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When to Bow Out

Some 12 percent of National Institutes of Health grants are awarded to investigators 65 year of age or older, leading the NIH to float the idea earlier this year of an emeritus grant to enable soon-to-retire researchers funding to wind up their research programs.

But, as Nature reports, that proposal was not well received. It then looked into how academic retirements are currently treated in different spots around the world.

Some countries like Japan and Germany have mandatory retirement ages, it says, leading some researchers to leave the country to continue to pursue their work and others to file for extensions. Hans-Hilger Ropers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Genetics, for instance, received two extensions, to retire at 71. But even with those extensions, his lab was thrown into disarray, Nature says, as his institute closed down his department and his employees jostled to leave. Still, Ropers now has a part-time job and time to travel. "The sun is shining," Ropers says. "Life could be worse."

Other countries like the US and Canada have phased out mandatory retirement ages, and Nature says that researchers there tend to work later, and not just because they have to financially. For instance, Nature says the University of Montreal's Hélène Delisle retired at 70. She worked right up until her official retirement and then has since continued to write up some of her work that's already been done as well as meet with students who are also wrapping up their studies.

"In a way, retirement is a separation, a severance, because you used to go to work every day and have plenty of activity and hectic business travel," she says. "You've got to let that go, and that can be difficult."

Still, "there are few universal lessons to be drawn about how to wind down one's career," Nature says.