It’s an odd process, this retiring business. Last week, I filled in the form stating how I want the percentage allocation of the lump sum and the pension to be managed, and posted it: that felt like a very serious step. But there are all sorts of other, tiny, steps happening and it seemed like time to remind myself of them.
In addition to the online countdown which is on display in the kitchen, there are all the ‘last evers’: last ever department meeting, las,t ever meeting of every other committee, last ever online moderation of tutor marking (a particularly cumbersome process for which, after 5 years of it, I still needed the 6-page ‘How to’ guide beside me every time). There are the various handovers to those taking over my responsibilities. As I’m not moving to another planet, these can be partial, not complete, as people can always ask me questions. The handovers also require emails to be sent to those who are affected. Those in turn lead to surprised replies and questions about what I am doing next.
Over the past few months there has also been the Great Purge. I went through the many boxes of offprints and notes accumulated over the course of a career, and ditched about 95% of the paper into various recycling facilities. There are some topics on which I know I’ll continue to work, and some articles which I loved reading and to which I may return, but there are so many areas on which I’ve already published all I want to say. Goodbye, paper. And also, goodbye online files. Deleting these has been a real pleasure, and nowhere near as strenuous as carrying paper around in the hope of finding a bin with some space in it!
And then – the books. I have a lot of books, although nowhere near as many as some colleagues. Many were acquired as a student, and most are no longer needed, so long as the internet doesn’t fail. Also, living within 40 minutes of Oxford libraries and just over an hour from London libraries, I won’t go short of opportunities to consult books. When I took up the job at The Open University, I kept the books I use at home and the books I don’t use in the office, because I am rarely in the office and – like most of my colleagues – when I’ve been at Milton Keynes I’ve tended to be rushing round between meetings rather than sitting in the office reading and thinking. Advice on how to turn out your wardrobe often goes with the ‘if you haven’t worn it for a year, then it goes’ approach. I’ve never had enough in my wardrobe to need this advice, and I don’t think it applies to books but, even so, if I haven’t picked up a book in – what? – six years of being at the OU, maybe I don’t really need it. So some books have come home, but most will stay in the office when I leave it; they’ll merge into the great departmental heap of legacy books, or I hope be made available for those visiting for a postgrad work-in-progress event to browse and take away.
All these aspects of retiring have been focused and easy to manage. What is less obvious is the question of how to handle the end-time. Normally, because of being a Good Girl, I’ve been quick to respond to those departmental emails we all get asking for us to read a document and comment. But these documents apply to those who stay, not those who are going, so they are now being deleted. Anything to do with REF gets this treatment (that’s satisfying!). As for those emails inviting me to yet another strategy event or a briefing on yet another ‘project’ intended to make teaching or applying for funding even more effective, they go the same way. It feels odd, though; I’m still employed, so still part of the organization, but it doesn’t seem right for me to continue to be involved in this way.
And then there are the forums… Because I chair an online module, there are the forums for students and I need to keep an eye on these – at this point in the year, they are all being moderated by tutors, but as the chair I need to watch out for any overall ’emerging issues’ which may need my intervention. I also need to check out the module’s tutor forum. Plus there’s a general forum for students who want to talk about the module, which includes those considering it and wanting to know more. And then there’s the module’s Facebook page, which needs a steady stream of relevant and fun stories to create yet another place where there’s a sense of a group identity. I’m nearing my last involvement in all of those. There are also forums for tutors which are often where one finds out what is really going on – although the perception among tutors is that those of us who are based at Milton Keynes are kept in the loop while they are forgotten about, the reality is often the reverse. Checking forums is the sort of thing I do in the evening, or when waiting for a phone call. It will feel very odd to stop.
Making all this winding-down more difficult is the fact that I am still working hard. This week, I’ve had to change the status of two days from ‘annual leave’ to ‘working’ because of a number of lengthy but last-minute tasks for the MOOC. I do wonder how the contrast between my currently exceptionally high level of activity and the freedom of retirement will play out. At least I’ll notice the change!