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Ask Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia

February 8, 2014

Today we have a special treat for Aunt Pythia fans and lovers, which is that her good friend Tante Nina has helped come up with wise answers to your timeless quandaries. I know you guys will enjoy her brief visit with us as much as I do.

After you enjoy her sage advice, please don’t forget to:

think of something to ask Aunt Pythia at the bottom of the page!

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


Dear Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia,

What do you think of answering overly nosy questions (from acquaintances, cousins, etc) with something along the lines of “Sorry, you don’t have the security clearance for that information”? I feel like it can be done with enough humor that it’s not an insult… but I can imagine I might be bad at making that call.

Nosiness Seeds Awkwardness

Dear NSA,

Given how awesome your sign-off is, we think you’re witty enough to pull this off!

Look, we may not be the best ladies for this question. You ask, we tell. But, as Tante Nina’s mom always said – in Spanish, so it sounds better – “a good understander needs few words”.

Basically, most people will take a hint with just this kind of graceful little brushoff. If someone still doesn’t get it, you can keep going with your metaphor and say, “If I told you I’d have to kill you”.

For the truly obtuse or pushy sometimes, turning the tables can deliver the message.  Ask them a super personal question they’d rather not answer.  Or, you can always be direct (less fun, less old world, but often my go-to). “How did you get so nosy? Get outta here! I’m not answering that in a million years.”

Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia


Dear Tante Nina and Aunt Pythia,

My recent (and less recent) professional life has been marred with sexism, mainly of the form of men (usually much older than I, and in positions of power over me) degrading me based on my gender or sexualizing me.

I’ve been asked to become their department’s fan girl, received numerous unwelcome comments about my weight, had new wardrobes suggested to flatter myself better, etc.

I have never crossed the line of professionalism in my dress or manner, but whenever I address the issue with these men’s superiors, I always get the blame thrown back at me: Well, what WERE you wearing? ARE you working out? Have you suggested they’re being inappropriate?

I have no problem being forward towards these men, and I call them out when they make inappropriate comments to me, usually to have them attempt to intimidate me more or complaining that they’re just jesting and I’m taking the words too seriously.

Do you have any recommendations on how to deal with professional-level sexism? I feel very much like my profession is not being taken seriously, and I’m being judged entirely on my outward appearance (which never pleases the way they want, and doesn’t exist to please them at all).

With much love,

Serious Woman Always Genderized

Dear Reluctant Fan Girl,

First of all, let me say I’m really sorry you are going through this. It truly sucks. Sexism, like racism, is alive and well. You can always try to find a better work environment and I am sure there are companies that are better and worse than others, supervisors who are more sensitive than others, but no matter where you go sexism in the workplace will be an issue to some extent. It’s the world we live in.

That said, your question, is “how do I deal with it?” It would be a good idea to document incidents, perhaps by describing the events and emailing yourself at a non-workplace address. Copy yourself on emails where you set up meetings with superiors to discuss issues and describe the problem clearly. Keep track and have a record so that down the line if you discover you are being passed over for promotions you feel you deserved or being punished unfairly you have a case to present.  This is one way to approach your problem but by no means the only one.

I have often wondered how women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor made it to the very top of their professions in a climate that was clearly even more hostile to women than anything we have come close to encountering in our own generation. Clearly, while sexism in the workplace presents a real challenge, and it is unfair that you have to deal with this, it is a surmountable challenge. You are trying to figure out how to work through this and it is exactly the right attitude.

There is some amount of legal recourse and documenting what happens will help you avail yourself of that avenue if you ever decide to take that route, but let’s face it, you don’t want to bring out the big guns unless you really, really have to.

So back to Ruth and Sandra. How did women of that generation get by?  On grit, excellent results, hard work, and playing dumb, dumb like a fox.

Don’t let these guys win by undermining your confidence, because that is what they are trying to do. With the little micro-aggressions they are trying to put you in your place. Showing any kind of upset plays right into that. These guys are jerks and bullies.  Jerks and bullies generally give up and go away when they can’t get a rise from you.

Laugh, brush them off with humor whenever possible, and remember that success is the best revenge.

Also, don’t worry too much, and give yourself some slack sometimes too. Try to put in place the support in other areas of your life that you will need to call upon to shore up your strength and pull you through.

Finally, remember you must be doing something right if all these guys are running scared.


Tante Nina


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have been dating someone for about 4 months, and in some ways things seem to be going well: we enjoy spending time together, we are attracted to each other, we have a lot of the same attitudes and goals. But I’m not in love with her, and am starting to worry that I never will be. In my previous relationships it happened a lot sooner. How much time should I give this?


Not In Love

Dear NIL,

I’m gonna say it, because I think it has to be said. Walk away. You don’t want to waste your time, and you don’t have an infinite amount of time to waste. Go find something truly satisfying, and stay good friends with this very cool person.

Also, who knows? You might figure out there is love there after you stop seeing each other and you miss each other.

But you gotta have standards, and being bored is not a good enough one.

Aunt Pythia


Hiya, Aunt Pythia,

I’ve been seeing a lot of “PhD (ABD)” popping up on people’s LinkedIn profiles and resumes. Having dropped out of grad school when my advisor went on “indefinite” sabbatical four years into my own graduate study, after passing the written oral and qualifying exams for PhD candidacy, I’m wondering if I’m doing myself a disservice by “just” listing Master’s. On the other hand, I certainly don’t want misrepresent myself. What do you think? Is this something you’ve heard discussed in academic or business circles?

Does Representation Of PhD Overstate / Understate Talent?



Here’s the thing, DROPOUT, we looked over a few LinkedIn friends of ours to check out the sitch, and we’d like mention that we were also surprised by how many ABD’s turned up.

However, those people are all people who expect to get their dissertations written up soon, or at least claim to be well on their way towards that goal. Our conclusion is that “ABD” implies an active engagement with your thesis, which we don’t think you have. So we say: don’t do it.

And it’s possible you could fake it, but then if, after 10 years you still have “ABD” up there, it would look weird, and weirdly defensive. That’s just our opinion. Also, if we were you, we’d focus on other cool things you’re doing with your education rather than fretting over that.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia and Tante Nina


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

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. DJ
    February 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    It depends on DROPOUT’s field. ABD status doesn’t really make sense for mathematics. In mathematics, the thesis is pretty much the entire Ph.D. It would be like saying “All but grad school” or “All but Ph.D.”
    ABD status is meaningful for subjects where a considerable amount of prep work and field work is required prior to writing the dissertation. In math, the prep work is the dissertation. You either have a theorem or you don’t.


  2. February 8, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    4 months in a relationship just isn’t that long. I don’t know if there are external factors, like you want kids ASAP and there is a biological clock ticking, but I wouldn’t ditch a perfectly happy relationship after 4 months because I wasn’t in love.


  3. Mr. McKnuckles
    February 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Four months may not be long enough to say how you feel about someone – depends upon the circumstances. I noticed that the writer said, “we share a lot of attitudes and goals.”

    One thing I’ve noticed among friends (and myself!). If someone is their “type” then they tend to fall in love very quickly – but the relationship usually doesn’t work. After all, the past experiences with this type of person didn’t work for a reason. And often enough, the types people find exciting are long on superficial stuff, and short on “sharing of attitudes and goals”

    When someone isn’t their “type”, it can takes longer to fall in love. It takes a bit of time to figure out the new person and how they tick.


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