The retirement age is creeping up, so it’s wise to think about your future today, says Julie Franklin

Q: I’m in my first role after leaving university with a PhD last summer. I know the retirement age is going up and there’s a possibility that I might be working into my 70s. How should I plan for the future?

A: The good news is that, generally, we are living for much longer than the traditional ‘threescore and ten’. But this puts pressure on the nation’s purse and so, as you note, the default retirement age of 65 no longer exists. Planning for a rewarding career now and later in life is absolutely necessary if you’re to enjoy your 50-year career.

Careers are very rarely linear nowadays so thinking about what you want to achieve at different stages of your career, aligned to the things that you want to achieve in your personal life, can help to give you the level of income and job satisfaction that you’d like at each stage.

For many people, the time of highest career achievement coincides with the highest financial pressures – mortgages and children going to university for example – so earning a reasonable salary at that stage of life is important. Consequently, this can be a time of high responsibility and possibly stress. However, later in life these financial pressures may relax, so you might want to steer your career to something more manageable and less stressful as you get older. This could be the time to earn a lower salary, but focus more on enjoying what you do. Portfolio careers are becoming much more popular – for example, part-time roles combined with some self-employed work. This approach can also allow you to gradually reduce your hours towards retirement.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is an integral part of career planning, so get into good habits now. Keeping your knowledge and skills up to date is vital if you want to take advantage of opportunities at any stage of your career. CPD isn’t just about going on training courses, it’s about identifying areas for improvement, taking action and then reflecting to plan further development. You can use our online CPD planning and recording system to keep track of your development. It’s entirely confidential and one of your benefits as an RSC member. 

Be your own boss

The notion of being your own boss can be alluring but it may be that you can’t take the financial risk at the moment. However, if it’s something you’d eventually like to do, you can start preparing now. Build up your network of contacts and identify who could benefit from working with you on a freelance or consultancy basis in years to come. What skills and expertise will you be able to sell? Find ways to get as much experience as you can in technical terms, but don’t forget that you will need commercial skills too, such as communication, budgeting and marketing to present an authoritative and professional image as a consultant. The RSC supports consultant members in several ways, including a guide to consultancy,  a special interest group and a directory of experts to be launched next year.

Of course, at any stage you can think about using the vast array of skills that a career in science equips you with to do something completely different. Perhaps working in a public appointment or on the board of a charity would appeal to you later in life.

Stay informed

In the UK, the government provides advice on retirement and state pensions, so make it part of your planning to check periodically for the latest information and to calculate your state pension age (retirement age and state pension age are not the same thing). You are also protected from discrimination at work as you get older. 

The Laterlife organisation can also help you with all aspects of working at later stages of your career, and planning for retirement. 

Financial planning is also important. Understanding your pension and saving wisely now will ensure that your eventual retirement is enjoyable and that you can spend it doing what you want to do, whether it’s trekking in the Andes or learning to play the piano.

If you have more advice you’d like to share about this month’s question – or have your own career conundrum for Julie – please write to