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Aunt Pythia’s advice, hungover edition

May 31, 2014

You might notice that Aunt Pythia’s advice is getting posted later than usual. That’s because Aunt Pythia is a wee bit slow on the uptake this morning due to a mighty exciting and exhausting week followed by celebrations of said week. Please bear with her as she gives groggy, possibly irrelevant suggestions to your lovely, deeply and heartfelt questions.

And please, after reading her worse-than-usual advice this morning/ afternoon,

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 Aunt Pythia,

I seriously consider the “Ask Aunt Pythia” series on mathbabe.org as the greatest and bloggiest thing on the blogging planet (granted, I explored only a part of it, and this is only an individual opinion).

Is this the right place to say it?

Mount Trouillet With Love

Dear MTWL,

Why yes, yes it is. Thank you darling.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

As a grad student, I feel guilty constantly. Guilty that I am probably not spending enough time on my research, guilty that I don’t spend enough time on teaching, guilty that I sleep too much… You get the idea.

To have a successful academic career, how much should one be working, assuming average intelligence? Also, how should one avoid feeling guilty all the time?

A Grad Student Who Loves To Sleep


Sleep sounds like a gooooooood idea right about now, I think I will.

One of the things I don’t miss about being an academic is the constant guilt I imposed upon myself. It was all me, and I can’t blame anyone else. I can blame nothing except possibly the intense and competitive environment, which again, I chose to live in.

It was, I guess, the internal drive to write papers and stay abreast of my field, and without it I might never have done those things, but it sucked. I don’t even think I could summon up guilt feelings like that if I tried nowadays. Instead I do things out of sheer excitement about the ideas. I guess sometimes I feel frustrated that I haven’t had time to do the stuff I want to, but that frustration is definitely preferable to the old guilt. And come to think of it, a much more efficient way to work too.

My advice to you is to give yourself one day a week to do stuff that you just totally love, and banish guilt from your life. You might end up getting more done that way, and then you could expand it to two days a week, who knows. Tell me how that works for you!

Auntie P

p.s. Please work on your sign-offs. “AGSWLTS” means nothing to me.

p.p.s. Never skimp on sleep. Skimp on reading Aunt Pythia, but never skimp on sleep.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have lived in a different country in each decade of my life and currently use three different languages on an every day basis. No language do I master well, especially in speaking and listening. The doctor says that I am healthy, and I try to study and practice as much as possible. But, I have communication difficulties in any language. Should a more drastic action be taken? For example, find a job that requires more oral communication. Or, move back to my mother tongue country and try to reactivate my native language ability? 


Smurf, or Schtroumpf

Dear Smurf/Schtroumpf,

I just wanna start this out by saying how very much I enjoyed the smurfs as a child. It was weird, the show was never very good but I always ascribed to those little blue creatures much more interesting lives than they seemed to have. At the end of each episode I remember thinking, “and now they’ll go back to even more interesting things they do in their village in the woods with mushroom houses.”

I think that was their magic, in fact, to seem more interesting than they are. Smallish confession for Aunt Pythia readers: I have been doing my best to summon up a similar more-interesting-than-she-seems cachet pretty much all my life. That’s right, everything I’ve ever done or ever will do goes back to my fascination with the smurfs, and especially papa smurf, who always seemed wiser than even Alan Greenspan back in the day (“NOT LONG NOW!”).

As for your question, I’m of the opinion that people get good at what they focus on and what they are patient for. If you really want to focus on getting good at a given language, then you’ll need to stop moving countries and just forgive yourself for not already knowing stuff you don’t know, it will come with time. My husband, who is not particularly good with languages, has gotten really good at English since I met him 20 years ago.

Stay blue!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Your thoughts on the mathematical community being possibly less empathetic than average really hit home for me, because my experiences of being trans and attempting to do math have been really pretty miserable.

So with that said, let’s confront some cissexism:

Plenty of human females have penises. Trans women are female.
Plenty of human males have vaginas. Trans men are male.
(and of course such porn exists)

Talking about sexism in science is interesting. But we can (and should!) do it without erasing the experiences and existence of trans people, whose gender and sex are valid and real.

Further reading here.


Cisnormativity Is Silly

Dear CIS,

Thanks for the corrections, CIS! You are totally correct that I ignored trans women in my recent piece about female penes.

And although I strive to be empathetic, ignoring someone is a common way to be the opposite. And so I apologize, and I’ll try to be more thoughtful in the future. Thanks for writing!

Aunt Pythia


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

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. May 31, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Dear AGSWLTS,
    If you are afraid you are sleeping too much, start tracking how much time you sleep. Do you need naps during the day? That might be fine in a flex hours profession like academic mathematics. I had a few professors who took maps during the day. Naps help you process what you have learned. The reason I suggest recording how much you actually sleep is to reveal if you are sleeping more than 8-9 hours a day (which may seem like a lot but isn’t). Then if you are truely sleeping alot, check with a doctor, because you could have a medical illness (mono, walking pneumonia, tuberculosis etc etc).
    As for how many hours a week you should be working on your degree, I always made a rule of min 40 hours max 55 hours per week on doing work including study, classtime, teaching, grading, booking travel for work etc. I thought of it as being something of a union laborer. I put the max 55 because I found that while math can get you in a flow sometimes where you do suddenly put in an effective 12 hour day the results deteriorate when you do this for a few days in a row. You may find a different max is better for you.
    I organize a to do list of tasks according to whether I am tired, feeling smart at math, feeling ready for details, feeling organized, feeling optomistic but not particularly bright, and so on. This way I can check my mindset and then look at the appropriate part of the to do list. I’m in geometry so my smart at math moments are full of images and I think of how to devise new theorems and solve them, details times involve all the analysis to get such theorems proven rigorously, organized times are for sorting through projects and planning ahead, optomistic times are good for writing introductions and job applications, tired times are good for webpage updates, vita updates, grading, lesson prep, etc etc.
    Keep in mind sometimes you may get sleepy for having a great idea or almost a great idea, and sleeping on it is exactly what you should do!
    Best of luck and hope you aren’t sick,
    Christina Sormani


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