Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Big Thirsty on Retiring Early From Adele from Avondale.

I'm in my mid-50s and have spent 27 years at the same SLAC.

I've fought the good fight, risen through the ranks, done more than my share of service (but perhaps somewhat less than my share of research), and have been a decent teacher. But after the past few years of losses in my family, a bout with breast cancer, changes in the department (75% turnover in the last four years), changes in the discipline, etc. etc., I'm weary.

Soooo . . . I'm contemplating retiring in about three years. I can swing it financially, assuming that (a) I maintain a quite modest lifestyle and (b) the stock market doesn't tank. (Thank you "defined contribution" retirement plan . . . .)

Q: Should I? How do I tell if this is just the weariness talking or if it really is time to exit and let new blood face the challenges -- both good and bad -- of the college? What do proffies tend to do if they retire before they are 60?


  1. Perhaps you can discuss this question with your dean or department head with the goal of revising your teaching, research and service in a manner that is more pleasing to you. Maybe drop all research responsibilities while adding a class in the spring or fall. If you enjoy your new, more ideal work load then you might decide to work a few more years. Both you and the school would benefit from that. If the grind still wears you out then you can say that you tried to make it work but, hasta la vista baby.

    As for what you'll do after retirement, let me know how that goes. I'm interested in hearing your results.

  2. I would personally recommend either a reduction in responsibilities or taking on some online teaching. That way you can retire but keep a trickle of income coming in as you prepare for the next few decades.

  3. Can you take a sabbatical? Or even better, apply for a Fulbright. You can do a short ( Senior Specialist ) tour, or a semester or even a year abroad and gain a new perspective on teaching and yourself. You can do a research grant and get a break from teaching but come back renewed. It might give you contacts for life after retirement, too.

    If you pick a country that is not greatly in demand ( like France) and choose one that is less developed, then you will definitely have a great time. And people will appreciate you.

    My two cents.

  4. I like the ideas above. It also might be worth asking a structural question: what happens to tenure lines in your department when people retire? Does at least some of the 75% turnover you mentioned provide some guidance on that score? I'm the last one to suggest that older faculty who want to continue teaching, and are still doing a good job, should retire (that would not be in my best interests, since I'll need to work well past 65), but if you're thinking about where your retirement would fit in terms of the larger currents in the profession (i.e. would you be opening up a decent TT job in a tight market or increasing the number of contingent positions), that might be worth considering.

    Another possibility: you've done a lot of service, so you presumably know how at least some things work, administratively speaking, and you have lots of teaching experience. Have you considered a brief time in administration? A few years of that might, admittedly, have you leaving with a much less positive view of higher ed, but people with your sort of experience are the sort we need in higher ed. Another more bearable option might be to think about starting some sort of consulting business based on your experience/expertise. That could allow you to continue using your skills, and provide an income stream. And if you edge one idiot with lots of ideas about higher ed but zero classroom experience out of the market, well, that's to the good.

    1. That should read "people with your sort of experience are the ones we need in administration" [not young whippersnappers with "higher ed administration" Ph.D.s and minimal if any classroom experience]. A few years in administration might also bump up your last salary, and hence some retirement income calculations (I'm not sure how many work that way anymore).

      I'd also be very, very cautious about the potential financial consequences of the decision. Maybe it's just my own anxieties speaking, but it seems to me that experimenting with any of the options above -- or even an unpaid leave, if your institution offers same -- before actually giving up a guaranteed position, and salary, at an age where it might be very hard to replace same, seems wise.

  5. I cannot stress enough how amazing a sabbatical can be. I'm twenty years in and was questioning whether or not I could make it another fifteen. A sabbatical cleared my head and helped me gain some much needed perspective. I do have a few more years in me. Especially if I can sneak in another sabbatical.

  6. I have no advice because mine would be to take the retirement and run; if you don't have to do this and you hate it, why do it? Find something fun to work on until you can start to cash in on that retirement. But that's from my embittered mid-career perspective as I envision another 25 years of this at a SLAC that offers only summer sabbaticals (meaning we get an extra $1,500 over the summer, so no time off).

  7. I do not think you are too old for a career change, especially since you will be bringing in enough income through retirement to live modestly already. Why not find a different job, part time or otherwise, that you might really enjoy?

    At any rate, I think that is what I'd like to do at your age (not soooo very far away).

  8. One thing you may also want to consider is what you are contributing to the dept. While we're all looking at these considerations from the perspective of... well, ourselves... are you able to also contribute to the department in a way that the department deserves? I ask this because I wonder this about myself.