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Academic for life

A chemistry professor reflects on his decision to resign

Instead of fully retiring, some institutions offer faculty the possibility of staying on with the institution as a faculty professor.

BY TRISTRAM CHIVERS | APR 15 2024

In 2006 I decided to resign from my position as professor at the University of Calgary. I use the word “resign” rather than “retire” because the U of C did not have mandatory age-specific retirement, so I was advised to send a letter of resignation to the president. This was not an easy decision, even though I was past the age when many decide, or are forced, to retire.

Luckily, I was able to stay on in a different capacity: the university had faculty professorships available in the faculty of science. Beyond the expected benefits of emeritus status, a faculty professorship would also allow me to keep lab and office space and made opting out of my salaried position easier. As an experimental scientist with research funding, I could continue my scholarly work, including mentoring graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. As my wife remarked at the time, “It’s a way of life for you rather than a job.” Technically, I was leaving the job, but I wasn’t letting go of the way of life. Now, 18 years later, during the United Nations Decade of Healthy Aging, some reflections on that choice might be helpful to others who are confronted with a similar decision.

Healthy aging goes beyond taking care of one’s mental and physical health to include involvement in meaningful activities, whether new or longstanding. It has been relatively easy to fulfil those objectives as a faculty professor. In terms of intellectual effort, the time free from undergraduate teaching and committee work facilitated my writing of a second book and, during the first year of the pandemic, the production of an updated version of the first book. I was also able to continue publishing scholarly articles and collaborating with a variety of co-authors, as well as  reviewing a wide variety of journals that keep me apprised of the exciting developments at the forefront of my discipline. The synergic contribution of teaching is fulfilled by occasionally being a guest lecturer in undergraduate courses and being invited to present short postgraduate courses at institutions in the U.K. and Europe, as well as at international conferences.

With a self-imposed schedule, it has also been possible to engage in a different aspect of discipline-related activity, namely providing expert advice and serving as an expert witness for three very different court cases. Surprisingly, I was even more apprehensive in the latter role than I was the first time I gave a chemistry lecture to first-year engineering students. Social interactions also come naturally as part of the role of a faculty professor. Visiting the campus is energizing because of the vibrancy of students encountered on the way to my office. Mentoring continues through informal research discussions with graduate students and counseling young faculty members on grant applications. Service on a university-wide committee has involved providing advice on the refinement of nominations for major awards. Membership in the University of Calgary Retirees Association (UCRA) facilitates interactions with colleagues from other disciplines, and attendance at the excellent program of monthly talks organized by the UCRA keeps one apprised of scholarly activities across campus. It has also been a privilege to engage with graduate students from a variety of disciplines through membership of the External Advisory committee of the Graduate College. Membership of the college is offered through a competitive application process to graduate students interested in interacting with peers from other disciplines.

In summary, I do not regret the decision to resign 18 years ago. Subject to mental and physical abilities, I will continue to serve as a part-time academic volunteer (which entails unpaid scholarly work and mentoring) at the U of C for the foreseeable future.

The composition of this article was inspired by the podcast Wrinkle Radio hosted by Sally Chivers (Dr. Chivers’ daughter) under the rubric “Don’t panic! It’s just aging.” Sally is the past director of the Centre for Aging & Society at Trent University.

Tristram Chivers resigned from his position as a university professor in the department of chemistry at the University of Calgary 18 years ago. He served as faculty professor from 2006 to 2018 and continues scholarly activities as a professor emeritus. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and former president of the U of C Retirees Association. He has received several awards for excellence in teaching at both undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as provincial, national and international recognition for outstanding research contributions.

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  1. C. Ming / April 25, 2024 at 19:33

    ” because the U of C did not have mandatory age-specific retirement, so I was advised to send a letter of resignation to the president” is confusing. Surely, not having a mandatory age for retirement does not mean one cannot retire, provided one has reached the minimum retirement age. People do it all the time, at universities all over the world.

    What exactly is the point of this article anyway? It’s hard to tell.

  2. Werner J. Becker / April 30, 2024 at 19:58

    Thank you for your article, Tris. I enjoyed reading about your impressive career and ongoing activities. Retiring from a paid to unpaid position, if I understood correctly, allowed you to focus on those academic activities that you enjoyed the most. You did not tell us, but I would be curious to know at what age you resigned.

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