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Aunt Pythia’s advice

June 13, 2015

Aunt Pythia is in a rush this morning, people! She is going to see Jurassic Wold, in Imax 3D no less, and she needs to finish this here advice column quickly in order to make time for the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle (har har). So here goes.

This is a D-rex. It's a genetically modified T-rex, because those guys are wimpy.

This is a D Rex. It’s a genetically modified T Rex, because those guys are wimpy.

So read, enjoy, comments, and before you leave,

ask Aunt Pythia any question at all 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’ve noticed a bunch of Masters’ in Data Science programs have been launched at various reputable universities lately. Can you vouch for the usefulness/value of any of them? Or would you say they are largely the product of big-name schools wanting to make a few bucks off the “Big Data” hype train?

Don’t Wanna Get Scammed!

Dear DWGS,

Yeah, my guess is both. I mean, I think most of them would teach you something, but I’m pretty sure these programs are also cash cows. As to their usefulness, one thing I’ve noticed is how few of the programs want to hire someone who has actually worked as a data scientist in a company. That doesn’t mean there is not internal person, in the academic institution, who knows a given skill, but it probably means that there’s not much direct advice for people going into this field.

To be any more specific, you’d have to name a program for me to look into.

Aunt Pythia


Hmm. Gotta think of a sex question for Aunt Pythia.

I’m a guy and I feel really guilty that I have sexual thoughts in a professional setting (although I do keep them to myself). For example, when women give math talks, I notice I am analyzing their sexiness – are they thin or at least quasi-thin, how ideal their boobs and curves look, how revealing and/or form-fitting their coverings, how well is their boob support functioning, and speaking of curves and forms, I imagine relating my pole to their their holes, after removing our pairs of pants and busting out my canonical divisor (ya know, the thing that kind of rhymes with genus) I’m at the cusp of an, um, singularity. More thoughts follow: Are they on their period, are their periods irregular? I compare their height in their heels, the depth of their voice, and the dimensions of their bust. When the latter two match up, i’ve found it possible to reverse a variety of positions, even if things aren’t completely smooth. My thoughts are quite wild and perverse and I feel somewhat ashamed for thinking these thoughts. Are these concerns rational, irrational? Do you think respectable, upstanding “nice-to-women” male members of the math profession have these thoughts, or is it just dirty minded guys like myself? Do you think lesbians have these thoughts?

Umm, this started out as a totally real question, but then my love of math super-seeded my love for women’s bodies. I think the same thing happens in the talk … eventually I’m able to pay attention to the math.

Do women check out guys while they are giving math talks? What might their thoughts be like?

Perverse Chief

Dear PC,

I think mostly everyone, or at least every adult, has thoughts along these lines. The question is, how long does it take for someone to “eventually” pay attention to the math? I think that’s critical, and it might depend on how much interaction they have with the opposite sex in their regular life, or how well they’ve been sleeping, or whether they’ve gotten exercise lately, or any number of things.

Obviously it’s better for both audience members and the speaker at a math talk if the math is the center of attention, but there’s no way to remove our humanness entirely; at the end of the day it’s a person, in front of other people, explaining some beautiful thing, and there’s bound to be human interactions.

And that’s not a bad thing. I remember concocting a crush on the speaker, male of female, of most talks I went to in order to enjoy their talk more. It worked!

So, if there’s advice to give, I’d say stop feeling guilty about checking out women, do keep your deeper desires to yourself, and enjoy the math. And if possible, try to crush out on the men too.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I love your answer to Porn Not Scorn. Have you seen Erika Lust’s TED talk? Enjoyed any of her films?

Intersecting Feminism and porn To overcome objectification

Dear IFapToo,

Wow, no I hadn’t heard of her, but I love her talk! I’ll check her out. I hope others do too.

Aunt Pythia


Hi Aunt Pythia,

I wrote to you about a year ago when I realized that I wanted to leave my PhD program for a data science job (‘Slightly Hyperventilating’). You gave encouraging advice–thanks! I ended up taking a job a little too prematurely into my search, but it’s allowed me to improve my programming skills and rub shoulders with internet user behavior datasets which is awesome. But now I’m on the job market again and excited to find a new team!

Here’s my question: at my current company, there’s a ton of tension between the engineers and the analytics people. It’s really weird and gross and counter-productive and stops me from learning from them which is what I want to do. How common is it that engineering teams look down their noses at stats-leaning, data analyzing folks? And what questions do I ask in the interview to find this out? What other indicators should I look for?

Seeking Nice Engineers

Dear SNE,

Oh my god, you were on the luxury winnebago edition of Aunt Pythia. I remember it well. Sigh.

So, great! You did everything right. The thing about data science jobs is that they don’t last forever. People are expected to jump ship once they get the basic idea of stuff and the learning curve decelerates, or when the politics of the office get annoying. In your case the latter has occurred, so go for it.

And no, I don’t have experience with nasty programmers. Most of the people I’ve worked with have been incredibly sweet. I mean, there’s some macho brogrammer posturing every now and then, but I have never seen that dominating. Just find a new job, and keep in touch!


Aunt Pythia


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  1. June 13, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    As regards the Data Science programs. I can’t pretend to be impartial here — NYU has a Center for Data Science with an MS program; and though I’m not involved in it myself, a lot of my colleagues are. However, Cathy’s comment seems to me way too negative. The data science programs at the top universities have the absolute top people in machine learning, essentially all of whom have tons of real world experience. A student comes out of the program knowing an awful lot of data science, with, generally, a lot of direct experience dealing with real-world data. I don’t know of any useful data on placement — most of the programs are only a year or two old — but I’m quite confident that it’s a very hirable degree,
    until the market gluts.
    It is, certainly, also a cash cow for the University.


  2. June 15, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    I just want to chime in regarding Perverse Chief’s creepy letter: while not as intense of a problem, I recently started to notice how when I talk about men in my workplace or as professors I would always say “this guy I work with / who teaches my class”, but when it was a woman I’d say “this girl I work with / who teaches my class”. Didn’t really hit me until I heard someone do it in reference to someone I knew personally, and it really bothered me.

    Not really “desire”, but definitely the idea that we look at the genders in vastly different ways that aren’t always fair or appropriate.

    Love this blog!


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