Perhaps I made a mistake not getting a Master’s degree before I applied for Ph.D. programs in history. Perhaps I made a mistake in not taking substantial time off after I got my Bachelor’s degree. Perhaps, even, I should have considered more lucrative career options — in translation work, public relations, marketing, etc. Nevertheless, here I stand, I can do no other: in the fall of 2020, I will begin my third year in the History Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, working with Prof. Joshua Cole, author most recently of Lethal Provocation: The Constantine Murders and the Politics of French Algeria (2019, Cornell University Press). With the fall, “hell year” will commence: the year of my cohort’s preliminary examinations (elsewhere called comprehensive exams, or “comps”).
I am sitting at my desk in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Some allege that summer has begun, but I’ve paid no mind to whispers that threaten the threads of tenacity remaining in my psyche to finish seminar papers, take language courses, do research, and prepare for the third year of a Ph.D. program in history at the University of Michigan. With two years behind me, I have a virtual ocean of books, articles, conference papers, dissertations, and lectures to read and review before my comprehensive exams at the end of the 2021 academic year. To my left, an unkempt pile of assiduously documented and extensive book notes brushes against my 2014 laptop—ancient now, according to Apple. With corners fraying, the pages of yellow legal paper are well worn—some are tattered.