Six years ago, I celebrated my 60th birthday by writing a light hearted survey of my life to then under the title of The Seven Ages of an Entomologist, in which I likened each stage of my career to an insect life cycle, from egg hatch through to adulthood, with full Professor being the seventh and final stage. I have from my detailed field observations, realised that there is a rare super-imago stage, the Emeritus Professor 🙂
I unofficially (my letter of appointment didn’t arrive until mid-June) entered this stage on April 1st this year (2021), the occasion of which I had announced via Twitter on March 31st when I tweeted
“Today is my last day as a salaried academic as I officially ‘retire’ – tomorrow (yes April 1st – don’t snigger) I officially join the ranks of the old fogey/greybeards and become Professor Emeritus – I must admit I have mixed feelings about this stage of my academic career”
A number of my colleagues and academic friends elsewhere, on achieving Emeritus status, pretty much continue as before, teaching, researching and writing papers and coming into the office almost every day. As a PhD student, at the University of East Anglia, the sight of Professor Emeritus Jack Kitching, then in his seventies, striding across the grass from the lake with a bucket of water, was a familiar sight. My former colleague, Graham Matthews at Imperial College, was still, aged 80, a regular visitor to his office and my PhD supervisor, Tony Dixon, now 84, is still writing papers, although mainly from his home office.
What are these mixed feelings of which I wrote? Now I may be an exception among academics of my generation, but almost all my social life, such as it is, has with the exception of my best friend from school*, and old school and undergraduate university friends on Facebook, come about through my work. There was a phase when our children were at school, and my wife and I were stalwarts of the PTA, that I attended Quiz Nights and other fundraising activities, but that is now long in the past and my non-academic socialising is now interactions with our neighbours, and until lockdown, social events run by the band of which my wife is the Manager. I am thus one of those sad people whose work and other life are pretty much inextricably linked. The prospect of leaving my academic setting was not something I viewed with any degree of sanguinity, despite the fact that originally our retirement plan was to spend our sunset years basking in the sun of the Pyrénées-Orientales cosily ensconced in our French house with a mountain view and easy access to the local wines and food and a suitably equipped study- cum- library in which to write all the books that I have had planned for years, but not yet had the time to write.
The aspect of retirement that worried me most was the loss of daily contact with students, (unlike a lot of research active academics, I really enjoy teaching) and the chance to chat with colleagues of all disciplines at coffee time. The Harper Adams coffee culture, prior to the pandemic, was second to none. These two factors weighed very heavily against the prospect of gently pickling myself in France 🙂
Then along came two life changing events, the lunacy of Brexit which threw a spanner in the works regarding our retirement plans and oesophageal cancer which was an even bigger problem. On top of all this, add Covid and lockdown! The two latter events made a huge change to my working life, in that I was physically isolated from my campus office, colleagues and students. Luckily, I am a bit of an introvert so the solitude was not too big a problem, country walks and plenty to read have kept me sane (discounting the post-operative paranoia) over the past year and our coffee mornings via Teams with the Entogroup have been a fairly good surrogate for keeping in touch with gossip and work, although virtual reality will never, in my opinion, be as good as the real thing, but it has been a help. It has also made me more able to pull away from the campus than if I had been working full-time on site, as I have no doubt that I would have found the physical and psychological separation much more difficult. Frankly, I think I would have been terrified. As it is I am just apprehensive. As Emeritus I will still get the opportunity to teach, but can now avoid all the bits I dislike about the job, administration and marking 🙂 I will also have more time to write up some of the back-log of papers that have been sitting patiently on my desk; some for more than twenty years. More importantly, and hopefully, more financially rewarding, I hope to get all the books I have had planned for the last thirty years, finally written! I am very grateful to the University for granting me this honour and opportunity.
Looking back at the last nine years I have been Professor of Entomology at Harper Adams University I think it is apposite to quote from my 60th birthday post in which I wrote
“My hope is that in five years time when I become a retired Professor and my hair and beard colour are the same, that entomology will be taught at more than one university in the UK and not just at postgraduate level.”
I am very pleased to point out that there are now three universities in the UK that run postgraduate courses in entomology (none as good as ours of course) and Harper Adams University now offers a very successful entomology undergraduate degree.
Another quote from the same post “A small point of personal satisfaction, is that, despite my elevation, I still do not own a suit “. Guess what, I still don’t 🙂
Professor not-emeritus in lockdown, before chemotherapy and Professor Emeritus, complete with post-chemotherapy hair growth.
Somewhat disconcertingly I found on attempting to log on to my email and other accounts after the end of my last working day as a salaried employee, I found that all my accounts had been closed down. Our HR Department obviously have no idea how academia works. It would seem that in HR World, once you retire, you no longer exist. As you can imagine this caused a certain amount of panic on my part. Luckily after contacting my Head of Department via my Google account, I was readmitted to the system by mid-morning the following day, and to my great relief found that all my files were intact.
*a friendship which started in 1968