When to leave the party

Apr 18 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Whizbang wrote a series of wonderful posts about going to the Experimental Bio meetings. EB is actually a series of organizations including physiology, anatomy and....

One of her best posts (for me at least) is talking about why she is going to these meetings, despite having given up her lab. It is a beautiful tribute to the science that underlies medicine. I have taken her words to heart and will use them when I teach the first year med students, who by the end of the term are sufficiently jaded to question why they have to learn basic science.

I had another, very personal reaction to her post, as she spoke about leaving research. She's not as old as me (I think), and is certainly working hard at other important & valuable things that an MD can do. And, importantly, from her writing, she is enjoying what she does.

I've seen lots of models of how to age in this world in which we live. I know people, in their 80s still scientifically & intellectually active. I'm not talking about the big dogs, hogging R01s.  These are people writing up the last things they have to say. Not funded (so relax, my genX friends), but still thinking, still engaged. One of my early mentors, in a different field, in a different life, quit at about age 65. He left the Big City University, bought a house in a small town in the middle of Lake Michigan, and with his artist wife, lived another life, very happy life.

I've seen people who have stayed too long at the dance, the academic equivalent of drunk and ill and socially ugly. Lonely, but not knowing what else to do, until someone had to ask them to first give up their lab, then their teaching. Some of these people had early dementia, some who had other health issues, some were just tired, but didn't know what else to do.

Then, there was my friend Bob. Bob was a single dad, who had not been well treated by his -ex. He raised two great kids with whom I am still good friends). He rediscovered an old love, renewed the love, got married. But he had a job in one place and she in another. They were mid-50s, and didn't quite have enough money to retire. So they lived apart, saw each other as possible, launched their kids. Finally, after about 3,4 years, his love retired and moved to where Bob lived. They were happy. They had a new-to-them house. Just them. Bob was trying to figure out how to swing retirement, so they could do things and not be tied to the academic year. He gave up his lab, tied up his research loose ends. He was a great teacher, but told me he was teaching for the money, and wished he didn't have to. His teaching was great and he did the intro classes no one else really wanted to do. He had Plans, but they were a year or so off. And then he died. Suddenly. In a silly, stupid, horrible accident. He and his love had had dreams, but they were not to be.

I do not want to die in the saddle. I do not want to stay too long at the party. I do not want to have dreams and plans and die before I get them to them (although if I die, how will I know?). Yet, right now, I still have some science left in me. I still have lots of ideas. I have trainees who I think I am helping. But I also have an incredible partner. I see the models, but none seem to fit. Right now. Right now.







6 responses so far

  • whizbang says:

    It's great to have plans, but as we learned earlier this year, they may get aborted by illness or other unexpected events. You have to be ready to grab whatever happiness you can, when you can. You may not be able to retire, but could you actually use all your vacation?

    Also, no matter how much you love your job, someday you will need to retire. Come up with other ways to enjoy life! Hobbies, travel, even science blogging can fill that void and let the youngsters get the support they need for their labs.

    • Zuska says:

      Wholeheartedly concur.
      My dad, a coal miner, often said to me that no one can pay you enough to work through your vacation. And we could surely have used the money - some miners collected vacation pay and worked through vacation as well; some took their vacation but sat on the front porch drinking. We always went camping, somewhere different every year.
      My dad's plan for retirement was to buy an RV and he & mom would more or less be on a permanent camping tour of the US. But he died at age 57, heart attack from black lung.
      Plans are good - but living well now is good too. So glad my mom & dad at least had those yearly camping trips, even with all us kids along in the mix.

  • becca says:

    Well, if anyone wants to start an EB type of topic science retreat that occurs in a small town on Lake Michigan as a retirement project, count me in for attendees. Seems to me Gordon and Keystone meetings are nice and all, but comparatively deficient in Great Lakes. Just sayin.

    • potnia theron says:

      Unfortunately, the mentor who was there has gone to the great field site in the sky. Yet... we could work towards that. Its always good to have a goal.

  • Katie W. says:

    Beautiful post, PT. Plans are funny things.

  • chall says:

    love this. I've tried last couple of years to really work on the balance between "live in the now" and "plan for retirement"... since you never know... but also to enjoy the now.

    your notes on vacation is spot on! I've always taken my vacation (maybe a thing from country where vacation is longer than here in the US so i feel "short vacay") and don't like that some of my coworkers see it as a badge of honor to "save the vacay hours". I guess everyone is different?

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