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Productive retirement.

As a faculty colleague of Alan Porter at Georgia Tech, I was interested to read his article, "Retire to Boost Research Productivity" (Issues, Fall 2014), in which he provides an "N=l Case Study" of how his research productivity has increased significantly since he retired in December 2001.

This case study is presented to address an important issue for research universities: with faculty members 60 years of age or older holding onto their positions, "shielded" by the lack of an age for mandatory retirement, younger people may be "kept off the academic ladder." Porter uses his own "retirement career" to ask whether there might be "win-win" semi-retirement options that would free up opportunities for the recruitment of young faculty while at the same time enabling senior faculty to remain productive and engaged. His personal case study demonstrates one way to do this, focusing on his research and the enhanced publication rate he has had in his retirement years.

In my own case, I retired in 2010 and I am Institute Professor Emeritus in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. After being retired for a month, I was appointed to a half-time position with half of my salary coming from my research grants. This of course means that half of my salary is being paid by institutional funds. My research productivity has continued at my pre-retirement level, and there is no doubt that availability of facilities, including office space and a research laboratory, as well as the infrastructure and administrative support provided to me were essential to my continued productivity.

In my "N=1 Case Study," I have not only continued to be involved in research, but there are other ways in which I have been engaged and contributed. These include the mentoring of young faculty, assistance in the preparation of proposals, outreach to the community, and national leadership activities. Whereas in the context of research there are quantifiable outputs such as the number of publications and grant dollars, the value of non-research activities are perhaps not so readily assessed, even though most of us would consider these as value added.

The basic issue, then, is how does an institution create these win-win situations and appointments? Are these truly important to an institution in the 21st century, where there is no mandatory retirement age and where 60 is the new 50, and 80 may be the new 70? How does an institution evaluate the activities of a retired faculty member in attempting to achieve win-win situations? In my own case, even though a significant amount of my pre-retirement salary has been freed up and can be used, it would be hoped, to pay the salary of a young academic, because of my other activities that are beyond simply doing research, how does an institution evaluate me and justify the use of institutional funds to pay part of my salary? The answers to these questions obviously are important to me personally; however, these are questions that every institution should address.

Robert Nerem

Georgia Institute of Technology

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Title Annotation:FORUM
Author:Nerem, Robert
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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