I started full-time academic work as an assistant professor of philosophy at Western University in 1993. So this July 1, Saturday, marked my 30th anniversary of full-time academic employment.
My contract at Western began July 1. I remember being nervous about that because my thesis defense wasn’t until July 21. What if I didn’t pass? Soon after, when I was on the other side of the hiring table, I would learn that wasn’t really a thing to worry about. (Why? Because if my very fussy supervisor said my thesis was ready to defend, it was ready to defend. Also, worse case, if I didn’t pass and there were revisions to make, my contract allowed me to start the job and just earn less money for the first year.)
So that’s the beginning, but how do academic careers end? Without mandatory retirement, when should I wrap things up? As Dean I watch some people end their careers well but many struggle with the decision. Some academics seem to spend the last chunk of their career anxious about their performance and about whether the students still relate to them. Each year they announce a new leaving date and the fretting seems hard for them and their colleagues.
So here’s my attempt to talk about a reasonable end date for my academic career, now before I get all weird and anxious about it. Along with the post on after knee surgery fitness goals, this is also a difficult, vulnerable topic to write about.
When I started at Western, I was 28 in July, turning 29 in August. I’ve often thought that forty years seems like a reasonable length for an academic career. And so this summer, on July 1, I’m 58, turning 59 in August. I’m thirty years in. And so about to start my last decade, my final quarter.
And I’m starting to wonder what shape that decade will take. I’ve got four and a half years of Dean-ing left. With lots of big plans and things I want to accomplish that sounds about right. That takes me to the end of December 2027.
I’ve got two years of research leave after that and that back to the classroom. In an ideal world I’d break it up so it was four winter semesters off teaching. I love the idea of only teaching in the fall semester and traveling and writing and giving talks in the winter, preferably in warmer locations. I have about a half dozen papers in progress that I’ve started and given as talks but never finished. I’m excited about dedicated research time.
That plan brings me back to full-time teaching in September 2031. Two years left until my (in my mind, scheduled) retirement. Will I make it the full forty years of academic work? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see how I feel then and what the world looks like. I may even have a sabbatical year as one of the last two.
So assuming good health and all going well, I’ll retire sometime between 2031 and 2033.
What’s the fitness connection here? Reasonable readers might be wondering this…
First, I want to make sure, as best I can, that I retire, or at least cut back on work when I’m still in good enough shape to do the things I want to do. Long hikes, lots of bike adventures, canoe trips, and camping.
Second, staying fit is certainly possible as we age but for me it’s also more time consuming. I need enough sleep. I need to do more strength training. I need to stretch. There aren’t the same short cuts that were available to younger me.
Third, and this is harder to sort out, I love my work and intellectual engagement is an important part of what’s good in life for me. So I’m not anxious to chuck it all away. Ditto academic communities. They’re important to me too.
Those three are all about me but there’s one more general point I want to make.
I hear so many friends say they’ll get fit when they have time. They don’t do very much now but they say when they retire they’ll have time to get in shape. Maybe. Maybe. To those friends, I want to say start now. You never know what the future will hold. If you’ve got big dreams about getting in shape and doing adventurous things that require fitness, make room now for those things now even if it’s in a more scaled back way.
Sam’s past posts about retirement and fitness