Aunt Pythia’s advice
Great to be here, and glad you came.
Please hop on the nerd advice column bus for another week of ridiculous if not damaging guidance from yours truly, Aunt Pythia.
And please, after enjoying today’s counsel to other poor, unsuspecting fools:
think of something to ask Aunt Pythia at the bottom of the page!
I’m so SORRY. When I asked your opinion about conference sex the other week I thought I had pasted the link to the article: Will you still medal in the morning? It’s all about the behind the scenes sex at the Olympics.
If conferences like JMM were to have bowls of condoms at the end of the tables where you pick up your badge do you think people would get the idea and pocket a hand full, then use them?
Answer: no. And that’s a good thing. As much as I’m sex positive, and I truly am, I don’t think what’s going on there in the Olympic Village is really about sex. I mean, that’s super dumb for me to say, because obviously tons of sex is happening, but it’s really about freedom and control and conquests.
So, for example, when you go to college, you notice that the kids who had controlling parents and no freedom in high school are particularly prone to spending too much money, drinking too hard, and fucking anything that moves, even relative to the kids whose upbringing was more relaxed and free. It’s about asserting control over their destiny and their freedom, and it lasts a couple of months and then calms down, hopefully in time for them to pass their classes. I’m absolutely sure of this phenomenon but come to think of it I’ve never seen statistics, which is probably a good thing.
Now think about Olympic athletes. They have lives utterly controlled by their coaches and parents and practices, and between you and me it’s often a neglectful if not abusive situation for those kids. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they hate every minute of it, especially the ones we hear from who win the medals, but if you account for the selection bias for a minute and just think about the childhoods these kids have, your heart breaks for them.
So when they finally get to be somewhere away from their coaches, and this ridiculous pressure is off after their events, they need to somehow assert their freedom to themselves, and the most obvious way to do that is to party hard and fuck anything that moves. Plus it’s even better if they have a long list of conquests, because they’ve been trained to be super competitive.
Now think about math people to contrast this. I’m not saying no condoms are used at a math conference, but generally speaking math people have agency over their own lives, time to have sex when they want and so on, so when they get to a math conference, they just have more of the same. There’s some tension built up before one’s talk, and so in that sense there’s some blowing off of steam, but it’s not Olympic level.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I wrote to you a while ago ranting about how my boss sold me a middle-office IT job as a front-office quant role. Anyways, just wanted to let you know that I did manage to land a quant research role at another buy-side firm, and even though you can’t tell if it’s a scam without being there, it seems promising (I’ll start in about a month). I asked smarter questions this time and the pieces seem to be lining up. I want to thank you for providing a voice of sanity, which is always welcome but especially crucial in trying times where one needs to cut through cognitive dissonance.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
Reading about people who are trying to find love or a companion at various places (via online dating or in physical environments) at Aunt Pythia’s Saturday column, why do not you consider creating an online dating site for these high-profile intellectuals?
I considered doing this myself during graduate school when I had many smart and single people around who wanted to have a girl or boy friend but for some reason could not, I did not have the courage or time to invest in this.
How about Aunt Pythia, who has so many followers? I personally checked out some online dating environments, but it was so hard to find really sophisticated people and I did not feel like talking to all those people with the hope that one of them was the good looking nerd I was after.
I like your idea (har har!), but here’s the thing. If I started an online matchmaking thing, I’d first of all not restrict to “high-profile intellectuals,” and second of all it would be very very different from the stuff that already exists.
So for example I’m definitely of the opinion that knowing someone’s age, race, height, and weight and seeing a picture of them makes 99% of all people unfairly unattractive.
It’s a case of knowing the wrong thing about someone. I mean, I’m not saying that you don’t eventually know those things about someone you’re into, but you don’t focus on them if it’s an organic meeting. It’s just the wrong information to provide and makes things less sexy and painfully judgmental.
Let me say it this way. Some woman going online for a date might think she needs the man to be taller than she is, and filter stuff out that way, but in real life she’ll meet someone at a party and be really into him and later realize he’s probably a couple inches shorter than she is and she won’t care at all.
So what information would I ask people to provide instead? That’s a toughie, and I’d love your help, readers, but here’s a start:
- How sexual are you? (super important question)
- How much fun are you? (people are surprisingly honest when asked this)
- How awesome do you smell? (might need to invent technology for this one)
- What bothers you more: the big bank bailout or the idea of increasing the minimum wage?
- Do you like strong personalities or would you rather things stay polite?
- What do you love arguing about more: politics or aesthetics?
- Where would you love to visit if you could go anywhere?
- Do you want kids?
- Dog person or cat person?
- Do you sometimes wish the girl could be the hero, and not always fall for the hapless dude at the end?
That’s a start. Again, looking for more. I think there should be about 20. Also people should answer in sentences.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I’m a graduate student in a STEM field who happens to also be of the male inclination….oh, and I’m gay.
Now, this normally isn’t so much of an issue (though it has been!) with my social circle/friends outside of the academia, but I’m a bit concerned about disclosing this sort of information to the department, my advisor, and other STEM graduate peers, because, well
- in my humble opinion, STEM departments are not the most gay friendly. I mean, if you’re a gay male, surely you should be studying creative writing or writing your thesis about continental philosophy’s role in post-WWII imperialism (honestly, the former has been said to me….though the latter sounds like an interesting blog post or two), and
- my main concern is the future of my academic career. Who are we kidding here, people making hiring decisions in the future may not be that cool with the whole “I’m here and queer!” thing. It could affect my career, negatively. (Ever been to Princeton btw?)
Please feel free to straightsplain to me that I’m being paranoid (though I won’t think I was being paranoid, would I?)
Sardonic Albeit Distinctly Fearful About Gay-friendliness
First of all, I have been to Princeton, thanks for asking.
Second of all, I don’t think you’re being at all paranoid. In fact it warms the cockles of my heart that you might even feel like you’re being paranoid asking about this, and it’s a testament to how far this country has come since I was a graduate student. Progress!
But only partial progress, to be sure. One of the weirdest things about the academic math market is how you’re expected to up and move to just about anywhere for a one year post-doc or what have you. And many people, especially outside of math, don’t actually want to do that, even if those places are nice places. When you add to that the fact that many of those places aren’t particularly nice, and are still crazy backwards when it comes to accepting gay people, then your job search is getting narrower.
Even so, you might want to take that job in that no-so-nice place, especially if it’s only for one year. I get that.
My short-term advice to you is to do what you need to do to keep your options wide, and if that includes coming out because you’re fed up with this bullshit, then definitely keep that in mind. My long-term advice is to end up eventually in a nice place where you can be accepted. Such places exist and the great news is they are increasing in number.
Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!