Susan Butts is an active member of the science and technology policy community following her 31-year career in the chemical industry and related organizations. Currently, she is President of Susan B. Butts Consulting. Previously she served as president of the Council for Chemical Research (CCR).
Before joining CCR, she worked for The Dow Chemical Company for three decades in various positions in R&D including a stint in Washington D.C. where she worked on issues related to science policy and government funding for R&D in her role as Senior Director of External Science & Technology Programs. She is a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and of American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Susan holds a BS degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan and a PhD in chemistry from Northwestern University.
Did you choose retirement? Or was it chosen for you?
I was fortunate to be able to retire when I wanted to. As my mother approached her 90th birthday, I realized that she needed much more help from me in order to continue living in her own home. This was difficult to accomplish since I was working in Dow’s Washington, DC office, and she lived in Michigan. I had 30 years of service with Dow and was eligible for my full pension, so I elected to retire in the spring of 2010 once Dow had completed its acquisition of Rohm and Haas. At that point there were several employees in the merged organization who had the skill and experience to take over my responsibilities. I think that it was a win-win for everyone.
How was the transition from the working world to retirement?
My transition was pretty smooth and, as I recall, generally delightful. I really enjoyed my job and the people with whom I worked but the job did involve a lot of responsibility and stress. I remember feeling both calmness and joy when I woke up on the first morning of my retirement. Calmness because I didn’t have to get out of bed and rush to the office, and joy because I could spend my day doing what I wanted to do. I also had the benefit of observing my husband’s retirement transition four years earlier. He was having a great time exploring the cultural and historical treasures of Washington and playing a lot of golf. It was a pleasure to be able to participate in the fun rather than just hear about it when I got home from work.
Looking back, what do you wish you knew about retirement before you retired?
I thought that I would have lots of free time but that’s not how things started out. I wish that I had been aware of how easy it is to focus on tasks and responsibilities and not make time for activities that I really enjoy. Once I realized that I was falling victim to self-imposed deadlines for my “to do” list I became more purposeful with time management. I started thinking about how to schedule the coming week – blocking out time for chores that I wanted to get done and for activities that I wanted to do just for fun. Once I made this adjustment even the chores seemed less of a burden.
What do you enjoy most about being retired?
I love having so much flexibility with how to spend my time. My husband and I like to travel - to visit new places and learn new things. We enjoy researching and planning trips almost as much as taking them. Our last big trip (pre-COVID) was to Africa, and it far exceeded my expectations. The people we met were so kind and welcoming, and seeing the animals up close was thrilling.
How do you stay connected to the chemistry enterprise as a retiree?
In the beginning I did work for the Council for Chemical Research and served on committees with AAAS, NSF, and ACS. Over the eleven years since my retirement, I have gradually phased out most of these activities with the exception of my volunteer work for ACS. I still serve as a member of the Committee on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as a consultant to the Committee on Corporation Associates, as chair of the Development Advisory Board, and occasionally do special projects like chairing the working group that wrote the ACS Policy Statement on Workforce Related Immigration.
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?
I am so lucky to have two homes – one in Michigan and one in Washington, DC. My Michigan home is on a lake so I can enjoy the beauty of nature and outdoor activities. My DC home is near the Kennedy Center so I can easily enjoy all the benefits of the city like cultural opportunities and great restaurants. What is the one thing I would change about where I live? That’s easy – the winter weather!
What advice do you have for people who are getting ready to retire?
Don’t stress out about handing over your work responsibilities to others. Think about what you want to do once you are retired, not just in the next few months but over the span of the many years you may have ahead of you. There are some things that are better done while you are younger and in better health (like traveling) so don’t put those off.
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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.