So, the great day has passed. I retired on Tuesday. I suspect retirement from The Open University proceeds very differently from the practice in most universities, let alone most jobs. Since I was working from home on The Day, absolutely nothing happened. No presentation of a clock, no round of drinks with colleagues down the pub. My mother, husband and I did a countdown in the last moments up to 5pm, standing by the most accurate, and largest, clock in the house. That was it. I knew this was going to be a Soft Hexit, but even so, it was hard to see the transition!
I had one message on Facebook and then some cards and emails the following day. And flowers from a particularly lovely colleague. Amazingly, considering that we don’t teach our students face to face, I also had some messages over the final few weeks from students: one particularly lovely one included the words ‘you have been so generously and completely hands-on’, which made me realize how much I had indeed throw myself into this job.
Does that count as a transition? My first degree was in Ancient History and Social Anthropology, so I probably know more than most about rites of passage. The format of these events to mark social transitions is traditionally separation, transition, incorporation. For example, initiates are taken out into the wild outside, learn some new stuff about their gods, then return to the group, dressed differently, for a party. I’ve just realised, from a Church of England point of view, how much that sounds like the pre-ordination retreat and ceremony… Or, if you take ‘going to university’ as one of our rites of passage, you are taken away from your home to a strange place, learn some things, like how to cook spag bol, then dress up in a gown and mortarboard before returning to normal life.
I haven’t had a rite of passage in this sense. An exit interview was finally arranged to be by phone, the day before I retired. It was interesting and cathartic. Then on my first day of retirement I went to the office to clear the last few things from it – I’d wrongly assumed I would be going in for that exit interview – and to hand over the key. I’d earlier thought I’d have lunch at the OU as part of this visit, but that just felt all wrong on the day, so I took the things and left. The lunch out with my departmental colleagues is later this month. There’s some talk about a farewell from the faculty, but the one date – in March – which I’ve just been offered (just today) coincides with a research workshop elsewhere, and having retired partly to have more chance to get on with my research and writing, I’m certainly not going to change my existing plans. So maybe I will always be stuck in the middle of an uncompleted transition?
One part has been sorted, although it’s the part which involves least change. The main source of fear was access to my mail; would my email address become invalid and my access to the OU’s excellent online library resources thus cease on 1 February? Apparently not. I’d put in some work in advance to create a sort of interim research associate status which could kick in if required. Because the Senate meeting to approve my shift to emeritus status didn’t meet until the week before I retired, it was clear that the letter informing me of my success or otherwise wouldn’t be written until after I’d gone.
In terms of how I feel now I’m retired, I already like saying ‘I’m retired’. The other linguistic shift , from calling the OU ‘we’ to referring to it as ‘they’, is complicated by emeritus status. The payment of the pension lump sum into my bank account happened on day 1 of retirement, and I am very impressed by that efficiency. Later this month I’m confident that my pension will be paid with similar promptness. I’ve turned down some requests to review articles for journals already. I’ve started to plan a paper I’m giving in Barcelona next month and mostly prepared for an outreach event this week and a schools event next week. I’m about to lead the first run of the MOOC I wrote; and it’s already great to engage with learners on the ‘Introduce yourself’ Forum, and to see how diverse they are and how excited by the prospect of the course being about to begin. But I’m retired, and doing this unpaid. Feels OK, though.
February was always going to be busy: welcome to retirement, Month 1!