Faculty Transitioning to Retirement: Beyond financial planning

Article by Cathy Cockrell

For faculty approaching retirement, campus pre-retirement workshops offer a wealth of guidance on nuts-and bolts matters like pension benefits, office space, and what it means to be a “Professor of the Graduate School.” 

Yet many faculty members, once retired, encounter, as well, a different order of issues -- from family relationships to “Who am I now that I’m not Professor So-and-So?”

Recently, the UC Retirement Center, the UC Emeriti Association, and scholars from the Psychology Department joined forces to learn more about the experiences of faculty making the transition to retirement, and how the campus might better support them. The team included three emeriti -- Sheldon Zedeck, Carolyn Pape Cowan and Philip Cowan -- along with Professor Oliver John, PhD student Ryan Lundell-Creagh, and Retirement Center Director Cary Sweeney.

Eighteen retired faculty members, along with their partners, participated in two smaller focus groups.

“We asked them what was surprising, what were the good parts, what were the challenging parts” of the transition to retirement, says Philip Cowan – who along with his wife, Carolyn, has spent four decades doing research and clinical work with families making life transitions.

Participants’ lively discussions became the basis of a survey, asking a larger group of emeriti about issues they have encountered in retirement, and whether they had discussed those issues with a spouse or partner before retiring. 

Grad student Lundell-Creagh notes the “incredible variability that we saw in satisfaction with retirement.”

Of nearly 150 respondents, two-thirds reported high satisfaction -- with decreased stress and more time for personal projects being among the greatest pleasures of retirement. For the remaining third the experience has been more mixed; they reported stressors such as declining health (their own or a partner’s) or unanticipated friction at home over how to spend time or who gets to use the dining-room table for projects.

About 15 percent of respondents were unhappy about lost connections to their campus department or colleagues. “Some people said that what they missed most was a place on campus to talk about ideas,” notes Pape Cowan. “For a lot of people that’s what being an academic is about.”

In light of the team’s findings, the Retirement Center plans to include a session for faculty members and their partners in its Spring 2019 pre-retirement workshop series, focusing on the often unexpected life issues that inevitably arise in retirement.

For more information, click the links to the Report and Poster. If you would like to be added to the list to receive information about the upcoming spring workshops, please email ucbrc@berkeley.edu