Retirement Essays by Colleagues
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PASEF has held “road to retirement” panel discussions over the past several years, and some of our colleague participants have written brief descriptions in which they describe their thoughts and steps in deciding to go emeritus, and then how life has been thereafter. Please enjoy their insights and experience regarding the transition:
Prior to my retirement I served for 13 years in the Dean's office of the School of Arts and Sciences. Among my duties was counseling members of the SAS faculty who were considering retirement. I found this a challenging but rewarding experience. The challenge came from the (obvious) fact that not all problems have a ready solution: personal factors such as divorce, children born late in one's career, or external financial difficulties can all contribute to steepening the financial hill we must all climb to achieve a reasonable standard of living after retirement. The reward came from the a discovery that probably should have been obvious: the questions raised by my colleagues almost never revolved around money or finances. Simply put, many if not most academics identify their research and teaching with their very existence. Contemplating retirement for them means literally staring in the abyss of non-existence. It's a heavy trip, and no one should be surprised that sometimes we need a little help to get through it.
I was also impressed by the frequency with which colleagues were motivated by the opposite of selfishness. For example, many of them had trained numerous Ph.D students, and well appreciated the idea that our generation should step aside to create opportunities for younger scholars.
For the most part the advice I gave was pretty straightforward: make a list of those things about your academic life that give you true enjoyment, along with another list of those elements that cause stress and/or discomfort. The goal of a successful retirement plan is to maximize the first while minimizing the second. There are a lot of tools available: a gradual transition through part-time status to 'try on' a different lifestyle is one example among many others.
The climax to my sojourn in the advice-giving business was, of course, my own retirement. Perhaps surprisingly, I found it relatively easy to follow my own suggestions. In the end, the determining factor for me was that the only way I would ever find out if a different way of spending my time would suit me was to try it. If I didn't retire, I might never know. I can now honestly say, five years or so post-retirement, that I have not regretted my decision for a moment.
Nowadays I mostly spend my time reading the books I never had time for. Biographies and history seem a lot more meaningful now that I have most of a lifetime's experience behind me. I am also enjoying exploring new areas in science, although at a non-professional level. One of the aspects of working in the Dean's office that I found most rewarding was the chance to learn about research that was very far from my own competence and expertise; it is nice to be able to continue that, but without the pressures of having to act on the results.
Another of my duties is helping Margaret provide child-care support to our two busy, professional daughters and their spouses. (Somebody has to wait for the guy to come fix the washing machine.) We feel incredibly lucky that our four grandchildren all live within 15 minutes of our house. We recently returned from 2 weeks on Cape Cod with all 10 of us (me, Margaret, Fran, Naomi, spouses Michael Mullins and Bimal Desai, and all the grandchildren - Fran's two boys Jesse and Emmet (ages 5 and 8) and Naomi's twins Sam and Mauli (age 4). We had a great time - I feel incredibly lucky to be blessed with such a wonderful family. To use a current cliche, I think of myself as part of the village that is raising these four delightful children.
I have also managed to maintain some contact with my old life at the University. I serve on the Personnel Benefits Committee of the University Council, in which capacity I try to look after the interests of my senior and retired faculty colleagues. I am also helping to administer the process by which my department (Physics & Astronomy) is selecting a new Chair. Occasionally I also revert to my old role of giving advice on retirement to colleagues contemplating the step; mainly I seem to provide assurance that whatever fears and uncertainties there are, others have had them, and for the most part overcome them.
In short, I feel very comfortable with my retirement. The freedom to pursue new interests is wonderful; as an example, I have taken several courses on film at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and have thoroughly enjoyed them. We also have more time for theater, concerts, and, perhaps most important, maintaining contact with old friends.
I chose to go emeritus at age 70, the year when I would be required to take a minimum distribution from all of my retirement accounts. Somehow, for me, that seemed to be contradictory...to be continuing to work full-time, and to also be required to take those distributions. People react to such an experience differently, of course. For me, 43 years of post-PhD work, plus 10 years of work towards the PhD, were enough, and I agreed with others who queried me about what my current purposes for continued work happened to be. Old habits die hard, I suppose. When I retired, I entered the wonderful 2-year FIAP Program, supervised by Mrs. Hilary Lopez. At the time, I expected to retire in Philadelphia, to begin to write my Memoir, and to do volunteer work with the new Barnes Foundation (Arts Education program), since I love to collect art (a hobby I developed as an outgrowth of original love of travel), and I knew that humanities programs were being seriously cut back by the School District of Philadelphia. I also expected to continue to attend the wonderful programs that are routinely sponsored by PASEF...though I did inform PASEF members in spring 2012, that for the first few years, I would not be available. So what actually happened?
Well, since most of my relatives and friends live in the Chicagoland area, I had my retirement party in Chicago in June 2012. I had invited a 1962 graduate school classmate, Joseph G. Kotzin, to be my escort to my official retirement party in Chicago. Joe agreed and came to Chicago from Los Angeles where he lived. We continued the contact after that great time in Chicago (He had initiated resumption of contact in 2008 after he read about me in the University of Chicago alumni magazine.). In August 2012, Joe proposed marriage, and I accepted his proposal. He wanted a wedding, so I left Philadelphia in November, 2012 for LA. We were married August 18, 2013 in Santa Monica with considerable pomp and ceremony (i.e., good fun), with me so far living "happily ever after" in LA. My legal name is Diana Slaughter Kotzin, with "Slaughter" being my middle name. And...oh yes, in April 2012, I was elected to the National Academy of Education!
Lesson for potential retirees: Make a Plan A for yourself, one that is consistent with your values and interests, and addressing what you want to do during your earliest retirement years. But...be flexible and open to changing that plan in accordance with new options and possibilities...your Plan A may turn into an even better Plan B.
P.S.: I am still working on my Memoir...but in LA...its warmer here...
Confucius once advised, "Find work that you love and you will never need to work again." In my academic career I certainly found work that I loved so why stop? Since compulsory retirement was eliminated, one really can't be forced out. So why retire? And I didn't, for a while.
An old cliché about teaching features a silver-haired Mr. Chips sitting on a raised stool in front of his class lecturing from a script to his enraptured pupils. It certainly doesn't pertain to a contemporary university class. I was in the pit of an amphitheater with students behind tables surrounding me on three sides. To keep their attention I had to stay on my feet continuously moving around the classroom to get in their faces and generate debate. For each class I had to carry hundreds of pages of handouts and overhead copies to be distributed to the students. And the classrooms were always in buildings other than where my office was located - and usually on a floor without an elevator. Surely, it was no country for old men.
In addition, I simply had to read The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Philadelphia Inquirer every morning before class. It would have been too embarrassing to be unaware of some relevant development. Although I truly love sports, when I began to read the sports pages first and procrastinate on the business section, I knew it was time to think about leaving.
Many evenings during my teaching career ended with my sitting up in bed reading student papers and memorizing the student bio-picture cards so I would be able to call on them by name on the morrow (students are insulted if you don't know their names - and I usually had almost 200 per semester). It just got harder to stay awake unless I turned on David Letterman whom, thankfully, my wife also enjoyed.
Most fundamentally, I just couldn't force myself to read the critical professional journals. I could get through the popular like Fortune or Business Week, but the rigorous Administrative Science Quarterly became impossible. It was time to go.
Perhaps the student coup de grace, however, were the skeptical student comments about my teaching. As I had gained more visibility and some degree of renown as an academic leader, management consultant, corporate director and vice chairman, I would increasingly draw on these experiences to illustrate academic theories. To my surprise, some students on the confidential course questionnaires accused me of being a "name-dropping egocentric," and even "an egomaniac" for talking about my personal experiences. Perhaps I was turning into a boastful old man. I didn't think so, but maybe...
After moving to emeritus status, I taught part time in an evening program for working professionals for six years. The students were primarily technically trained scientists and engineers, many working for the region's health care and pharmaceutical industries. Some were reaching senior technical positions and wanted to develop themselves for managerial responsibilities. Working with them was one of my most satisfying teaching experiences. They were genuinely interested in the human dimensions of organizational life – certainly more than my previous undergraduate and MBA students who were focused on finance and numbers. They voiced none of the criticisms that my last MBA students had so I ended on a high note. I even won a teaching award in my penultimate year.
I never visualized retirement as a dramatic end of one's stressful life and the beginning of perfect leisure. Ideally, the transition should be gradual, a shifting of time priorities from vocation to serious avocation, an avocation started long before age 70, 65, or 62. When I "retired" at 72, I had already taken many fine arts courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and been painting for thirty years.
During a certain time period in my life, I became the object of multiple searches for Deanships and Presidencies. It was certainly flattering and I enjoyed the recruiting visits and interviews. I always found Penn to be the more attractive institution. At one point, however, uncertain whether I should leave full time teaching and research, I consulted an older colleague who had become a Dean. He told me that it depended on whether I wanted "to be" or "to do." In his opinion, as a school dean or president, one primarily is in a state of "being" that conveys status and power (however moderate it is in academia). But administrative demands make it very difficult to continue meaningful research, writing or teaching. It becomes too difficult "to do" anything. If "doing" is one’s primary ambition, better to stay out of administration.
Fortunately, I ignored my colleague's advice and became a university vice president. As I look back on my time in senior management, it is not the power or status that I remember (although I was the only university official with an office wet bar!). Rather it is walking around the campus and seeing the buildings for which I raised money, or seeing the displayed pictures of faculty members whose endowed chairs came from people I had cultivated. These live on.
Finally, Confucius was a bit misleading. If one finds work that one loves, you can't stop. In my case, writing is an imperative that demands attention. And even if one doesn't call it "work," it is challenging and exhausting. When fully engaged, I still wake up several times each night to jot down ideas in my bedside journal. I hope that you also will find an activity in retirement that keeps you awake at night - but not too often.