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Aunt Pythia’s advice

January 19, 2013

It’s happily time for another installment of Aunt Pythia’s advice; if you don’t know what you’re in for, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.

And most importantly, please submit your question at the bottom of this column, I need more questions!

I forgot to give the readers something to do last time, so let’s start out fresh.


Dear Auntie P,

Is it possible to convince others about how excited you are in a subject in which you have little trainng, and make them give you a chance to work in this field? I’m a recent post-doc in pure mathematics trying to be a population scientist.

Hard Dreamer

Dear HD,

Credentialing is a tough thing in general, but in my experience a math Ph.D. is pretty useful in most situations. In industry it will get you an interview, especially if you also have some relevant skills like computer programming. Once you are in the interview, of course, you have to turn on the charm and communication and generally behave like a human being that people can relate to.

The exception might be other academic fields. There’s a feedback loop in academics, whereby people have a very precise idea of what makes a good researcher in their field, and they just kind of ignore people without those credentials. Since you really can’t do good research whilst being ignored (or at least it’s really hard), it’s a self-fulfilling blindspot, and the ignored people really do end up not doing very well, which reinforces the notion that one should ignore them.

One reason I think this happens less in industry is that there, people are used to the fact that they have to work in teams of people with various skills, so they know that someone who’s a proven quantitative problem solver will be useful. On the other hand, the problems they solve are typically less involved and theory-based, so it’s easier to train a smart person to be helpful. So really that’s two reasons.

My advice to you, or anyone else who wants to switch from math to a different academic research discipline, is to find someone deep in that field and ask them what the credentialing in their field looks like, and how to rebrand yourself as something closer to their ideal. Maybe you can collaborate with them on a paper, to show you are capable of bridging the communication divide.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

Can I remain in academia despite the crazy status-conscious, petty and grandiose nature of it?

Out on the Island

Dear OOTI,

You never get rid of your problems, you only get a new set of problems. Look into your options and their accompanying problems and decide what to do in that light. Keep in mind, academia is at least not unethical (usually).

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

My friend has a new friend who is pretentious and snobby and hard to be around. Now these qualities are wearing off on my friend, one of the sweetest naturally people I know. Is there a way to make her see this?

Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned Friend,

Easy peazy lemon squeezy. Next time you are alone with your friend, complain about her friend the snob for being a snob – make sure not to mix it in with other complaints or she will just think you’re mean or jealous. So, say something like, “I generally really enjoy Martha’s company but it really embarrassed me how she treated the waiter the other day, what an elitist snob!”

It’s the oldest back-stabbing trick in the book, and it will make her aware of the snobbery, which she probably doesn’t see, and it will also make her aware that you don’t like that kind of behavior, so she will be conscious of her snobby ways near you. Problem solved!

If you are conflict-avoidant, or just think the above suggestion is rude (same diff), then you could first try making a general complaint about snobby people, and give an example very similar to something your friend’s friend did recently in her and your presence (“Don’t you hate it when people yell at flight attendants?”). But if that’s not sufficient, move on to the above.

Tell me what happens!

Aunt Pythia



When I’m in polite company I sometimes feel the need to scratch my balls. How can I do so without attracting notice?

Somewhere in the world


Isn’t that what pockets are for? Jeez.



Dearest Aunt Pythia,

What’s the most important? Length, width, magic of the performer? Doesn’t matter above/below a certain threshhold?

Just wanna read you write about sex


Glad you asked. There’s been a quantitative study  on the matter which I’ve been dying to share. The key visual:



Hope that helps!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. I’ll keep an eye out for a quantitative study comparing “penis” with “magic” to finish answering your question.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

What are the effect of alcohol on your state of mind?

Boy from Delphi

Dear Boy,

Alcohol merely allows me to say what I really want to say, as if I don’t already.

Aunt Pythia


Here’s a question for you. It’s rather vague but I think you guys will have something important (or funny, or pithy) to suggest:

Dear Aunt Pythia,

I was one of those kids who when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” said “Errrghm …” or maybe just ignored the question. Today I am still that confused toddler. I have changed fields a few times (going through a major makeover right now), never knew what I want to dive into, found too many things too interesting. I worry that half a life from now, I will have done lots and nothing. I crave having a passion, one goal – something to keep trying to get better at. What advice do you have for the likes of me?

Forever Yawning or Wandering Globetrotter


Please submit questions, thanks!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. chaletfor2
    January 19, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Wonderful! I can’t get the smile off my face.

    I want to meet Aunt Pythia.


  2. mathematrucker
    January 19, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Besides finally getting to meet you Cathy (and being rendered almost speechless as an awestruck fan – thanks for throwing me a lifeline by asking me some questions!) one of the best things about attending the JMM was it reaffirmed how glad I am to not be working with mathematicians every day.

    Alas what follows isn’t likely to be important, funny, pithy, or profound, but for me anyway, ever since a close friend (who is now a mainstream political science professor) mentioned it during one of our regular discussions over bong hits in our late teens/early 20s, the maxim that stuck is “life is to enjoy”. The specific topic of that conversation is now long gone from my memory. He had probably just told me about some recent choice he’d made, then in a certain way that must have held a special impact for me, said “life is to enjoy” as a justification. To this day I still consider it a useful maxim to keep in mind when making important decisions.

    It’s curious how we can sometimes receive these things as passing remarks in everyday conversation.


    • January 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      It was really nice to meet you too! What made you glad not to be a math person, I wonder? I kind of felt the same way but I haven’t put a finger on it yet. When I do I’ll be sure to write about it 🙂



      • mathematrucker
        January 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

        Actually the mild queasiness probably has less to do with the math people themselves than it does with rarely feeling at home in any indoor office environment whatsoever, including as a K-12 student growing up. But being around mathematicians and/or math educators specifically, en masse like that, also never really felt very homey to me either. Whether that’s more a cause than effect of spending lots of time and energy on the path to a math Ph.D. without ever getting one, I don’t know.

        One thing I do know is, failing to get the degree didn’t mean I had to toss all that time and energy into the muck. To this day I continue to enjoy doing whatever math (or math-related project) I can in my spare time, in the comfort of my home or truck (which is like a home to me).


  3. Becky Jaffe
    January 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Ha! That chart is hilarious. Where did you find it? I will do my part to make it go viral.

    Love you, Becky


    • January 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      Man, I just googled “penis length width quantitative analysis” and it was the first hit!


  4. PG
    January 19, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Have you thought of illustrating all your posts with a heading picture? You know, pic~=1000 words.


    • January 19, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      Like what picture should I have put? Give me some examples.


      • GP
        January 20, 2013 at 3:16 am

        I like this.

        In the style newspapers do but with license-free/no-one-will-complain pics.


  5. brownian
    January 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    I am happy that men do not dare to come up with a similar chart regarding the woman’s “thing”(assuming they did not do that already) . I am also thinking: are we making men uncomfortable when we talk about ideal size and so on(again assuming that they have no control on what they possess)?


  6. Savanarola
    January 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    For the LW, there are a couple of good answers to this question I can give you from experience. First, it is possible that you just love the steep end of the learning curve – some people do. If so, try something that will require you to learn constantly and shift between areas of knowledge a lot. Being a trial lawyer tends to do that, but the lifestyle is prohibitive. News reporters have to learn fast and move quickly. There are many types of jobs that require you to keep your mind agile and keep moving shallowly between topics organized around a single goal, and one of those might be for you.

    Second, ask yourself what comes really, really easily to you. That thing you do where you think “Yeah, but that’s just X! There’s not a career there, and everybody can do it!” Chances are you are undervaluing a gift somewhere because it comes easily to you.

    Finally, look at all of the careers/jobs you have had to date with a very critical eye: what did you like about it? What aspects of the job environment meshed for you or didn’t? What made you leave? Make a literal LIST of what you liked and didn’t like, down to “it was indoors during the hot summer” and “there was free coffee in the break room.” These things will help you narrow in on things that make a job really good for you – and therefore will help you find your bliss. I find I can do a lot of different kinds of work happily, but the work environment matters to me a lot. You might be changing careers when what you really need to do is change environments.

    Good luck!


  7. Michael Cronauer
    July 11, 2013 at 7:09 am

    regarding the “Authentic Women’s Penis Size Chart”; the ideal preference for circumference is 6 1/4″ to 6 1/2″?? unless I simply don’t understand just what is being measured…that is roughly the circumference of the average male wrist, or even above it…something doesn’t seem right there…particularly when 7 1/4″ to 8 1/2″ is the ideal length…doesn’t that mean circumference/Length is about a 6/7.5 ratio…and therefore the gent would have to be shaped about like a soft drink aluminum can??


    • mathematrucker
      July 11, 2013 at 11:48 am

      Indeed, if I remember right from the many ads I’ve received over the years through email, the preferred dimensions would be more those of a glass Corona beer bottle.


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