Sociology professor presents an alternative to retirement

York University’s sociology Professor Suzanne Cook re-defined retirement for a group of professors, age 55 and over, at the University of Ottawa’s career week conference, titled “Once a prof, always a prof… even in retirement?”

Suzanne Cook

In her keynote speech, “Movers, Shakers and Shifters: Redirection into New Challenges and Rewards,” on March 10, Cook shared her research and insight into redirection, an alternative to retirement that she urges professors to consider for themselves and their peers.

Cook is also the executive producer of the documentary, Redirection: Movers, Shakers and Shifters available online, which is one component of her work and career development initiative, the Redirection Project, funded by the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling.

“There is a paradigm shift as work and retirement are reconfigured. New career paths are emerging,” says Cook.

She coined the term “redirection” to refer to the new stage of later life career as individuals transfer skills, experience and knowledge into new pursuits and directions. Their new pursuits may involve paid or volunteer work.

“When we think about retirement today, it is important to acknowledge that this stage of life can be one or two decades or more,” says Cook, who adds retirement is no longer mandatory at age 65. “People are looking to cultivate an active life with new challenges, social engagement and opportunities for achievement, so they can feel whole.”

Françoise Moreau-Johnson, conference organizer and manager of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Academic Leadership, invited Cook to speak at the event to provide information and support to professors who are thinking of the different options available to them as they near traditional retirement age, including the option of redirecting into new pursuits.

“Faculty had the opportunity to ponder the different possibilities available for retirement; for example, staying active in research; giving back to the university, the community and the students; carrying on doing what you enjoy most; exploring a passion other than teaching and research,” says Moreau-Johnson.  “Suzanne’s keynote speech certainly opened the participants’ minds regarding different opportunities and set the scene for the mentoring café discussions. One participant commented that he was impressed and informed with the excellent conference and that the ‘take-aways’ were numerous.”

Cook adds that “even in the academy, it is important to talk about later life career and the options and opportunities that redirection can bring. Professors redirect in various ways. Some professors want to deepen their commitment to the university and are interested in leaving a legacy when they retire from the institution. For example, this could be a desire to establish an award or a scholarship that the professor feels is greatly needed. My research shows that people want to find and are discovering new pursuits and new avenues for satisfaction and success. As the workforce ages, we will develop more supports, services and policy to help older adults redirect and find what comes next.”