Friday, March 15, 2013

What do older/retired chemists do as their side gig?

The other day, Morning Edition had a nice story on a retired Chicago cop who runs a barbershop in his retirement: 
Some older Americans are passing up retirement in favor of starting businesses of their own. In fact, more than 20 percent of new businesses are started by people between the ages of 55 and 64. And one of those businesses is a barbershop in Calumet City, just south of Chicago. 
It's called Rich's Den, and it's where retired police officer Richard Piña, 69, starts his day. Even on a snowy morning, business is steady. It's the "old-timers," as Piña calls them, who come in early. They grab a cup of coffee and hang out before going under the clippers. Some of them have known Piña for decades.... 
...So he kept his options open. He had other businesses all during his police career — other hair salons, a taco stand, a rooming house. 
"I don't want to say I was an entrepreneur, but I was a hustler," Piña says. 
And when this barbershop came up for sale, he had the money to buy it. It had been a barbershop forever, and Piña didn't change it much.
I feel like I always hear about police officers having a side gig (private security, etc.) But I hear much less often about chemists and their side careers towards retirement. Certainly, consulting or other occupations directed towards the chemical enterprise is the most common post-retirement gig. Seems to me that chemistry is a career that, if you make it to retirement, you're not going to have to work as a Walmart greeter. But, these days, I am sure that there's a lot of involuntary service industry work.

So, readers, do your retired colleagues sit and home and read, or are they working? If they work, what do they do?

UPDATE: Clayton Owens points out emeritus professor Al Padwa's retirement gig:


  1. Back in the day, a lot of retired chemists used to start small businesses in their garages. After 9/11, it's damn near impossible to have a legitimate small chemical business, especially a home-based business - you'd need an army of lawyers to deal with the EPA, Homeland Security, etc.

  2. Two Words: Breaking Bad

  3. How many chemists will make it to retirement without an extended time out of work?

  4. What do you consider an "older" chemist? I know a few people who teach community college classes on the side... a few of them are in their 50s (and one of them was happy to have the teaching gig to fall back on once he was laid off).

    Not on the older side, but somewhat related: there are a lot of baseball statisticians who have science backgrounds. When you consider the higher math involved in baseball analytics, it makes sense. Most of them are biologists, but I know of a chemist who is doing this. Freelancing doesn't pay well, but they enjoy it. I would imagine it would keep their minds sharp into retirement.

  5. I said earlier that my dad opened up a store catering to a particular ethnic community that sold products back from the homeland. I get a lot of free food when I visit. He's in his 50s and makes a lot of money from the place now. I think he'll probably try to stay with it past retirement. He's still doing the traditional organic synthesis gig for 40 hours a week, but despite a recent raise, it doesn't pay as much as the store. Usually before the lab he goes to open up the store, then after the lab he comes back and takes over from the clerks and closes it. Also on the weekends he's busy with getting supplies, etc... It's a lot of work, but it's made easier by streamlining the organic chemistry part by being extremely good and efficient at synthesis of various natural products/small molecules after 30+ years.

    I really hope he gives up on the chemistry and focuses on the store though. He's working too much and it's not that healthy for an old man. I know he didn't start on any retirement savings until really late because he's an immigrant, but you need to watch your health too if you want to be around to enjoy retirement.

  6. " it's made easier by streamlining the organic chemistry part by being extremely good and efficient at synthesis of various natural products/small molecules after 30+ years"

    Maybe he could streamline even more by outsourcing some of his pojects to the PRC.,7C0,.gif

    1. I seriously think it will cost more to outsource since the salary is probably low enough to make it not justifiable. Part of the job is talking to the biologists and discussing what to make together with them, so the video-conferencing across a lot of time zones to the PRC will be a problem right off the bat. It's a classic case of an immigrant coming into the country and taking a job away from the locals by being better at it and willing to work for a lower salary just as long as they gave him an immigrant visa. You know, internal outsourcing.

      I took this all into consideration when going into college of course, but through a series of twists and accidents I eventually ended up in chemistry anyways despite the bad role-model. Mostly because it was the easiest major for me and thus very compatible with a party college lifestyle I wanted to have when I was that age.

  7. Aah, who can forget Al and his Saturday afternoon lectures...his enthusiasm was infectious though and he has applied the same passion to mountaineering.

  8. Well, I own a small pharma Lab in the Dominican Republic. It is sunny here, I am dying to find a suitable bussines partner with manufacturing knowledge.