Today was officially my last day as a tenure-track professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. This was far from an easy decision and it's atypical, so I wanted to share a little more detail about my choice.
First of all, my colleagues at Fuqua and the administration there were fantastic during this transition. Everyone was kind and supportive, both while I pursued tenure, but also as I resigned from that pursuit. Colleagues shared their teaching materials, included me in research projects, and also talked about things that were wholly unrelated to work like gardening and making homemade yogurt. I felt seen as a person. I have similarly high praise for my mentors, collaborators, and colleagues across industry and academia: I’ve been lucky to have so much support and so many positive relationships. In terms of salaried jobs, it’s really hard to beat being a tenure-track professor. You have an astounding degree of control over your work, from how you teach your courses to the research you pursue; even your schedule is far more flexible than for the vast majority of jobs. On top of that, you get to alter lives by mentoring students, receive a good (and in some cases decadent) salary, and then there’s the social prestige from just being a professor. So why on earth did I resign?
Ultimately, it came down to the idea that life is short and time is my scarcest resource. I love doing research and I love teaching, but there are just so many other things I love more. Being a professor takes a lot of time if you’re going to do it well, and I believe in doing things well or not doing them at all. I am lucky to have sufficient financial stability through a combination of savings, my husband’s income, and a frugal mindset that I have the luxury of pursuing a “mid-life retirement.” (For more on this general topic, check out the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) community. The MMM blog is a great starting point.) Retiring early was never my plan until the summer of 2021; returning to a new normal after the pandemic in combination with having my third child made me introspect about my priorities and desires. In the end, I felt drawn to new challenges and I decided to take the plunge.
What will this new life look like for me? First, I’ll take care of myself physically (a.k.a., actually sleep and exercise), spend time with my wonderful kids, and pursue hobbies (reading, gardening, art, etc.). I will maintain an adjunct arrangement with Duke to continue teaching as long as it is of mutual interest. But instead of doing research, I’ll try my hand at entrepreneurial projects and maybe dabble in machine learning consulting. Down the line, I might teach high school math (or programming) because I love it and teenagers crack me up. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll return to work as a researcher, programmer, engineer, or data scientist; I plan to keep those skills sharp. But whatever I do, I want to focus on enriching the lives of those around me, as well as my own life, and having the mental space to appreciate all I have.