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Chris Skelton

Content Editor,
Class of 2010

Thesis topic: the College of Medicine in Hong Kong (late 19th-early 20th century)

"My professors in the History department were wonderful human beings and mentors in addition to being top-notch scholars."


Current Job:

Content Editor, Justia, Mountain View, CA. That doesn’t say a lot, so I should explain. After graduating from the History Department, I went to law school at Stanford (SLS). I graduated from there in 2013 and passed the California Bar. In the next spring, I got the job at Justia, which is a company in the very small and specialized field of law and technology. My job involves producing marketing information for law firms, running law firm websites, advising lawyers on internet marketing strategies, and providing free legal information for consumers (e.g., people who can’t pay for an attorney), among other things. It’s a very versatile role with lots of changing and fluid responsibilities. Our company is located maybe half a mile from the Google headquarters, which is pretty cool.

First Job after Graduation:

Justia was my first paid job. If we’re talking about all types of work, I volunteered for a public interest law foundation in San Jose in late 2013. I was there for several months before getting the job at Justia. It involved assisting financially disadvantaged people in San Jose with various legal needs, such as public benefits, landlord-tenant issues, estate planning, and health care.

How did you end up pursuing your career? Do you have any advice for students contemplating similar career paths? What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were an undergraduate?

It’s ironic because growing up, I had no interest at all in becoming a lawyer. When I took the time to think about the options late in my undergraduate career, however, I realized that my skill set and training were a nice fit for law school. I’m very good at writing, researching, and getting along with lots of different types of people, which are all skills that are useful in the law. Also, I liked how a law degree opens many types of career paths and gives you some flexibility in where you want to work and live. I knew that I wanted to stay in California, and academia (the other main option) doesn’t give you much flexibility because jobs are so scarce. (The experience of my sister, who is an academic, also showed this to me.) So that’s how I got to law school. In terms of how I got to my specific career after law school, I realized that practicing in a private law firm is quite stressful, all-consuming, and often depressing. Public interest law is great but a constant battle to make ends meet for most people and also sometimes more political than I would prefer. That left unconventional or alternative types of careers. I like my current job because it fits my skills and has an informal work environment that lets people be themselves and do things their way (to the extent that it’s feasible).
The main thing that I learned from the job process, other than that it’s not easy, is that you need to be patient. It’s natural to get frustrated or feel pressure to settle for something that’s not the right fit just to get something. If you don’t absolutely have to do that for financial or personal reasons, DON’T. I have friends who did that and are now regretting it. By contrast, I held out and gritted my teeth through some uncertain times and eventually got something that fits my personality and talents. Also, don’t be afraid to use Stanford connections. The CEO and President of my company are both Stanford graduates, and I suspect that it helped me get their attention. I think that I held back from pushing the Stanford button more often than I should have during the process, but that’s more an issue for after I graduated. I really can’t think of anything that I would have done differently during my time in the History Department.

Has your History training helped you along the way - and if so, how?

It’s definitely been more helpful than it might seem at face value. While I haven’t pursued a career closely connected to history, my writing and research skills benefited considerably from my training with the professors in the History Department. It also was an opportunity to develop independence and organizational skills in handling large projects like my thesis. In addition, I had the chance to interact with people from many different backgrounds and parts of the U.S. and the world. This exposed me to a diversity of viewpoints and built interpersonal skills that helped me connect with people in my job or clients of our company who are very different from me and see the world differently. Our company is very diverse, as is our client base in some ways, and I’m well known and valued for my ability to relate to all of our team members in the U.S. and Mexico.

Do you have any particularly fond memories of the History Department?

I don’t recall any memories that are not fond, to be honest. In addition to my thesis advisor Professor Mullaney, Professor Jun Uchida and Professor Gordon Chang were two of the professors who had the greatest impact on me. They are wonderful human beings and mentors in addition to being top-notch scholars. I think that this was one aspect that separated the History Department from some other departments in which I was considering majoring. Professor James Daughton’s course was my first in the department and one of the reasons why I first became interested in it. I also think that the History Department is particularly fortunate to have (at least when I was there) warm and supportive graduate students who are dedicated to their efforts as TAs. That’s another way in which the department stood out from others. Finally, I took several courses with visiting professors. I was consistently impressed with the quality of the academics from other institutions whom the department was able to attract on a temporary basis.
Overall, I had a wonderful Stanford experience. Since I live in the area, I return to the campus many times each year to go for walks and attend sports events. I am friends on Facebook with several professors and TAs and many former classmates. Even though I haven’t seen them in person for a long time, I value keeping those ties active.