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Ask Aunt Pythia – special Sunday edition

August 4, 2013

Guys, I messed up. I have been traveling two weeks in a row and I plumb forgot what day it was yesterday and thus, sadly, ignored my inner Aunt Pythia and her advice. I’m making up for it now, and I’m sending out major league apologies to people who were disappointed by the bullshit complaint about Indiana school politics yesterday instead of the sass you’ve grown to love from Auntie P.

By the way, if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.

And please, Submit your question for Aunt Pythia at the bottom of this page!


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I completed a BA in economics a number of years ago (well before the economy went to heck-in-a-handbasket), but didn’t immediately pursue a graduate degree. Instead of focusing on my career, I dedicated myself to a charity project–building a community school in a very poor country–which took a lot of my time and financial resources. Now, the project is up and running on its own and I’m thinking again about career paths (in order to be able to fund bigger and better philanthropic works, if nothing else).

I’ve had the obvious thought of continuing my education with a MA or PhD program, but I’m not entirely convinced that doing so will actually improve my prospects for landing a plumb job. It will, on the other hand, be sure to cost me plenty of moola. What do you think: is going into debt in order to obtain an advanced degree a wise financial decision in this economic climate? If not, what other steps do you think would be helpful for an underemployed intellectual looking to move out of manual labor and into something more “white collar,” ideally without having to sell his/her soul?

Or maybe it’s just that are some of us just stuck down here on the lower rungs of the income distribution and had better just get used to it. That is what I tend to think, but I’ve been accused of pessimism before and thought maybe you might have something less depressing to suggest.

Feeling Out Obvious Limits

Dear FOOL,

I gotta say, I’m not sure. I’m not an expert on jobs in Econ. But I’ll tell you what, if it’s like math, it’s not kind to people who take time off. I think this is a huge mistake, and obviously one that affects women more than men. If math, as a community, were serious about attracting good women, they’d change this bias. But I don’t see that happening soon. Ditto with probability 90% for Econ.

Having said that, it sounds like what you’ve accomplished is real, and although it’s possibly invisible to certain academic communities, I’d bet it isn’t to others, like the business community. If you’re a quantitative person who’s build a working charity (amazing!), then you could probably convince someone to give you a good job.

How about you look into getting a masters degree in something you’re interested in that’s also quantitative, and then rebuild yourself as an experienced team-builder?

Good luck!

Aunt P


Dear Pythia,

A Platonic friend from undergrad analysis class and I were walking on the beach together one sunny day, several years ago. She suggested we take our shoes and socks off and wade in the water, which we did. When it came time to put our shoes back on, while deftly balancing on one foot like a flamingo, I dried off my free foot with a sock, put the sock on, then the shoe, then repeated the process for the other foot, all without a hitch. Whether real, or possibly feigned premeditatedly, my companion was exhibiting quite the struggle a few feet away. Perhaps because I am more attracted to skill and independence than incompetence and dependence, I just stood by and watched. Would you agree that this was the right thing to do, or am I in for a scolding instead?

Free Bird

Dear Free,

This is a great example of a question that says more about the questioner than anything about the question.

Putting that aside, and to answer your putative question: you have no obligation to help a grownup put on their socks. But you do have an obligation to forget about how a friend puts on their socks within at most 2 days, and you have a definite obligation to not judge them for their sock-putting-on-technique on a sandy beach. Plus, it wasn’t a way to get into your pants, if that’s what you mean.

Good luck,

Auntie P


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have a question about a question you actually answered (see last question answered here) for your revival.

If ‘D’ stands for ‘Dry’ and ‘G’ stands for ‘Got laid’, don’t you actually think that there would be some sort of stickiness (or state-dependence) coming in? I mean, I have the impression – maybe fallacious – that there is some sort of cold feet effect with getting laid: once you’ve entered the ‘dry’ state, your probability to remain in that state is actually increasing.

In other words, don’t you think that Pr(D_t | D_{t-1}) is actually increasing with t? How would you test for that?

There are several mechanisms behind that I think (and I will speak for myself here): it’s becoming more and more obvious that you’re sex-starved, and this is a big put-off, because that may be interpreted as being a lousy lover. You may also have less and less patience for the required chitchat before the physical fun etc.

The above may hold for males but not for females.

I’m not so sure about the other conditional probability Pr(G_t | G_{t-1}) mainly because I’ve little experience in staying very long in the ‘G’ state; but would be curious to know more about it.


Canada Dry

Dear Canada,

Great points! And eminently modelable, which I appreciate, although the data collection would be a bitch, especially considering how much people lie about getting laid (see first answer here).

I don’t agree that the underlying effect doesn’t effect women though. The concept that “if I haven’t gotten laid in a long time my chances are actively going down” definitely seems true for many of my friends, male and female, and I don’t think it’s because they are perceived as lousy lovers.

After all, it’s not like there’s a ticker tape on their foreheads counting up the second since their last sexual encounter. Instead, I think it’s part pheromones and part self-regard. If you feel unattractive, you don’t act like a sexy thang and people are less likely to approach you.

Similarly, if you’ve gotten laid recently, you feel sexy, which makes you act like a sexy person, which is hot in itself, and also you have sex pheromones dripping off of you, which attracts the opposite sex like flies to a lightbulb.

By the way, if you’re a woman and you want a leg up on the process, may I suggest you buy synthetic female pheromones from the Athena Institute. Some of my friends swear by this, and claim it makes men desire them and/or be nice to them. Let’s say it this way: it either works or it works as a placebo.

One last thing: I think the community you live in makes a big difference for these dependent probabilities. If you have been dry for a long time but you have a good set of wingwomen or wingmen, then you’re way better off than if you’re isolated socially.

Good luck, Canada Dry! Go hang with your buddies and get them on board for your worthy cause!

Auntie P


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I spent my childhood as a lonely nerd with no friends. Over college and beyond I made friends and learned to have deep, meaningful relationships with people. Then I spent a few years working at a nonprofit, making the world a better place. I made a lot of money while helping to ease the pain associated with a number of types of cancer. And now I’m in my late 30s and rich.

I want to experience the shallow life that I see so many people around me enjoying but I have no idea how to do it. I’d try to buy my way in, but I don’t know where to begin. I’ve heard that girls go for guys with money, but don’t know where to find these girls.

Seriously, I need help being superficial for a while.

Want to be shallow

Dear WtbS,

Please let me be the first person to tell you that you’re already quite superficial. Congratulations!

Just the way you’re talking about “girls” makes me kind of gag, as if they’re lego parts that can be bought, traded, and sold. Plus you also sound crazy smug about your accomplishments, another strong signal for superficiality. So I honestly don’t think I need to give you any more advice on that front.

What I think you actually are wondering is how to be happy, or possibly happy in a hedonistic way. But the sneaky little thing about really enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle is, in my opinion, that you have real connections with the other people in your company. Otherwise you might just wake up feeling empty and crappy. It’s fun to do stupid sexy things with your friends if everyone’s into it, it’s not fun to do stupid sexy things with strangers whose motivations you don’t know, especially if you’re young and rich, because even if you don’t know, I will.

So my advice: go back to your college-aged talents and make deep connections with people who are also fun-loving and slightly crazy. It will take a few months but you might just be able to live like a fucking rock star.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. Zathras
    August 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Noah Smith had a great post a couple of months ago on the decision of whether to get an Econ Ph.D.



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