Home > Uncategorized > Aunt Pythia’s advice

Aunt Pythia’s advice

October 31, 2015

Readers, Aunt Pythia needs your help. She’s decided to start a women’s magazine, inspired by this recent article and this front cover suggestion:


My idea would be to expand the “sex advice” section a bit by adding sexual fantasies, written from the women’s perspective, to talk about the pros and cons of shaving in general (with a bottomline recommendation not to give in to pressure from the patriarchy), and to list the 10 easiest ways to get rid of douchebags from your life (go ahead, text him, see if he wilts). Stuff like that. Other ideas from Facebook friends include: how to choose birth control, how to get good plumbers and electricians, and how to decide when to say “fuck you” in response to comments about your fashion sense (answer: pretty much always).

As usual, I’m looking to you, dear readers, for yet more awesome ideas on how to make women’s magazines great. Whaddya got?

After thinking up more subjects for listicles, and after disagreeing vehemently with Aunt Pythia’s ill-considered suggestions below, please don’t forget to:

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.


Aunt Pythia,

I had a very bad time in the first year of my graduate program. Nothing went well. Now I feel much better, but the thoughts of people who caused me lot of problems in the first year keep cluttering my mind. Sometimes, I just can’t get over it. Can you help?

Cluttered Mind

Dear Cluttered,

I’m sorry that those shitheads got to you. And I know how you feel, because I’ve been there. Here’s what has helped me. You can totally ignore this plan but the good things about it for me is that it’s a plan, and it has worked for me.

First of all, give yourself some time each day to think about what happened. Like, not a huge amount of time, maybe 20 minutes. Think of it as a meditation on this issue. The important thing about setting aside time to think about it is that, the rest of the day, you don’t have to. In fact avoid thinking about it the rest of the day, knowing you’ll have ample time later. Clear up the rest of the day from thinking about this. That’s just as important as setting aside time to think about it.

Next, during those 20 minutes, think about what happened, why it happened, why you reacted to it the way you did, and so on. After you remind yourself of those things, and try to learn lessons from it – but don’t dwell on lessons, that’s not the point – imagine it all stuffed into a box. Now imagine the box in the corner of a room. Now imagine that room expanding, bigger and bigger. That room is your existence, or your mind if you’d prefer it, and that box is pretty small compared to the size of the room. If that box consisted of stinky cheese, it would be stifling if the room were small, but since the room is enormous and growing larger all the time, it’s barely noticeable. It’s not gone. It’s still there. But as the room grows, it just doesn’t overwhelm the room anymore. No more clutter!

Do this every day for a month, and then take stock of how much less it hurts after a while. If you decide you don’t have time to think about it on a given day, good. That’s progress.


Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Should I take condoms to mathematics conferences?

Can One Negligently Damage Own Marriage?


Absolutely, you should, but it’s part of a general rule that you should take condoms everywhere, especially as a woman. By the way, your sign-off is also a question, and the answer to that is also, obviously, yes, but it’s also part of a general rule that you can damage any relationship through negligence. To sum up: bring condoms, don’t be negligent.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I would like to start an organization in my department that will give math PhDs easier access to industry opportunities that will utilize their mathematical expertise. I’ve noticed that when students get to their 4th and 5th year and realizing that they likely won’t get an academic position or they no longer want to pursue academia, they are lost and don’t know what to do with their expertise in math. There are so many opportunities for us to make an impact in industry actually, it’s just not obvious to most grad students. The club will bring these opportunities to the forefront and will proactively prepare math PhDs for success in industry to complement their preparation for success in academia.

Do you have any advice on how to open the door to industry mathematics to pure mathematicians? One idea I had was to have guest mathematicians from companies here in Chicago give us talks about what they do. I know that you jumped from academia to industry. What opened your mind to that idea? Thanks so much!

Curious math PhD student

Dear Curious,

Great idea. Don’t do what I did, which was just move to the only job I absolutely knew about existing, namely being a quant at D.E. Shaw, simply because I got recruitment emails about the job and knew people who had done it. I wish I could go back in time and explore more about non-academic math opportunities.

Having said that, I’m not sure how many jobs there are for pure math Ph.D. folks without extra training. I was in a sense super lucky that D.E. Shaw was prepared to train me from scratch. It seems like nowadays the opposite is true – even data science jobs require specialized knowledge. Personally I was turned down recently for a data science job because I didn’t have experience with a specific algorithm, which I found bizarre.

Maybe what you could do is think about starting an internship program in the summers so that graduate students can go work for free or for very little and at the same time learn about an industry. I’m not sure how hard that would be to set up, but I bet it would work. Just an idea.

Keep in touch and tell me what happens!

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

I am a guy and have never had any luck with online dating, because I am short for a guy. So now that Aunt Pythia (sadly, but I guess I see the logic in your post explaining your change of position) no longer recommends math conferences or, I assume, math seminars as places to try to meet a woman to form a relationship, I guess I am thinking about the gym or the grocery store.

I have hobbies (mostly sports), but they are even more male dominated than math – and the male competition is extremely fit and muscular, unlike typically in math. Also, I am interested in a relationship, not solely or even immediately sex – there is a difference as was pointed out in the comments to your explanation (although you said that for people asking out at a conference, most people thing they are asking for sex).

Any advice for I should I go about picking up women at the gym or grocery store? Or perhaps I shouldn’t because if I ask them out the first time I meet them, they have to assume I’m asking for sex, which I’m not (not immediately, anyway). Not interested in the bar scene; want to pick up a classy lady.

Man not at a bar


That’s the shitty thing about online dating. They ask for very few, poorly chosen statistics, and if you don’t fit into what people think is desirable, you’re totally fucked. Unless you lie, but that leads to other obvious problems. That’s why Aunt Pythia came up with her own online dating questions which she thinks would far outperform the standard ones.

So far, though, no major online dating site has taken up the call, so it’s not helpful to you. That’s bullshit, since you still need to find a girlfriend.

Here’s what I’m going to go with: friends of friends. Don’t people have parties anymore? Can’t you meet the friend of your best friend’s girlfriend somehow? I remember there being lots of people being semi-set up through friends and it working out pretty well back in my day. Or they’d just have parties and everyone would drink and make out. Maybe that was just me, in Berkeley, in the early 1990’s? I know that wasn’t just me.

Also, I’d suggest that women at bars can be quite classy. Don’t rule them out. I’ve been at plenty of bars myself. Not sure if that raises the bar though.

What do other people suggest for MNAAB?

Aunt Pythia


Readers? Aunt Pythia loves you so much. She wants to hear from you – she needs to hear from you – and then tell you what for in a most indulgent way. Will you help her do that?

Please, pleeeeease ask her a question. She will take it seriously and answer it if she can.

Click here for a form for later or just do it now:

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. bf
    October 31, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Long ago I dated for several years a guy shorter than myself, and the reason it eventually didn’t work out have nothing to do with his height. So here’s my advice for MNAAB: 1) Take a new female-majority hobby! It may or not be a sport, and it will broaden your horizons and help you understand women. 2) Since you don’t fit current male beauty standards, f*ck them. I.e., show interest in the women who also don’t fit the norm – the unfashionably tall, irsute, fat and the best of the best, those with a huge nose with a large wart on it (don’t ask me how I know this). Most importantly 3) if you’re looking for a relationship, look trustworthy. Don’t know how you achieve that but being trustworthy would be a good start.


  2. DJ
    October 31, 2015 at 9:36 am

    MNAAB, Aunt Pythia’s advice is sound, but I would take it one step further. Why stop at friends or friends of friends? Let it be known broadly but discreetly that you seek a relationship. Don’t be afraid to take suggestions from all sources. For example I’d feel queasy about dating a colleague, but I’d have no qualms about dating someone to whom I was introduced through a colleague. If you’re lucky enough to have high-status parents like Romney or Trump, why not search through their network? I don’t mean arranged marriage in the sense of forced marriage, but an introduction can make lots of sense. I am assuming that by relationship you mean something with at least serious prospects of marriage — if not, then that will reduce your relationship pool significantly, at least among any social circles that I know about.


  3. Alex
    October 31, 2015 at 9:49 am

    To Cluttered Mind: Here is a mish-mash of advice/inspirational quotes.
    -Pride yourself in having a thick-skinned attitude. That’s what’s going to help you in life. It won’t be just grad school that people will hurt you, but in any line of work, in any job. Most people are nice, but in life you run into bad apples everywhere. Sometimes it helps me to think that one day they are going to be a dying, decrepit animal, and they will be eventually dead (and so will I, so in the end, it doesn’t matter). “In the long run, we are all dead” (John Maynard Keynes). Our time on earth is very short, and you shouldn’t waste it thinking about how those people hurt you (so on that’s point, I respectfully disagree with AP about her “think about it every day” advice, but she’s walked in those shoes and it worked for her, so I can’t really argue).

    -Keep your mind on how fascinating the subject matter of your grad school is, and what a privilege it is to learn it. “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”. (Eleanor Roosevelt) Don’t waste your time thinking about those people, but I understand that is very hard to do, especially since you probably see those people and have to work with them. Also it is difficult because the human brain is a social brain and is wired to think about people more so than abstract ideas. So think instead about people who inspire you – like people who are at the top of your field. Post their pictures on you laptop background screen.

    -If you continue to have trouble concentrating, you should consider transferring to a different grad school so you don’t have to see those people. That may also help you be more productive, and ultimately have a more satisfying career, and life in general.

    -Try to forgive the people who hurt you. In ten years, they may regret that they hurt you and secretly want to apologize (or they may be narcissists and not care, and will hurt other people, but they too will develop problems in their life). Think back to people who bullied you in school – what advice would you give to the little you? For me, I would go with: they are going to be out of your life eventually, you are going to go on to so many great things, meet great people who will treat you well, so just keep your head down and work. Form friendships with good people.

    -Remind yourself that you are not alone, in the sense every one is fighting their own set of battles.

    -Read Steve Jobs entire 2005 commencement speech. It is so great. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html


    • October 31, 2015 at 9:53 am

      So I don’t disagree with everything in this comment, but almost. I don’t think it makes sense to tell someone not to think about something that overwhelms them. It sets them up for failure. Then they also feel bad about thinking about it. I mean, yes, of course the long term goal is to stop thinking about it but that’s not just something you snap your fingers and it just happens.

      Also I hate Steve Jobs.


  4. Anonymous
    October 31, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Dear Cluttered,

    I totally sympathize. I had this happen to me during my first year as a faculty member. Twelve years later, I still have resentments about it even though things are very different now.

    If nothing else, remember that you get to leave that place you are at. Look at leaving as a reward. Propel yourself toward getting a degree and getting the f**k out of there. Just don’t leave without the degree. You’ve earned your place, and don’t let anyone chase you out of it.


  5. Min
    October 31, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Much luck with you magazine. 🙂

    Do you have a title yet? “Cougar’s Home Companion”? “Pythia Live”? “Dommes and Dolls”? (Sorry for that, but I’m brainstorming. No judgement. ;)) “Real Woman”? “Smart and Sexy”?

    Once you are publishing I will certainly tell my friends. 🙂


  6. CB
    October 31, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    To curious: just yesterday I heard a talk by Rachel Levy from Harvey Mudd on the topic of BIG (business, industry, and government) jobs for mathematicians. She is setting up a network for this and you can email her to receive updates and information. She is a great speaker and you might consider inviting her to talk to your group. Good luck!


  7. October 31, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    I went to Courant Institute and most of the graduates in my year have gone into various industries from computer gaming, to finance, to Intel, to Boeing, to pretty much anyplace because even the masters at Courant trains you for a huge array of jobs. I really have no idea why some math departments have so few applied math courses that their students are at a loss when they graduate. Any math PhD ought to know a couple programming languages and some applicable mathematics. Even if the math PhD candidate is planning a job in academia, he or she should know enough applied mathematics to teach reasonable 400 level courses in the subject. And anyone actually qualified to teach such a subject is certainly qualified to apply it. If your university has separate pure and applied math programs, you may need to start sending the students to take some of those applied math courses. If your university has only one math department, then its your responsibility to provide applicable courses (Probability, Differential Equations, and others should be required). Then there is SIAM and I highly recommend the department join this association and give memberships to any interested students.


    • DJ
      October 31, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      Agreed, with the addendum that applied math these days means so much more than probability and differential equations. We should include optimization, operations research, actuarial science, graph theory, and cryptography, among other things.


  8. Lauren
    October 31, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    To the guy not at the bar: I have heard tell of a stealth-mixer known as (forgive me in advance for describing this in the hetero-normative way it no longer needs to be) an “I don’t want him, you can have him” party. 5 or 6 single (it used to be) women would get together for cocktails and each would bring along single guy they really liked and admired but didn’t have romantic feelings for. Just “Oh, do you want to join me, I’m meeting up w some friends.” I know a woman who met her husband at one such party– although to this day he doesn’t know the background story of that little get-together. Be creative, be proactive.

    To Helen Gurley Pythia: add financial advice, 30-minute recipe swaps, sex toy reviews and a monthly recommendation of an excellent bottle of $10 wine, and sign me up!


    • October 31, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      Oh my god will you be my magazine editor? That way I can just drink martinis from lunch on every day.


  9. October 31, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Can I sign up to be the yarn editor at this magazine? Also, I didn’t realize going to bars made me not classy. :p Hmm, will have to tell the Philosopher (who I met in a bar).


  10. Emmett
    November 1, 2015 at 9:02 am

    For MNAAB,
    Pick one or another sport and volunteer to help with the introductory class.
    I was not available but found the introductory class to mountaineering in Phoenix to be filled with open, adventurous, intelligent young women trying something new.
    As the class was very accepting of the different challenges we each faced (fear of heights, trust issues, physical confidence issues) body types and other superficial issues took a background to helping each other surmount challenges. Great environment to meet and be met by people who might mean more in your life.


  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: