probably harder than anything you ever experienced in any deposition or trial or on the LSAT or on a bar exam. If you were a flavor of Berkeley creamery ice cream, Anna, which would you be? And most importantly, why would you be that flavor?
[00:52:42] Anna: I love this question. I think it's so fun to hear what other people have said. I would be alumni swirl, not just because I really like the flavor, but because I love being an alum of Penn State. I love being a Teach for America Alum. A penn law, Alum. I think they're just great communities to be part of and to stay involved with. And so that is why I choose alumni swirl.
[00:53:06] Sean: Well, as the alumni relations professional for the Honors College, I fully support that. And we have another entry on Team alumni Swirl. At this point, we've got the three distinct categories of alumni swirl WPSU, coffee break, and the rest of the menu. So we'll for alumni swirl here on that team. Annahan, thank you so much for joining us here. Today on Following The Gone I really appreciated learning about your story and all of your great advice on being a Stem major who doesn't want to Stem after college and your insights on teaching and on law. And I learned a lot about clerkships. Personally, I wasn't familiar with that, so I learned something. I hope you listening learned a lot. You heard how you can follow up with Anna if you want to keep the conversation going. Thank you so much for everything.
[00:53:48] Anna: Thank you. Take care!
*GONG SOUND EFFECT*
[00:53:56] Sean: Thank you Scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Schreyer Honors College Emergency Fund, benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise.psu.edu/schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like, or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the College on Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events, and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or are a Scholar Alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following the Gong, please connect with me at [email protected]
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