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I'm a tenured professor and like my job overall. I don't go to work giddy everyday, but I enjoy research, and usually enjoy teaching. I don't enjoy stuff like playing department politics or being part of a system that puts students into debt, but I don't think you can feel positive about every aspect of any job.

However, I'm also in the fortunate position of being able to retire early if I wanted (I'm in my early forties). I made some investments a while ago that turned out well, and they generate enough passive income to support my (modest) lifestyle on their own.

If I chose to retire from academia now, I'm confident there are other things I can do to fill my time. I'm not worried about being "bored."

However, given how hard it is to get an academic job and tenure, it seems crazy to walk away from it this young. I also worry that it would be impossible to go back to academia if for some reason I wanted to in the future.

So, would I be crazy to walk away from a tenured job if I don't need it financially?

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    Not quite what you asked, but one option might be to take an unpaid leave of absence, to see how you like not working. It might even be possible to negotiate an indefinite leave of absence, so that you could come back someday if you wanted. – Nate Eldredge Sep 11 '18 at 18:25
  • Would you plan to continue publishing in retirement? I think that'd be a major factor determining whether you'd be able to get a new academic job later. – Nate Eldredge Sep 11 '18 at 18:25
  • Hi and welcome on this site. I'm afraid that isn't really suitable for a question since it's a very personal decision. You could start a chat about it though to gather opinions and anecdotes from our users. – Cape Code Sep 11 '18 at 18:58
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    While the decision "should I retire?" ultimately is quite personal, I really don't see why answers to this question wouldn't be generally applicable to others. While the financial aspect is better addressed on the Personal Finance & Money SE, the implied questions here "If I retire, could I return to academia later?", "how to decide when to retire from a tenured position?" do seem valuable here. Not least since academia has unusual possibilities, such as sabbaticals, easy of taking unpaid leave of absences, and the possibility of emeritus positions. – Anyon Sep 11 '18 at 19:32
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    You almost certainly don't have enough money to retire. When people start qualifying their potential retirement needs as "modest", they're lying to themselves. Retirement is expensive. – Glen Pierce Sep 12 '18 at 14:10
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If this was me, I would ponder on this question for one year, then make a final decision. Perhaps taking a sabbatical could help you know what you want. I knew of a colleague who took a one year unpaid leave to ride the country on her motorcycle. She returned for a year, decided that she really just wanted to retire, and retired officially at the end of that school year.

So, would I be crazy to walk away from a tenured job if I don't need it financially?

No. If this is only about finances, there is no reason to keep a tenured position. The whole purpose of tenure is to provide stability in one's career. If you have obtained that stability via other means, I see no purpose in staying in the position out of some sort of perverse respect for tenure itself. I actually think that the issue of tenured professors not retiring when they should is causing a log jam at my former institution.

I don't enjoy stuff like playing department politics.

Would your retirement lead to department politics? If your department chair is planning on you being around for yet a long while, I would give him or her plenty of advanced notice of your plans. If you abruptly left your position, it could cause some politics to arise. It also could lead to difficulty in the future if you do decide to return to academia.

I made some investments a while ago that turned out well, and they generate enough passive income to support my (modest) lifestyle on their own.

I'm not privy to your finances of course, but it seems that you may be banking on these investments supporting you for 40+ years. That's a long time, I'm not going to lie. Projecting returns on investments 40 years hence is next to impossible. This depends significantly on how risk adverse you are. It also depends a lot on if you have a spouse, kids, pets, a house, a car, health issues, etc.

I also worry that it would be impossible to go back to academia if for some reason I wanted to in the future.

This will first depend quite a bit on what your field is (history versus computer science). If you even spent a few years out of computer science, you could be passed by. History (or the like) is probably not so severe in this regard. If it would require any sort of "work" to stay current in your field, then what's the point of being retired? One other question that you would need to examine is, if the time came, what level of academia you wish to re-enter. Getting back into teaching by joining the staff of a junior college would be much easier than jumping into a tenured position at an R1 research university.

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    In the first paragraph, it may be important to distinguish between "sabbatical" (full or part pay, expected to do research or something scholarly) and "unpaid leave" (no pay, do whatever you want). Also, the politics is a good consideration. One example of a potential concern is if you decide to retire during a hiring freeze - the department may then become understaffed. – Nate Eldredge Sep 11 '18 at 19:53
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I'm retired for a few years. I'm having a great time. I loved my job, but the physical demands got to be tiring. More than that was the responsibility I felt for all my students. It was good to be able to let that go and leave it to colleagues.

But my advice is not to retire unless you have something that you want to do more than what you are now doing. Too many people don't live long beyond retirement and being bored with life is, I think, a big factor.

What you do in retirement is less important than that you really enjoy it. It needn't be another job. It could be fly fishing and all that goes with it. Or making fine furniture. Or volunteering your skills in some local organization. Or just reading. Writing is good too, whether professional or not. Travel works for some, especially active travel.

But it is also good to build up some background in your new activities before you make the decision. One of my current activities is teaching Tai Chi to a few students. I earn a few dollars doing it, but it is more important, to me, that I just give them the opportunity to study it. I practiced and started to teach it before I retired, so I knew that it had the potential to be a lasting thing that would keep me from being bored. It also keeps me young.

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  • What are some examples of the physical demands of a math / CS professor? Early mornings? Constantly using brain power and feeling burnt out? I'm curious to know - thanks Buffy. (I'm comparing to work in finance and tech, where long hours are typically expected, in return for high salaries.) – user93132 Sep 11 '18 at 20:11
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    @JalapenoNachos, for me it was travel. I live quite a ways from my former employer and then had to deal with city traffic when I got closer. I also had the long hours issue as I was available to students constantly via electronic means. – Buffy Sep 11 '18 at 20:26

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