Across the Retirement Line
The Transition to Retirement
A colleague once told me he felt strongly that MIT faculty should retire fully from the Institute at age 70 (there are other options, to be explored in a subsequent column) in order to free up a position for hiring a young faculty member in his department. To the extent that this sentiment may no longer be as pervasive at MIT and other institutions as it once was, it may be a consequence of uncertainty about what life after retirement might entail: concerns about having sufficient finances to support the lifestyle to which one has become accustomed, affordable health care (see my previous column), or other issues. This month I explore the other side of the coin, delineating the positive features of a timely retirement and how it can significantly enrich the remaining years of life for all of us.
The life of a professor may be analyzed as having four components: the privilege of working with young people, the joy of discovery, the opportunity to serve, and the importance of family. The life of a retired professor can similarly be dissected into categories.
Liberation from classroom teaching affords time for other activities, while simultaneously relieving what for some has become a burden. Teaching is a service that with age may become physically and mentally more challenging as new generations of students bring habits, technologies, and personal likes and dislikes that resonate in a less and less familiar manner with the aging faculty member. Relief from the physical challenges of appearing for an hour or longer in front of a classroom, even in a small seminar-type setting, can promote the health and stamina of retired faculty, as they may diminish with the passage of time. Retirement makes it easier to fit important activities into one’s daily schedule, activities that prolong a healthy life, such as personal training with strengthening and balance exercises.
Renewing and/or strengthening family ties is an important opportunity for the retired professor. The ease of travel combined with job and living opportunities in locales remote from MIT may have taken family members – parents, children, siblings, and sometimes even spouses or partners – to other cities or states where continued close interactions were less convenient and thus less frequent.
For some, the pursuit of an academic career limited the amount of time spent at home to share the responsibilities of parenthood. Depending on circumstances, these situations can be addressed in retirement by a move to another locale or by time made available in one’s current environment. Grandchildren, if one is fortunate enough to have them, can bring great happiness, while benefitting from the rewards of wisdom and experience we can bring them. Have you ever heard a grandparent comment that if s(he) had known about the joys of grandparenthood they may have skipped parenthood altogether? Strengthening ties with siblings or having time to help care for aging or ill parents are also more feasible in retirement.
And then there are the new adventures – retirement can be as much of a beginning of exploration as an ending. There are many opportunities for retired faculty to remain at MIT and sustain an active research program, ranging from part time to nearly full time. It is also possible to do so from another city, owing to the facility of electronic communication and long-distance transportation infrastructure in our country. Or perhaps you always wanted to start that company, write a children’s book, pursue a musical instrument or sing in a choir, learn to cook, master a new language, or travel to other countries! Do you love to read but find that, as an active faculty member, you simply do not make time to devour books the way you did when you were an undergraduate on summer break? Retirement brings you the freedom to pursue these passions.
Retirement frees time for personal training, yoga classes, swimming, and other fitness pursuits that contribute to a healthy senior life. Aging can bring increasing health issues that even excellent eating and exercise habits cannot guarantee to forestall. The medical professionals can be of great benefit but staying fit, eating healthy, and maintaining flexibility greatly increase your ability to fight off disease and to avoid accidents or at least recover more quickly from those that you will doubtless have.
There is another model that bears mention before closing, one not uncommon among academics, which is simply to remain in place and “see how it goes” after partial or full retirement.
In many ways this is the easiest path for it requires little change in personal and professional infrastructure, from living space to lab space, but without the requirement to teach (unless you wish to do so – there are possibilities). I make no judgment in this regard and I marvel at my colleagues at MIT and elsewhere in their upper eighties and even nineties who retain an active research program to the end. Some have even worked in the lab – easier to do in retirement. But this choice must be balanced against those above; new adventures do not necessarily require a change in scenery.
This column is intended for MIT faculty who have already retired or are contemplating such a decision in the near future. The purpose is to provide some practical advice about health care at home and abroad, income sources, taxes, insurance decisions, and numerous other matters that may be helpful in preparing for the transition from active service (teaching, research, advising) to retirement. The goal is to help prepare for the new adventure that awaits you following the transition. The inspiration for writing such a column came from discussions that I had with colleagues during my own final months as an active MIT faculty member, many of whom were themselves contemplating retirement and wondered how best to prepare for the many decisions they had to make.
You are encouraged to send your comments and suggestions to the Faculty Newsletter (firstname.lastname@example.org). One colleague wrote the following after reading the previous Dr. Emeritus Beaver column about health insurance in retirement. We appreciate the clarification.
“The quoted rates seem about right, but fail to point out that the Medicare Parts B and D and the MIT cost to the MIT sponsored supplement for a retiree are for an individual only. If the retiree is married the quoted numbers will be doubled in most cases . . . something worth noting.”