Once upon a time age 65 meant retirement. And retirement meant permanent vacation. Now neither of these statements need be true. However, “retirement age” and actual retirement are two very different things for many chemists. Even if you want to retire in the next few years, the shrunken value of your 401k investments may not let you.
More chemical professionals are seeking satisfying second careers, often with flexible schedules. The key is capitalizing on your technical and business skills and personal interests. These second careers are often referred to as encore careers.
What are the options for chemical professionals who have reached “retirement age” or have lost their jobs in mid- or late-career?
A growing number of R&D managers are taking advantage of the technical skills of former employees and bringing them for temporary and part-time assignments. Indeed, some companies are establishing databases of former employees so they can search for individuals with particular skills when needs arise. At least one firm, YourEncore® ( http://www.yourencore.com), has been formed by a consortium of companies including Procter and Gamble, Eli Lilly and Boeing to do this.
Besides utilizing your technical skills, as an “encore employee” you can be a valuable source of corporate history in your technical areas. You can also provide mentoring to younger coworkers.
When we talk temping we usually think of working with a temporary services agency such as Kelly Scientific Staffing, Olsten and others. These are certainly worthwhile options for many.
However, chemists can also work directly for companies under short-term contracts. I often do so. One chemist I know retired after a career in research, sales, and marketing for Exxon Chemicals and Nalco Exxon Energy Chemicals. After spending some time relaxing at his vacation home in North Carolina, he went to work for a small, privately held specialty chemical company, Tomah Products, whose owner wanted to expand sales to the oil industry. Given the title of vice-president, this chemist used his industry contacts to explore applications options for existing products while identifying new product needs and possible joint research. After two years he retired again but told me he planned to return to working full-time again when he got bored.
Starting a business & self-employment
Usually this means starting a service-based business such as consulting, technical writing or some other activity you find enjoyable and financially rewarding as well. Many ACS members consult. Although not yet 65, I have been consulting and writing full-time since mid-2004. One research chemist I know purchased a dry cleaning franchise. Indeed, he has experimented with using supercritical CO2 instead of chlorinated solvents to reduce the environmental impact of his business. A former chemical company president has combined his business skills and hobby of furniture making into a home-based custom furniture business.
A home-based business need not be full-time. Some consultants I know work part-time or take three-day weekends every week. One works full-time as a consultant but takes four to six week vacations. Another is a professional photographer but doesn’t work full-time.
Establishing a parallel career ( https://acscareers.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/parallel-careers-for-fun-and-profit/ ) can be a starting point for a post-retirement business or career.
Service to society at large and to fellow chemical professionals can be an important part of your post fulltime career. These activities usually are unpaid but can be a great source of personal satisfaction. The ACS has many activities in which older chemical professionals may wish to participate. One is the Senior Chemists Committee, which holds a breakfast at ACS national meetings. Great chances to network, these breakfasts feature prestigious speakers, often Nobel Prize winners.
Other service options are provided by the ACS Office of Career Management & Development, the Division of Small Chemical Businesses and other ACS units.
Retirement isn’t an end; it can be the start of a new phase of your career.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.