Extended Employment

While academics delay their retirements, universities increasingly seek contractual, non-tenure-track faculty.

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On the one hand, there has

On the one hand, there has been much concern expressed about the aging demographics of scientists and whether enough new research trainees are being trained for the needs of academia and industry. On the other hand, the loss of mandatory retirement and faculty working past 65 years of age has been seen to limit employment opportunities for new post-graduates. On balance, the current situation is probably the best for the general public at present and in the near future. Presumably, more experienced active scientists should be better at undertaking and successfully completing more challenging research projects than junior investigators, and also be better educators with their more extensive knowledge-base.

At this time, with limited financial resources, many academic institutions might be less inclined to offer tenure-track positions for new faculty. However, they will have difficulty in recruitment of the most promising candidates, and risk becoming second rate with respect to the relative quality of their faculties over time. With loss of tenure, I suspect that even more "safe" pedestrian type research will be practiced that leads to more publications but less real scientific advancement. True innovation requires a high degree of risk. something that tenured faculty can better assess and afford, but a rather foolhardy pursuit for those in insecure employment positions. While some academic deadwood with tenured faculty does occur, the vast majority of scientists awarded with tenure are accomplished individuals that continue to be highly productive given sufficient resources.

If 35 were the average age of

If 35 were the average age of attaining a first professorship and 65 were a normal retirement age, then 50 would be the median age of a professor, and so it would not be very surprising that half of academics were over 50. Those numbers are not too far from what we observe, with people occasionally getting a professorship a bit earlier and occasionally retiring a bit later.