David J. Lohse received BS degrees in both Physics and Computer Science from Michigan State University in 1974, and a PhD in Materials Science from the University of Illinois in 1978. He then spent two years at the National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg, MD under an NSF-NRC Fellowship. In 1980 he began to work for Exxon Mobil Corporation, first in the Long Range Polymer Research Group of Exxon Chemical Co., and from 1987 to 2011 in what are now the Corporate Strategic Research Labs of ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Co. His research focused on a wide range of topics in polymer science and technology and resulted in over 120 publications and 50 US patents.
ACS has been central to his career. He served the PMSE division of ACS in several capacities, including Chair in 1998 and Councilor from 2003 to 2014. He was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2000, a PMSE Fellow in 2005, and an ACS Fellow in 2010. He received the Cooperative Research Award from PMSE in 2010 and in 2017 the Melvin Mooney Distinguished Technology Award from the ACS Rubber Division.
In retirement he is concentrating on ways to increase the understanding and thus acceptance of science among the general populace, as well as enjoying the current success of his beloved Chicago White Sox.
Did you choose retirement? Or was it chosen for you?
I was fortunate in being able to choose to retire, and also to determine when to do so. The benefits from both my employer (ExxonMobil) and that of my wife (Dow Chemical) meant that we were able to save from the beginning of our careers, and so it was relatively easy to build up the financial nest egg to both retire in our late 50’s. So, we were able to plan for retirement well in advance, and I actually stayed at work longer than needed financially to enable a smooth transition in responsibilities both in my research work and my activities in ACS.
How was the transition from the working world to retirement?
Since I was able to plan well ahead of my retirement date, the transition was fairly smooth. I was able to go from the fully-employed life to the fully-retired one over a couple of years, when I did a small amount of consulting and continued to serve ACS as a divisional councilor. Another part of our plan for retirement was to move from suburban New Jersey into Manhattan, and much of this transitional time was spent finding our new home on the Upper East Side.
Looking back, what do you wish you knew about retirement before you retired?
My wife and I knew that we would need more medical attention as we got older, and so we chose to live in a place with access to many great hospitals and medical professionals. But our need for this came more frequently and sooner than we anticipated, even though there was nothing very serious. So, we should have put more emphasis on this aspect when we made our plans, because keeping fit is essential for whatever one chooses to do in retirement.
What do you enjoy most about being retired?
As most of the readers of ACS Industry Matters will appreciate, the demands of a career in research combined with volunteering to serve ACS in various capacities require a lot more than a 40-hour work week. So, while working I was unable to spend as much time on many aspects of life as I wished. Retirement has allowed me to explore many of these areas, such as international travel, the arts and theatre, and lectures on politics and history, as well as volunteer work in areas such as defending immigrant rights. The ability to participate in these activities was clearly enhanced by the move to New York City.
How do you stay connected to the chemistry enterprise as a retiree?
Since I ended my term as Councilor for PMSE in 2014, I have mainly followed developments through ACS publications and other forms of communications. I also maintain a network of friends and former colleagues to keep in touch with the industry.
What do you like most about where you are living in retirement? What’s one thing you wish you could change about where you live?
New York City provides one the chance for all kinds of interactions with different activities and people, and this is so much easier when you live in the city. The root cause of this is of course high population density, as it is for all great cities, but with this also comes the higher chance for less pleasant interactions. So, the main thing that needs to be changed is the high degree of inequality, more specifically the need to provide affordable housing for the essential workers who make this city so livable.
What advice do you have for people who are getting ready to retire?
Beyond making sure your finances are sound, the main advice is to make a clear-eyed assessment of what you want to do with the rest of your life. For many people, this is to stay active in the chemical enterprise, but with a somewhat different focus, such as moving into consulting or doing more teaching.
For others, like me, it is to explore new areas for which you never had enough time. And for most it seems to be a combination somewhere in the middle. Once you have decided this, then you can consider all the other aspects – the place (or places) to live, whether to downsize, and so on.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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