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kretschmar

Inquiring about faculty retirement

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Several of the PhD programs I'm applying to have faculty of interest who are ostensibly near retirement. In more than one case, a retirement among such faculty members would significantly affect my decision of where to attend.

Are current grad students at a given program the most reliable channel for finding out about retirements and who's still taking students? Is there a better way to reach out? Should I just name names to you all, and see if people here know?

 

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Seems like a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

If you get admitted, then you can ask the faculty member if they plan to be around for the next couple years.

You should also ask every faculty member this question. They move around a lot and for all sorts of reasons.

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You should ask students in the department, but they won't be especially reliable sources--and probably not very knowledgeable, either. Students who are at the end of their PhD and working with the faculty in question will have a better idea, but they still won't be especially reliable. What compounds the problem is that faculty themselves often don't have a clear idea of when they're retiring until they're quite close to it.

If it were me, I'd start by figuring out roughly how old they are. If they're in their mid-to-late seventies or older, I'd work with the assumption that they probably won't be around to supervise me, especially if it's an American or Canadian PhD program, since those take substantially longer. I'd also ask around here, because some of us may have some kind of (unreliable!) sense of the lay of the land. If they're younger than that, then I'd apply and, once I was accepted, I'd ask current students and maybe even the person in question themselves.

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Posted (edited)
23 hours ago, kretschmar said:

Are current grad students at a given program the most reliable channel for finding out about retirements and who's still taking students? Is there a better way to reach out? Should I just name names to you all, and see if people here know?

Go for it. See if you can find a student who is working on your POI's AOS. They would certainly know why (or why not to) have that POI on their committee. Retirement would be front and center if they know the POI.

Edited by Duns Eith

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22 hours ago, maxhgns said:

If they're in their mid-to-late seventies or older

Just want to reiterate that age is not a good indicator of whether someone will be around or not, or whether they will be available to serve on dissertation committees.

People get new jobs, they go on multi-year leaves of absence, they stop teaching because they get tired, they stop taking on new students because they're over-committed. All sorts of things happen that stop someone from taking on students.

Once you get admitted somewhere (it's not worth asking before, it just isn't), then the only person who can tell you are the people you are interested in working with. Grad students don't know as much as they think they do, and they won't be able to predict what your working relationship with someone would be like.

So, you should ask everyone directly about where they're at with respect to taking on students. It's part of their job for them to tell people this, they're the ones who signed up to work in PhD programs and be available to advise PhD students. It's also not impossible that someone who plans to retire would still like to serve on committees.

Sidenote: if there is only one person in a program you think you'd want to work with, you are probably not a great fit for that program.

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1 hour ago, Olórin said:

Just want to reiterate that age is not a good indicator of whether someone will be around or not, or whether they will be available to serve on dissertation committees.

Absolutely. That said, you can expect that someone in their mid-/late seventies or older will be retiring soon. It doesn't mean you shouldn't apply, or that they will retire, but it's one of the few indications you can find on your own before applying.  Remember, a PhD is a 6+ year project.

 

1 hour ago, Olórin said:

Sidenote: if there is only one person in a program you think you'd want to work with, you are probably not a great fit for that program.

In some AOSes (those which are small, or professionally maligned) you might not get more than one person strictly devoted to that AOS. That's OK, but you need to go in with your eyes open, and understand that things may not work out between you and that person for whatever reason. That means having a backup plan, and attending a program that's strong in some of your other interests (and cognate subfields), too.

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This is an excellent question and one I only asked after I received an offer, though it is certainly one I ought to have asked beforehand. 

 

I suppose I have a different take on this from the above posters.

My suggestion would to ask a professor you get a good vibe from while reaching out to scholars in your AOI. It certainly isn’t anything inappropriate to ask, though it can feel that way in the midst of applying and trying to come of as collegial as possible. If anything, however, I would imagine such a question would come off as sincere and showing you research into the department.

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Current grad student here: Definitely recommend talking to graduate students about it, in my experience they tend to be fairly knowledgable about these sorts of things. With that being said though, I do think that should probably wait until you've already gotten in somewhere and are strongly considering attending.

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