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Feb. 22, 2017

Roger Baldwin: A way of life

Feb. 22, 2017

Roger Baldwin is the Mildred B. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education in the College of Education.

It’s no surprise a senior professor would occasionally wonder what comes next. What will life be like as an emeritus faculty member? What will I do with my time? Who will I be? What kind of relationship will I have with MSU and my one-time colleagues? What will give my life meaning and purpose?

After more than 30 years as a university professor, I should be asking such questions. What may be surprising is that I have been asking questions about academic careers and the challenges of academic life since I was a graduate student. Questions like, “How does a professor get an academic career off to a good start?”, “How do early career demands differ from those in the middle years?”, and, “What keeps a professor fresh, motivated and up-to-date over the course of a long academic life?” The academic career has been the focus of much of my scholarship.

An interesting confluence of events and opportunities triggered many of the questions I have been asking throughout my career. While studying at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Michigan, I had a graduate assistantship at the university’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.

CRLT helped introduce me to the concept of faculty development. This learning opportunity combined with psychology and education courses related to organizational, career and adult development set the stage for much of my life’s work. Bringing academic careers together with developmental psychology provided a new perspective for thinking about the challenges of academic life as well as the conditions that foster motivation and facilitate continuing growth and professional advancement.  

My research has investigated different stages along the academic life course. I have worked to understand how the demands confronting novice professors differ from those in the middle of academic life and those of colleagues nearing retirement. More importantly, I have asked what the professional development needs are at each career stage, and how colleges and universities could continue to support faculty members as they progress through their careers.

The academic profession I set out to study as a graduate student has changed dramatically. A once predominantly white, male, middle-class profession has been transformed by demographic diversity, technology, globalization and a major shift from tenure-track appointments to more contingent positions.

Each of these developments poses new challenges and raises new research questions. The linear career stage model that launched my career and yielded some very illuminating research findings, no longer seems a good fit for the complex academic lives of professors today. This may be part of the answer to one of my original questions: “What keeps a professor engaged and vital over a long professional life?” It’s variety, change, intriguing new questions and the ongoing opportunity to make a valuable contribution.

My most recent work focuses on late academic life and the transition into emeritus status. I see retirement not as an end but as a new beginning. For this reason, I am investigating strategies innovative institutions across the United States are employing to bring academic careers to well-planned and fulfilling conclusions while also developing new policies and structures to stay connected with and continue utilizing the diverse talents of their retired professors.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned is this: At its best, an academic career is not a job but a way of life — a rich and rewarding life that can continue as long as one maintains interests, stays engaged and is armed with a few energizing questions.

Baldwin will speak at the symposium, “Taking the ‘Taboo’ out of Retirement: Reimagining Later Academic Life,” presented by the College of Education, the Academic Advancement Network and the WorkLife Office on March 22 at the Henry Center: Register online at

Thanks to Nicole Geary and Blythe White. Photo: Blythe White