Science
Ton Schoot Uiterkamp Photo by Reyer Boxem

Retirement? What’s that? #5Ton Schoot Uiterkamp

‘I get a kick out of teaching’

Ton Schoot Uiterkamp Photo by Reyer Boxem
Deel 5 | Ton Schoot Uiterkamp is one of various retired UG professors who doesn’t know how to quit. The now seventy-seven-year-old professor of environmentology chairs the Senior Academy Society (SAS), still assesses PhD candidates’ work, and regularly teaches.
21 December om 13:49 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 10 January 2022
om 17:29 uur.
December 21 at 13:49 PM.
Last modified on January 10, 2022
at 17:29 PM.

Door Rob van der Wal

21 December om 13:49 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 10 January 2022
om 17:29 uur.

By Rob van der Wal

December 21 at 13:49 PM.
Last modified on January 10, 2022
at 17:29 PM.

Rob van der Wal

‘When you reach my and my wife’s age, good health is no longer a matter of fact’, says Schoot Uiterkamp. ‘We could keel over at any moment.’ He’s not joking: ‘When I was sixty-two, I spent a month in the ICU, and I got a pacemaker. My heart was only doing half of what it was supposed to.’ 

The realisation will hit him occasionally: I’m only here because of all the efforts of science. ‘That’s one of the reasons why I want to continue to pass on my knowledge to the next generation.’

Hosting agreement

Schoot Uiterkamp doesn’t get paid for his work, which includes guest lecturing, assessing presentations by PhD candidates, and acting as chair of the SAS. He doesn’t want to get in the way of anyone who might make money doing the same work. The retired professor has what’s known as a hosting agreement with the UG. His pension is his income.

I would have caused less of a fuss if I’d dropped my trousers in public

Schoot Uiterkamp also needs to make sure he has the time. His schedule is not exactly empty. Or it wasn’t before the pandemic, anyway. Back then, he would spend three to four days in ‘his office’ at the university. 

Even now, he’s keeping up. ‘It’s really important to stay up to date with specialist literature for the classes I teach. I was up until midnight last night, reading Science magazine.’ But the best way to keep up is by teaching, he says. ‘I get a real kick out of that.’

Yale

Continuing to work well after retirement isn’t standard in the Netherlands, but it’s a whole different ball game in the United States. ‘I was a post-doctoral candidate at Yale University in the seventies. I was at a meeting and asked how retirement worked there. I would have caused less of a fuss if I’d dropped my trousers in public. Retirement is like a taboo subject over there. They consider it age discrimination.’

I’ll be eighty in 2024. If I can still do by then what I can do now, I’ll ask if I can keep going

That meant he ran into many more old academics at Yale than he did in the Netherlands. ‘Some of them are still very alert and active, but some of them are clearly burnt out and taking up a position that could go to someone else. They can stay for as long as they want, but that has its issues.’

Flexible

Schoot Uiterkamp thinks it’s good for people to keep doing what they’re good at. But only for as long as their department agrees. ‘I have the dean’s official permission to keep going until January 2024. I’ll be eighty by then. If I can still do by then what I can do now, I’ll ask if I can keep going.’

Schoot Uiterkamp won’t be taking up anyone’s place. ‘My office has been taken over by PhDs who have more of a right to it than I do, so I have to make do with a flexible workspace. That’s how it goes. But as long as there’s anything I can contribute, I’ll keep going.’

That means teaching classes in all sorts of interesting places. One time, Schoot Uitermakp taught a class on solar energy to a group of primary school children in Emmen while he was wearing his bands and gown. He smiles broadly: ‘I was exhausted afterwards, but it was a lot of fun.’

Retirement? What’s that?

Series | These scientists don’t know how to quit

These pensioners won’t quit: Doekele Stavenga (79) ‘I don’t know how to slack off’

These pensioners won’t quit: Trudy Dehue (70) ‘I still work just as hard’

These pensioners won’t quit: Henk Kauffman (82): ‘The contact with China was the best part’

These pensioners won’t quit: Betty Meyboom-de Jong (82): ‘I’m too old to do nothing’

These pensioners won’t quit: Catrinus Jepma (68): ‘I’m not going to twiddle my thumbs all day’

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