To Retire - or Not?
Insights and advice from SPH faculty
“My advice is to work as long as you can—persist!”
Arnold Monto, Thomas Francis Jr. Collegiate Professor of Public Health
“I’ve gone from professor to dean to ‘busy volunteer.’ My work week sometimes is as full now as it used to be, in terms of hours.
My advice for retirement is to get involved. Try to find a group that shares some of your interests. You may have to do a little exploring yourself. Rely on some of your friends who have connections. It seems to me there’s a big menu to choose from. You just have to try to choose what you think is going to be the most—maybe not beneficial—but satisfying to you.”
Robert Gray, Professor Emeritus, Environmental Health Sciences; Database Technology Volunteer, Ann Arbor Kiwanis Club
Retirement: Busy, with Different Priorities
U-M SPH Emeritus Professors Irene Butter, Rashid Bashshur, Jim Vincent,
and Bob Gray share their thoughts on retirement.
“Rather than retire, I chose a second career on the basis of what I thought was my unique strength, and I put all my efforts behind it as if I were starting à nouveau. In retrospect, I had always tried to find a unique niche in health care that was not already crowded. So I pursued a topic that no one wanted to touch, telemedicine—medicine at a distance. My colleagues in health management did not think much of it. Some thought it was a waste of time, and some thought I was a fool. It took three decades for the rest of the world to discover it, and now it has become part of mainstream health care. Lucky for me, I lived long enough to see this transformation. When I was ready to retire, the chief of clinical affairs at the U-M Health System asked if I would like to join them. I couldn’t refuse. They created a new place and position for me. For a while, I thought maybe I’d died and was dreaming all this. I have never looked back.”
Rashid Bashshur, Professor Emeritus, Health Management and Policy; Executive Director, U-M Health System eHealth Center
“Basically, I retired from the things I didn’t want to do and continued doing the things I wanted to do, a lot of which are professionally related.
I think Bob Kahn’s book [Successful Aging] has pretty good advice. If you want to summarize it in two words, I think it says, ‘Keep moving.’”
John Griffith, Professor Emeritus, Health Management and Policy
“A lot of people just can’t handle it, having no structure, no place to have to be. I rather enjoy it, because I busted my duff for many, many years, and it’s kind of nice to not have to worry about what you’re going to do in a given day. All of us were raised with the mores that you’ve got to stay busy, you’ve got to keep contributing. Well, you don’t gotta. But we get so caught up in it that.”
James Martin, Associate Professor Emeritus, Environmental Health Sciences
“I think we’re very lucky if we can ease into retirement. If you hang around the university, you can. If you’ve been doing research, and you have a lot of stuff to write up, you make that transition very gradually, and it’s a luxury to have time to sit and think and write. You also have the opportunity to enjoy many more outside activities and can indulge in them to a greater extent than you can when you’re working.”
Millicent Higgins, Professor Emerita, Epidemiology and Internal Medicine
“I’ve become convinced that retirement works best when you’re moving toward something, not just letting go of things. In my case, I have this other life as an artist, which I’ve pursued for most of my life, to varying degrees of intensity. I’ve painted, done experimental video, and for the last 20 years, photography, and I just felt like I wanted to spend more time doing it. Maybe it comes from knowing life is not a rehearsal—you only get one shot—but I feel this really strong pressure to express myself in ways that I can only partially express doing science. If I focused on what I was giving up, it seems to me that’s psychologically much more difficult than to focus on where I’m going and, now that I have time, what I can do with it.”
George Kaplan, Thomas Francis Collegiate Professor of Public Health Emeritus; Professor, Epidemiology; Founder, Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health; Research Professor, Survey Research Center
“When you really love your work and it fills your life, you haven’t had time to develop anything else, even friends. For some of us, our work is our community—so how do you find a different one? I envy the people who say, ‘I can leave it all behind, and I’ll go write children’s books.’ I might do some of that, but I’m not quite ready to take that leap yet. So I’m grappling with retirement.”
Jean Shope, Research Professor Emerita, Health Behavior and Health Education; Research Professor Emerita, Transportation Research Institute
“My retirement was somewhat premature, in the sense that I was still fully active. But my wife’s long illness, and eventually her death, wore me down and made me think hard about priorities. Through her long journey I received a new sense of perspective—that my career was relatively insignificant. Which raises the question of mortality. As I approached the end of my career, I began to realize that, no matter how distinguished any of us are, or think we are, we become forgotten relatively quickly. Immortality is reserved for the likes of Einstein or Beethoven, so why strive for it when it will never be there? One or two more papers, one more book will not do the trick at this stage. So when I retired, I decided to focus on other things—my family, other types of writing, music (and my Steinway concert grand!), etc. I rarely think about science these days. It was great while it lasted. But there’s more to life.”
James Vincent, Professor Emeritus, Environmental Health Sciences
“For me, it’s been mostly new beginnings. There are times I feel I’m just as busy as I was when I was working, and I’m very grateful for that.
One of my favorite volunteer projects is to work at the Back Door Food Pantry [in Ann Arbor], which is sponsored by St. Clare’s and Temple Beth Emeth and Muslim Social Services. There’s three religions—that makes it attractive. I went through a period in my life when I suffered intensely from hunger, and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s a great source of satisfaction to distribute food to people who would otherwise be hungry.”
Irene Butter, Professor Emerita, Health Management and Policy
By the Numbers: Retirement Today
- 3 Percentage increase since 2003 in age of retirement for U.S. women, aged 70–74
- 7 Percentage increase since 2003 in age of retirement for U.S. men, aged 70–74
- 14 Percentage of U.S. women aged 70–74 still employed
- 18 Percentage of U-M faculty in their 60s, 70s, or beyond
- 24 Percentage of U.S. men aged 70–74 who still work
- 40 Number of U-M employees 80 years or older
- 62 Average age of retirement for U-M staff
- 66 Average age of retirement for U-M faculty
- 67 Age at which people can receive full Social Security benefits
Source: Susan Rosegrant, “The New Retirement: No Retirement?” ISR Sampler (spring 2013).