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Aunt Pythia’s advice

June 28, 2014

Aunt Pythia has missed you guys, and apologizes for the last two weeks of lost advice-giving opportunities. Her metaphorical advice bus broke down, but it’s back on the road again, it’s got a full tank of gas, and we’re ready to drive anywhere. It’s kind of a luxury winnebego advice bus today, I’m thinking. Here’s the exterior:


Action shot!

And here’s the interior, before the Aunt Pythia advice seekers get there:

The disco ball is currently recessed.

The disco ball is currently recessed.

Aunt Pythia is either up in front, driving, or she’s reading her new and already beloved copy of The Cartoon Guide to Statistics by Larry Gonick and Wollcott Smith.

Without further ado, let’s begin. And please, after enjoying the on-board cheese and cracker snacks, do your best 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 Aunt Pythia,

Thank you for publishing my responses to your Alternative Dating Questions a while back: that was fun! As for getting the “dog or cat” question wrong, it was probably the easiest of the ten for me to answer, on the grounds that when I was young, most of the local canine population decided to redress the “humans eat hotdogs” balance on me, even though I never liked the damned things myself. So I am prejudiced – but with good reason.

I’ve now tried out your questions on my friend Female And Remote And Well As Yummy, and these are her answers (and mine):

  1. 1.How sexual are you? (super important question)  This morning – not very; Approx 8/10 (but sometimes only 2/10, and occasionally 11/10)
  2. How much fun are you? (people are surprisingly honest when asked this) 7/10; In the right company, this can reach 4/10
  3. How awesome do you smell? (might need to invent technology for this one) I smell fantastic; Only about 3/10, I’m afraid, but I could scrub up a bit
  4. What bothers you more: the big bank bailout or the idea of increasing the minimum wage? The big bank bailout; Neither – both bore me
  5. Do you like strong personalities or would you rather things stay polite? Strong personalities; I’d rather things stay polite? 
  6. What do you love arguing about more: politics or aesthetics? Æsthetics [she didn’t actually answer with the ligatured a and e, but it’s a cultural difference we’ve discussed many times, so I felt justified in correcting her]; Politics, just
  7. Where would you love to visit if you could go anywhere? England; The Antarctic
  8. Do you want kids? Yes (I’m happy with those I’ve got); No
  9. Dog person or cat person? A cat person; A cat person
  10. Do you sometimes wish the girl could be the hero, and not always fall for the hapless dude at the end? Absolutely; Yes

So my question for you this week (if it’s not greedy to have another one so soon) is: Does Aunt Pythia think there is chemistry here? And if not, what does she think to the chances of at least a little physics?

Kind regards

Male And Deluded

Dear Male and Deluded,

A match made in heaven! First because you’re both cat people, and second because she agreed to fill out this ridiculous questionnaire, which she’d only do if she was interested, and which you’d only ask her to do if you were interested, the vital ingredient. I’d go easy on the spelling corrections though.

Just to be clear, though, the original point of the questionnaire was that normal dating site questions don’t actually supply you with useful information, and I thought we could improve them. So the real question is, after seeing her answers, are you more interested in her? I thought so.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m very sorry about the length of the last letter. I wasn’t in a very good way at the time of writing, and I understand if it wasn’t very comprehensible. I also managed to figure out the answer to my other question (I’m sticking with just doing as much physics as possible and hoping that my record in grad courses makes up for my previous idiocy. Hope you aren’t offended). I’ll keep this as concise as I’m capable of being.

The impossible happened. I have a girlfriend. Combined with my research starting to pick up, a possible end to my financial troubles, a grad school opportunity just peaking up on the horizon, and a good, if not perfect GPA this year (we’ll see), things are looking up. I’ve never felt this positive about my prospects in a while, in spite of the challenges I’m still facing. So, my frame of mind isn’t like it was last time, to be clear. I have two questions about my relationship:

1) I’m going to be in Germany for the summer doing research and we really haven’t been in a relationship for long. We are both a little worried about this and hope to keep going over the summer. Any suggestions for keeping the “flame” alive? She was coming off a pretty rough period when she met me, and was distraught when I was leaving, and I’ve never handled this before.

2) It all feels a little anticlimactic. Is that normal? Part of this might be my insights about life (I finally agreed to get therapy shortly after my first run in here, and it’s helped), about the fact that there is nothing wrong with being a loner and that I shouldn’t try to force myself to be otherwise. But part of it is I don’t feel as *crazy* about the person as I feel I would be about a girlfriend. It could be that what I feel should be isn’t realistic. Though I strongly enjoy her company (we’re both a little weird), I don’t even desire the sex like I thought I would. Is that normal for early relationships in life, when you are figuring everything out, or is there something else going on? I mean, I don’t plan on marrying her or anything, so isn’t that OK? I also occasionally worry about her stability and her place in life, than feel like a hypocrite because I just got some of those issues fixed.

Don’t take any of this to mean that I regret getting into the relationship, it has been a plus so far in my life.

PS: (you can cut this out if you want)

To clarify what I meant, Isaac Newton spent his entire life celibate and isolated. Sheen more than hasn’t and has probably had a lot more fun. Yet, I know who I’d rather be, and in my more misanthropic moments, I think Isaac Newton knew what he was doing. Sex is fun and should be encouraged. But ultimately, it pales in importance to other things. It’s so funny, it seems to be the worst of both worlds in America, with the sex-obsession and the puritanism simultaneously occurring.

I have a LOT of opinions and ideas for the world. Funny you mention the Ukraine, I’m ridiculously interested particularly about foreign policy/politics-I sometimes catch myself thinking about that when I need to do physics. I occasionally bore my girlfriend to tears. I had (have) a lot of problems socially, but believe me, that’s not one of them. Back when I was searching for a girlfriend, I tried to use these interests (foreign policy, literature, history, other cultures, supercomputers-the title I mentioned comes from a play) to meet people and became frustrated when it didn’t work out like I planned. I met the good lady on a dating website that I had long since given up on. The trouble is talking about mundane, day to day things or subjects that I have no interest in. When she wishes to talk about her field of interest, I try my best to hang on, but it can be tough.

Draußen vor der Tür

Dear Draußen,

Here’s the thing. Last time I cut out a bunch of your letter, but this time I left it all, except I did edit a bit (there are spaces before parentheses as well as after) to make things readable. I’m not sure why I’ve decided to do this except that I like to share my pain with my readers. I hope you appreciate this, readers!

A few things. First, congratulations on finding a girlfriend. As to whether the feeling of anti-climax is normal, I guess it depends on what exactly you expected but I’m afraid it isn’t very normal, at least not in my experience. I mean, falling in love is a rush, with dopamine and all that good stuff, so I’m going to guess you aren’t actually falling in love. Maybe your positive feelings are just relief that you’re no longer alone? That’s not the same thing.

Next, the thing about “I don’t plan on marrying her or anything, so …” makes me feel weird. Note I’m not suggesting that you should marry her, but even so it seems like you’re prematurely categorizing her as someone you won’t take seriously, which I think is strange and self-defeating. I might be wrong, and it’s quite possible I’m just responding to cultural norm which I don’t like, namely that men avoid commitment like it’s a punishment, but it just seems like, with that attitude you might not let the relationship succeed.

Finally, the last line of the letter: When she wishes to talk about her field of interest, I try my best to hang on, but it can be tough. This makes me think that either you are seriously one of the most single-minded people in the world, only interested in your immediate field, or you have very little respect for or common interest with your girlfriend, or some combination of those things. This is another red flag, but I’m not sure how you can address is besides looking for a girlfriend who works in the same field as you.

One last meta thing, and I hope I’m not being too tough on you, because you’ve obviously made progress.

I sense that you are someone who consistently sees things in terms of how they affect you. So, for example, you mention that the relationship “has been a plus so far in my life. But if you are too self-absorbed, you will miss the two most crucial elements of successful relationships: first, enjoying making the other person happy and, what is the flip side of the same coin, feeling grateful that the other person will put up with you. I spend about half of my time being grateful that my partner puts up with me, which is probably not enough, and that gratitude makes my marriage work better.

Does that make sense? Can you be grateful for her patience with you, and can you take pleasure in making her feel secure and loved? If you can, and if you can do that consistently, then I don’t think your Germany trip will be too tough.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve passed my stats PhD qualifying exams and have been meeting with an adviser for several months, but want to leave my PhD and become a Data Scientist (or something like that). The problem is I haven’t interned since acquiring my stats skills.

Should I apply for semester internships (these can be completed while taking a course or two and doing research at my program) and a summer 2015 internship and then leave my program (hopefully with a job secured)? Should I also be applying for jobs this coming school year? I’m hesitant to apply for jobs right now as I’d like to improve my computation skills and will be taking a Machine Learning course in the fall. Should I tell my adviser? I don’t want to have to leave the program yet as many internships require you to be in a grad program, and many jobs require past internship experience.

Thank you so much your time!

— Slightly Hyperventilating

Dear Slightly,

If I’m a company looking for a data scientist I’m super happy to hire you after you’ve passed your quals, taken Machine Learning, and acquired keen computational skills. So yes, it’s a great plan.

As for telling your advisor, I think it depends on what they are like and whether they think everyone should be an academic or at least strive to be. Maybe ask other students of this advisor who have left or stayed and see what advice they give?

Good luck, and tell me how it goes!

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

Final exams (3rd year university) are around the corner and though I have studied throughout the year I feel I’m still falling short of knowing enough to pass these exams. I keep saying if I don’t pass my finals at least I can retake them but this doesn’t seem to calm my nerves.

Are there any suggestions you can offer to chill (please spare me the British prewar ‘keep calm…’ quotes)?


Anxious about failing

Dear Anxious,

My guess is this advice is coming a little late, but here it is anyway: get together with other students – more than one other, and on separate days – who are also studying for this test and ask them questions and have them ask you stuff. It will surprise you how much you already know and it will solidify your learning to explain stuff to other people.

Good luck!

Auntie P


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

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. anon
    June 28, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Draußen – What Aunt Pythia said, seriously. But I wanted to add my two cents since I have some first hand experience regarding the long-distance relationship part of your question. My now-husband and I were dating for about three months before he took a four month internship in a country 11 time zones away. The long distance actually made us grow closer – he didn’t have many close friends there, and the only thing he and I could do was talk… so we talked. A lot. So when your conversations are at times heavy and often wide-ranging, you find out pretty quickly if you’re seriously compatible. That being said… at the very beginning he would literally leave me weak in the knees and we were going at like rabbits before he left… so maybe the chemistry helped too. Ymmv.


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