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In eight days, I officially retire from Highline College, where I’ve taught since 2001. For a number of months, I’ve been saying that I’m pre-semi-retired. It occurred to, however, that that’s hogwash. I’m actually differently employed. More on that in a bit.
Since I announced to my colleagues that I was going to retire in fall 2023, I’ve had several people ask me about whether I had concerns about losing my professional identity. No, I don’t. In fact, I have so few concerns about it that it never occurred to me that I might no longer see myself as a professor.
Years ago, my wife and I were watching some sort of sporting event. One of the broadcast analysts was once a coach, and everyone kept calling them “coach.” My wife said something like, “Oh! ‘Coach’ is an honorific. Once a coach, always ‘coach.’” Now that I’m close to no longer being a full-time professor, “professor” feels the same to me as “coach.” And, really, they’re pretty similar professions.
There are other reasons that I don’t see me shedding my professor identity. For example, I can teach a class as an adjunct if I’d like. It’s hard to not see myself as a professor if I am professing to a class of students.
Also in my professorial role, I am writing textbooks. I have an Intro Psych textbook on the market now and a Social Psych textbook will be published in the next year. Textbook writing feels a lot like teaching; I curate psychological science and explain it to students.
As everyone who has been teaching for a while can attest, students comprise just one part of our teaching role. We also ‘teach’ colleagues. The ‘lessons’ commonly start with a colleague saying, “Hey, do you have a minute? I’d like some advice on…” I’m still doing that. While I don’t get as many questions as I did when I was full-time, I get the occasional text or have such a conversation at a conference. These blog posts are just another form of that.
More generally, there are plenty of things I’m doing to maintain my happiness as I slide into the next chapter of my life. For all of my colleagues in the professoriate who are considering retiring or who have made the leap, let’s use the PERMA model of subjective well-being (Seligman, 2018) to see how things might go.
P is for positive emotions
One of the joys of retirement is that we get to choose to get involved in projects that are fun without having to suffer through job responsibilities that are, well, insufferable. Teaching a class as an adjunct? Fun! Chairing a search committee? Not fun!
We know all of the things we should do to manage stress: eat well, exercise, sleep. With retirement we may find that we have even more time to do those things. My wife and I have more time to plan, shop for, and make meals. We have a basic home gym (dumb bells and a rowing machine), and we block out time on the calendar to use it. And sleep—I go to bed when I want (early!), and I get up when I want (early!).
E is for engagement
Flow. Let’s completely lose ourselves in the activities we enjoy. Writing frequently does that for me. Not always, but frequently. Most of my friends have hobbies that engage them. After retiring, they have more time to do the activities they love.
R is for relationships
The loss of work relationships is a real concern for most everyone who is considering retirement. That was one of the many lessons of COVID. Those of us who were sent home to work learned what it was like to no longer have hallway conversations. I know I couldn’t have told you how important those conversations were until they were gone.
There are some Highline College colleagues that I occasionally exchange texts and emails with. My professional circle is much greater that, though. My wife refers to all of my non-Highline psychology colleagues in the collective as the “psychosphere.” Because I never saw them (you!) in the hallways of my college, I don’t feel like I’ve lost them (you!).
As some work relationships fade with time, retirement gives us the opportunity to build new ones. I wrote a few weeks ago about how becoming a regular someplace can provide important relationships (Frantz, 2023). Online forums can provide similar opportunities. The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) recently launched affinity groups that give STP members with shared identities or experiences the opportunity to meet and discuss important and not-so-important topics in an online forum.
Conferences were another place where we were able to connect—confer—with colleagues. I’ll confess that well before I retired my primary purpose for attending conferences was to meet with my friends and make new friends. In SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, the author and Roman historian Mary Beard tells us that Polybius (200 BCE – 118 BCE) supposedly advised a young man, “Never come back from the Forum…until you have made at least one new friend” (Beard, 2016, p. 184). If we are not yet friends and you see me at a conference, please say hi. Remember that I’m following Polybius’s advice. After every conference trip, I need to have made at least one new friend.
Attending conferences is more challenging as a retiree because your institutional travel support is gone. This is less of an adjustment for those who were at institutions that didn’t provide much or any travel support to begin with. Who knew that there’d be a plus side to that? If you have money budgeted for travel, consider building a vacation around a conference. NEPA/NECTOP are in Worcester, MA in early October 2023. My wife and I will be coming in a few days early and leaving a few days after so we can spend some time touring New England. Or, if you’re lucky, a conference may be held near your city.
Here are some conferences worth considering. Some even have reduced registration rates for retirees. For example, STP’s ACT early bird registration for retirees (and adjuncts and high school teachers) is $35 less than the regular rate:
NEPA/NECTOP (Oct 2023). Worcester, MA
STP’s ACT (Oct 2023). Portland, OR
NITOP (Jan 2024). Bonita Springs, FL
EPA (Feb/Mar 2024). Philadelphia, PA
SWPA (Mar 2024). San Antonio, TX
RMPA (Apr 2024). Denver, CO
SEPA (Apr 2024). Orlando, FL
MPA (Apr 2024). Chicago, IL
WPA (Apr 2024). San Francisco, CA
Teaching Intro Psych (TIPNorthwest) (Apr 2024 – probably). Seattle, WA
APS (May 2024). San Francisco, CA
PsychOne (Jun 2024). Durham, NC
APA (Aug 2024). Seattle, WA
M is for meaning
This may be the one that people contemplating retirement fear losing the most. The fear is not unwarranted. It’s not uncommon for recent retirees to struggle with finding meaning in their lives when for so long work provided so much of that meaning.
These days, I get a lot of my meaning from writing. In addition to textbooks (including the Teaching Psychology book I have with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew, I also have this blog and my Technology for Academics blog. I recently spoke with a publisher who was looking for someone to write a “how to teach Intro Psych” manual of sorts. While it’s not a project I can take on, it was a good reminder to let you know that if you’re interested in any kind of writing for publishers, let your book reps know. They’ll pass your contact information along to their editorial team. Lots of publishers are looking for people to create textbook supplements. Someone has to create the slide decks, instructor resource manuals, and test banks. It might as well be you.
While writing a book is a significant commitment, a blog can be written on your own timeline. Here are some tips on getting started with blogs.
Or maybe podcasts are more your thing. If you want to try out podcasting and you have an idea for a series, ask the good people at Psych Sessions (firstname.lastname@example.org) if they’d be interested in you being a series host. For example, a “where are they now?” series could be fun. You could have 30-minute conversations with teaching of psychology luminaries who have retired. What are they doing now?
Or maybe you’d like to work one-on-one with someone who is new to teaching psychology. The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has a mentoring program where seasoned/experienced/veteran (you choose your adjective) faculty are paired with early career faculty or advanced graduate students. It’s a terrific opportunity to share your expertise.
I also highly recommend getting involved in your professional associations. The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has a boatload of service opportunities—diversity and international, membership, resources, programming, awards. STP has something for everyone. You can always find current openings on the Get Involved page.
A is for accomplishment
Don’t underestimate the power of achieving goals. If you are about to retire or have recently retired, take some time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished (so far!) in your career. Now’s a good time to review your CV. What were your favorite classes to teach? Who are your most memorable students? What was your most satisfying research line? Who did you learn the most from? Who do you think learned the most from you? (Also, these are great questions for the guests on your “where are they now?” podcast series!)
Now, what are your next set of goals? It’s time for a new chapter!
Beard, M. (2016). SPQR: A history of ancient Rome. Profile Books.
Frantz, S. (2023, August 21). Decreasing loneliness through weak ties: A survey example. Macmillan and BFW Teaching Community. https://community.macmillanlearning.com/t5/psychology-blog/decreasing-loneliness-through-weak-ties-a...
Seligman, M. (2018). PERMA and the building blocks of well-being. Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(4), 333–335. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2018.1437466
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