personal

Retirement on Horizon?

NOTE: This is a personal blog, nothing here about NLG, academic life, etc. So probably will be of limited interest to most of the readers of my blog!

A few weeks ago someone contacted me to ask about doing a part-time PhD under my supervision. I responded that this wasn’t possible because a part-time PhD can take 6 years, and since I am 61 years old, I cannot guarantee to still be “in post” in 6 years time. This is the first time that I’ve declined something because of upcoming retirement, but I suspect this kind of thing will become more common over the next few years.

I fully intend to see out my current commitments to students and research projects, and I doubt I will retire before I turn 65 in 2025. However, I am going to need to take retirement into consideration when considering new commitments that go beyond 2025.

Anyways, I suspect that most of readers of my blog are too young to have thought much about retirement, so I thought would share some random thoughts about this stage of life.

Retirement Patterns

Different people take different approaches to retirement. Many people retire early; the government wants us to work longer, but I suspect most of the people I know who are my age intend to retire before the “official” retirement age (in UK, for my cohort) of 66. But others have kept on working (often on a part-time basis) into their 70s. In academia, some have become “emeritus”, which allows retired academics to keep on doing research on an unpaid basis, but with access to university facilities. So different paths for different people.

Provided my health holds out (I’m definitely becoming frailer and more forgetful as I age), I think a gradual retirement might work best for me. For example, maybe in 2-3 years I’ll switch to working 4 days/wk, and then switch to half-time a few years later, then switch to limited consultancy work. This is more or less what my father did, and it worked well for him.

I should say that I am the fortunate position that I can choose the path which most appeals to me, without worrying about financial impact. Of course many people are less fortunate, and need to work as long as they can because they need money.

Pluses of approaching retirement

One nice thing about approaching retirement is that I dont need to worry about CV building. Many younger researchers have told me that they would love to do X, but need to do Y instead because Y will lead to more publications and funding. At my career stage, though, I am in the fortunate position that I can focus on what I’m interested in, even if this is less “productive” in a CV sense. Which is a nice position to be in!

I’m also looking forward to having more time for travel and other activities. When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I spent a lot of time travelling, including an entire year going around the world, three months in South America, and numerous cycling trips; I have some travelogues about these trips in the Resources and Links section of my blog. Inevitably, I did a lot less of this after getting married, having children, and trying to establish myself in an academic career. Hopefully I can start doing more travelling as I start winding down my working hours! Maybe even revisit some of the places I visited in my younger days, such as Botswana, Ecuador, and Papua New Guinea, and see how they have changed. I’d also love to do some longer biking trips; ideally the North Sea Cycle Route, although this may not be realistic…

Minuses of approaching retirement

Getting older certainly has its drawbacks. I’ll already physically frailer and mentally more forgetful, and this will probably get worse as I continue to age. In fact I think a lot of the people I know who took early retirement did so because they wanted to do things like travel before their health got worse. One of my relatives retired around 57, which I thought was pretty early. But he passed away when he was 64, so retiring early meant he had some years to enjoy doing new things which he couldnt do while working.

I also find that I’m doing much less programming. I learned to program when I was 12, and for the next 40 years I was always actively coding something, which I really enjoyed. But I stopped doing this around 2013 because at the time I was primarily working at Arria, and I decided that I provided more “value” by high level design and analysis, supporting and helping staff, and indeed talking to customers and investors, than I did by writing code. So I focused on this. Which made sense from a “value add” perspective… but I do miss the coding! I guess this is more a reflection of career stage than of retirement per se, but the two are linked in my mind. I had a colleague. Jim Hunter, who was deep into university management, and then used a sabbatical year (in the period leading up to his retirement) to get back into coding, maybe I should do the same…

Final thoughts

Retirement is a huge change in life! It hasn’t happened to me yet, but its on the horizon, and in a sense I’m in the very early phases of a transition. Its already starting to affect what I do, and hopefully I can manage a smooth transition to this new phase of my life.

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