Judith Nowack, Photo by Eva Menezes



Former occupation: Associate Vice President of Research, overseeing compliance and risk in areas including human subjects, conflicts of interest, laboratory animals, and biosafety. Dropped to a 20 percent appointment in July 2012, and retired six months later.

Age: 63

Time at U-M: Came to the university as a graduate student in 1971. Joined the Office of the Vice President for Research in 1986.

Why decided to retire:
I knew that the time had come for me to want to focus on myself. These are very stressful positions.

Why decided to do a phased retirement:
I am very fastidious about planning and it took me about four years to work it through. I wanted it to be gradual, but I also knew that I had been so devoted to the job that it was a real change in myself. I wasn’t really retiring from something, I was retiring to something.

How prepared for retirement:
In that three or four years I got my master gardener’s certification, I trained as an ESL one-on-one tutor, and I trained and certified for the Community Emergency Response Team. I had this vision of myself moving from what is a public service job here to different public service jobs that don’t pay. The new activities would provide me other kinds of social settings. Because replacing the community of the office is a big thing.

For a very long time, every day when I came in to the office, when I was walking through the corridor downstairs, I’d say, ‘Pretend this is your last day.’ To feel that separation. And with time it got less and less. Beginning the previous winter, I started taking personal things from my office. I had this vision of my center moving from the Fleming Building down Liberty St. towards my house!

Advice for others considering a phased retirement:
Manage your own emotional reaction to it. Why is it that you’re doing it? What are your objectives? What steps are in service of those objectives, when your first reactions might be, ‘No, I have to do this. I have to do that. I have to go to the office because they’re counting on me.’ A lot of that is addiction to the adrenaline of the crisis, and the sense of being invaluable. But you’re not invaluable. The institution is bigger than one person and goes on.

The best thing about not working:
The control of my time, and being able to use prime time on me. I figure I have 40 years ahead of me. As much time ahead of me as I’ve spent with the university.