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Aunt Pythia’s advice

Holy shit people we’ve got an awesome column today. Aunt Pythia shall not disappoint, and when she says that, she really means that you wonderful readers have not disappointed Aunt Pythia – your questions are surprising and rich and thoughtful as always. It brings a sweet lightness to Aunt Pythia’s otherwise heavy, snuffly head.

For you see, Aunt Pythia is suffering from a springtime cold, so nothing too terrible, but it probably didn’t help that Aunt Pythia refused to acknowledge the rain yesterday – because it was 61 degrees! – and insisted on biking everywhere.

Not my actual bike, nor the actual spot I was biking yesterday. But close enough for Aunt Pythia.

Not my actual bike, nor the actual spot I was biking yesterday. But close enough for Aunt Pythia.

After you all enjoy this marvelous column chock full of ridiculous advice, please don’t forget to:

        ask Aunt Pythia a question 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.


Hello dearest Auntie P,

I just wanted to bring your attention to this calendar – sorry that it’s a buzzfeed article – and wish you the best with sexy pin-up men with various knitted objects.

I suppose I don’t really have a question, other than maybe other ideas you have for good calendar pages relating to men posing with sexy yarn?

But I hope you have a good day looking at this anyway!

Much love,

Casting-on Relishly Adorable Fellows To Sex


Oh. My. God. Did you know my dear hubby is Dutch? Did you know I sometimes go to Amsterdam? This is seriously the best thing I’ve ever learned about that place, I’m not much of a smoker.

The name “Club Geluk” can be translated as “Club Happiness,” which seems pretty appropriate given this calendar. Here’s my favorite:

Is he holding a kiwi?

Is he holding a kiwi?

Also, it reminds me of my (previously) favorite calendar, which I buy each year and hand out to some baffled friends and visitors, namely the NYC Taxi Calendar:

You can never have too many calendars.

You can never have too many calendars.

Readers, please do send me awesome calendars, I’m officially – as of now – a collector.

Love always,

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

Heads-up: I’m going to try to steer this away from the classic millenial-trying-to-find-purpose-in-life story, but it could go there.

I’m a 22-year old trying to decide whether to do a Ph.D. in pure math (topology/geometry). I’m currently taking grad classes in a non-degree program and my thoughts bounce around from “What’s the point of this?” to “Omigoodness my brain is in love” to “I’mstupid-Ihatethis-I’mstupid-Ihatethis”. It’s the sort of thing where I’ll decide ‘definitively’ not to go to grad school, and then immediately solve a hard problem and get into my reach school.

Amidst all that, I’ve been looking at alternatives to Ph.D. programs – things that are still intellectually rigorous/analytical but seem more relevant to the world. I’ve even considered switching to (shhhh) applied math. So my first question is this: what options/careers would you suggest to mathematicians who want to be able to “be useful”?

My second question comes from the fact that one of the main alternatives to math that I’ve considered is journalism. I enjoy writing and loved the journalism classes I took in undergrad. I was lucky enough to go to a talk you gave recently in which you mentioned data journalism. I’m thoroughly intrigued, but I have no idea how to look into it. How does someone ‘get into’ data journalism?

Moral of the story, I’m pretty confused. I love math (and have advisers pushing me towards grad school), but I’m not sure if I like it enough for a Ph.D. (or that I like who I am when I’m doing math). Any/all thoughts you have to offer on this silly mid-life-crisis business would be wonderful.

Thank you so much!

Does \exists \phi: Me \rightarrow Career, \phi isomorphic?

Dear Does,

I hear you, it’s tough. Personally I did a better job, when I was your age, at ignoring any possibility besides going to math grad school. I was laser focused. It’s good and bad to be that way, though, because it means you don’t hesitate to make bad choices.

Also, I don’t think I’d ever suggest not getting a degree in math. It comes in handy in all sorts of ways even if you end up doing something else. Even if it just trains you to be humble about your abilities, and know how to admit when you’re wrong, two basic and critical take-aways.

As for journalism, that’s such a tough field, and you’d find yourself hanging out with people who write articles like this (which is to say they won’t understand math enough to realize that describing Cuomo’s changes in education as a “victory” is not supported by fact). Not saying everyone in journalism is like that – in general I like the skepticism I encounter there – but there’s also real ignorance in some corners, and very few great jobs. But again, also a super rewarding job sometimes and for some people. I wouldn’t tell you not to pursue this if you’re truly interested.

The way to get into it – my best guess, not from experience – is to start doing it and posting your pieces on a blog – yours or your friends – or Huffington Post, so you can develop a portfolio that you can show people when you apply. That and work with journalists on their stuff.

I guess my overall advice is to get the education you think you want, and realize it’s flexible and can be used in lots of ways. It’s not something math professors tell you, mostly because they don’t know this, but math Ph.D.’s or masters degrees impress people in the outside world.

In the meantime take programming classes, keep in touch with applied math people and data journalism projects, and dip your toe into some of those waters when you can; do some projects. Don’t worry too much that the nerds around you are laser-focused, they might have changed completely in a few years, and it’s really not a competition. And good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m a female undergraduate at a very good math department about to enter grad school for mathematics. I have a few stereotypically female qualities which I have found to have negatively impacted my time in undergrad. I don’t want to change who I am, but I’m also sick of the sexism in mathematics.

Just a quick background of what I’m talking about: Most of my side interests are stereotypically feminine: kids, baking, volunteering. I want to be a serious mathematician, but I also enjoy volunteering in local schools and do so quite frequently.

I also am pretty feminine in dress/in personality. I’m not that assertive, and I prefer to not answer in class, despite knowing the answer. Most of the males in my classes are much more assertive, aggressive in answering, and authoritative (even if they have no idea if they are right).

I feel that I’m taken less seriously by my peers and taken advantage of because I’m female, but I’m quite shy and quiet and speaking up is very unnatural for me. I perform at the top of my classes and have been successful in my research experiences, but my classmates don’t respect me (probably because I don’t talk about my success or assert my knowledge). I’m fine with my quiet personality, but I don’t know how to deal with my peers.


  • Peers assume that I’m going to be a high school math teacher, and are surprised I’m going to grad school.
  • Many people applied to REUs from my school, but most didn’t get in anywhere and I got into most of the ones I applied to. Two male students complained in the hallway that I only got in because I’m female (which is not true at all – I’ve taken much more math than them and have published before). They only knew I had gotten in because my professors had told them. They don’t know that I heard them.
  • I TA for Analysis II and Algebra II and students often “bully” me for the answers. When I say “no,” they don’t respect that and just ask again. I’ve tried being more assertive and authoritative. The students don’t pressure my fellow male TAs for answers and don’t ignore their refusals to give more help after many hints have been given.
  • I’ve been told by my peers that I have a better chance at the grad schools I applied to because I’m female. These are just a few examples – I’m treated differently and feel alone in my undergrad department.

I’m just generally lost! I want to be stronger in grad school and I want people to respect my mathematical abilities, but I don’t know how to be assertive without being arrogant or over-confident. I want peers to stop assuming that I know less. Do you have any advice about how I can change in grad school?

Sorry for the super long question!

Wants To Change For Grad School

Dear Wants To Change,

First of all, congratulations. Sounds like you’re killing it. Seriously, and I’m so glad that your talent is being acknowledged and welcomed by the people who admit you and recruit you to REU’s and grad schools. It tells me that you are in a better place than you let yourself think. Spend a few minutes just gloating.

Second of all, fuck those assholes. Seriously. Fuck them. I know what you’re going through because I went through that stuff too, even though I wasn’t at all shy. The worst kind of person is the arrogant young man, they are unbelievably insufferable. I knew more than my share of such men, and let me tell you, they drove me nuts, and they also drove nice men nuts, as well as all the professors. They are universally despised and tolerated only because sometimes they turn out to be human by the time they get older and humbled (see above letter).

Third, some advice:

  1. Stick with it, everyone gets better when they are a bit older and less insecure. The truly insecure people often self-select out of the math scene altogether because they’re afraid they can’t cut it. For the horrible ones that stay, they become less and less relevant as they are isolated and everyone hates them.
  2. Never bake anything for math people. Seriously, there’s something about the act of baking in a department that brings out sexism. Stick with your baking for high school kids who will simply love you for it.
  3. Just ignore students who ask for answers. Yes, they are bullying you because they are completely unthreatened by you. But when they learn you don’t do that, they will stop.
  4. I would suggest you challenge yourself to answer questions in class, especially if you are taking a class from someone you hope to work with. It is a great habit to have.
  5. I would never suggest you change anything else about yourself, except for experimentation’s sake and if you are comfortable doing so. You might find people take you more seriously in certain outfits, and I’d never tell you not to wear them, but in this day and age the idea that you have to conform to other people’s standards of what a “serious” mathematician looks like is fucked.
  6. Most important, remember that you’re there to be educated, and it’s all about you, not them. Their egos are crying out in pain because they are threatened, and sometimes the noise is deafening, but learn to put on a set of ego headphones.
  7. Also, feed yourself. You might sometimes have problems with your own ego, and you should also be able to seek support, even though it won’t come at the expense of others. Think about how you can get it. I’m imagining that volunteering is a source of that for you, in which case please think of it as an alternative to therapy, and don’t ever ever give it up.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

You’re (still) my favorite blogger, but I feel like you may have erred in your response to “Gossiped About And Hurt Humongously”.

You accuse him of claiming women are “discriminated in favor of”, which he did not. He said, “I was arguing that gender plays a role in fellowship/scholarship selection and college admissions”, which does not indicate in who’s favor that bias might be directed.

I think in this case you’ve unfairly put word in his mouth that were not there. Am I missing something here?

Sad And Disappointed

Dear SAD,

Yeah, maybe. I mean, I agree that I read into it a bit, but I’m not sure what I did was unfair. Let’s go back to what he said about the actual conversation:

I’m a guy and a grad student and I was talking to a fellow grad student, Z, about gender issues in academia. Specifically, I was arguing that gender plays a role in fellowship/scholarship selection and college admissions, and she claimed that no, an applicant’s sex does not have any detectable influence on such decisions. We started talking about affirmative action and before we had time to even discuss the implications of affirmative action, she had to go to class and I thought that was the end of it.

I took from this description that he was arguing that there existed affirmative action in admissions, and that this would promote women. I don’t think that was a crazy jump, since I’ve never heard of affirmative action that promotes men.

Readers, what do you think? The full question and answer are here.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

OK, I fucked up. He does say later in the article, that he did make the pro female bias contention. As my girlfriend just pointed out to me. I still don’t think that is by default sexist, but I have to admit I read right over that without even seeing it, which may be.

Sad And Dissapointed


Oh, what? Let me take another look. Oh right, he goes on to say, “being female sometimes helps in getting scholarships and in college admissions”.

Thanks for writing back!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

After some years of “screw it, I’m not even bothering to date,” I met someone I like a lot. He is very smart, interesting, etc, etc. I made him wait ages to spend the night at my house, and last night he finally stayed over.

So anyway, the making out was awesome. We hit the bedroom, and all the clothes come off. Then, four minutes into giving him a blowjob, he just comes. No warning, but I’m ok with that, and I apparently give pretty good ones. What I’m not ok with was that we were now done. Excuse me, what the fuck?

This guy isn’t a selfish jerk at all, and I get that maybe the mood dies for him a bit after he’s gotten his. I also seem to have an effect on some men that makes them a bit “quick.” Given all that, what the hell do I do now? I will give him another shot, but if the same thing happens, he might be getting dumped. On the other hand, he’s practically the only man I have really been interested in for a long time (like, years).

I am not interested in having a discussion about it, and I especially don’t want to make this guy feel bad if he has some medical/PE type issue. However, I also can’t let him think this is acceptable.

Anyway, what would you do? (Actually, I know you, and you’d probably just grab his head and put it between your legs. Any other thoughts for the less assertive among us?)

My Enjoyment The Optional Orgasm


Alternative, less aggressive, no-talk option: start masturbating. What’s he going to do, watch? I mean, maybe. Or maybe he will help you out. He sounds like it’s worth a try.

Although, to be very honest, that’s what I’d start doing first, before the blowjob, when you get him into bed the next time. He’s already shown you that he goes second.

Good luck!

Auntie P


Congratulations, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied, you could have made progress on that project instead.

But as long as you’re already here, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Aunt Pythia

Aunt Pythia’s advice

Holy shit, guys, it’s already fucking February, and Aunt Pythia isn’t ready for Spring at all. Spring is when things get frighteningly beautiful and distracting and the cycle of nature breaks our hearts and blah blah blah and a certain something is due, and Aunt Pythia would rather it stay mid-January for a while yet, do you dig?

Speaking of being distracted (or not!), someone sent me this link (hat tip name withheld for privacy protection) that’s supposed to be “porn for women”:


All the pictures are like this.

The book’s description:

Prepare to enter a fantasy world. A world where clothes get folded just so, delicious dinners await, and flatulence is just not that funny. Give the fairer sex what they really want beautiful PG photos of hunky men cooking, listening, asking for directions, accompanied by steamy captions: “I love a clean house!” or “As long as I have two legs to walk on, you’ll never take out the trash.” Now this is porn that will leave women begging for more!

Talk about perverted! You’d have to be a real fetish freak to be turned on by stuff like that. Personally, and Aunt Pythia doesn’t know about you, but Aunt Pythia prefers the kind of book that involves penises and vaginas.

And, good news on that front: when scouring the web with the phrase “porn for women,” it turned up this book list entitled 10 Sexy Books That’ll Make You Forget ’50 Shades Of Grey’ (Warning: Don’t read bad erotica. It’s bad for your vagina.)

Let’s start there, shall we? And if we ever find ourselves really falling off the deep end we can try out the above smut with vacuum cleaners, but Aunt Pythia highly doubts it will ever come to that. Plus, let’s face it, flatulence is always funny.

Which reminds me, I’m supposed to be farting out some advice to you wonderful and patient people. Let’s start this immediately, with the understand that, at the end of the column, you might just be willing to:

ask Aunt Pythia a question 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’m a guy and a grad student and I was talking to a fellow grad student, Z, about gender issues in academia. Specifically, I was arguing that gender plays a role in fellowship/scholarship selection and college admissions, and she claimed that no, an applicant’s sex does not have any detectable influence on such decisions. We started talking about affirmative action and before we had time to even discuss the implications of affirmative action, she had to go to class and I thought that was the end of it.

A week or two later, one of my friends, Y, lets me know that Z had told her and several people that I had made some sexist comments. I was shocked and decided to confront her about it the next day. I said, “I heard from a friend that you’ve been telling people I made sexist comments.” When I asked her whether she had told anyone I made sexist comments she said no. I then asked her what she thought about our talk about gender issues several weeks ago, and she said essentially that some people think gender plays a larger role in fellowship selection than it really does. I told her that I agreed with her, some people exaggerate who big a role it plays and that people who obtained these fellowships obviously deserved them, but that gender does play a minor role. I asked her a few more times whether she had said anything to anyone even as an offhand remark (and in the least aggressive way as I could), to which she replied no each time.

I have little doubt that she did tell people about our talk and report to them without context what I had said, but I don’t understand why she wouldn’t just admit it and talk more about it. Of course any statements, even factual ones, in support of the thesis: being female sometimes helps in getting scholarships and in college admissions, is terribly easy to twist into a sexist remark, and I think that’s probably what happened in this case. I don’t think intrinsically this is a sexist stance—it is a statement about the nature of the system, not one about the abilities of women. Am I crazy?

This whole experience has been extremely frustrating for me. Discussion about sensitive issues shouldn’t result in someone being labeled a sexist. How can we understand it if we can’t even talk without people getting defensive? Now I don’t know whether other people in the department who have heard the gossip and don’t know me think I’m a sexist. What should I do?

Gossiped About And Hurt Humongously


Life lesson learned! Or, otherwise put, you play with fire you gonna get burned.

Here’s the mistake you made. You talked to a person you didn’t really know, when you didn’t have enough time to have a proper conversation, about how “people like them” have it less tough than “people like you.” And even though it is not what you meant to say, that’s how it came across, and you’re going to have to live with that. Have you tried to imagine how that came across to her? Not great.

Also, it sounds like you decided to spend your time trying to prevent people from thinking you’re an asshole, but that will only make matters worse, because you haven’t acknowledged any mistake, real or perceived.

In other words, if you want to make things right with the woman you originally talked to, here’s what you don’t do: accuse her of telling lies about you, since that would make her defensive, and moreover, she wasn’t telling lies. She was telling people how she felt after your conversation. In her shoes I probably would have done the same thing, in fact, and if you came up to me afterwards and said, “hey, did you tell people I’m sexist?” I would deny it too, since after all it’s not my problem, it’s yours.

Here’s what you could do that may or may not work, depending on how deep the hole is that you dug already: write a letter to her showing you know how much sexism is in the field of mathematics, with reference to various double blind experiments that show how people assume women don’t understand stuff, how they write weaker letters of recommendation, and so on, and conclude with an acknowledgement that the system has to make up for that in order to be fair. And that, moreover, the result of that system is still probably not sufficient, given how few women there are, but that in any case the women that are in the grad program, on average, are clearly just as strong, and quite possibly stronger, than the men. Finish the letter by apologizing if it came out wrong the first time but now you’ve learned you lesson.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia

p.s. I’d be happy to publish your apology letter once it’s complete. That way other confused men (and women!) can use it too.

p.p.s. I notice you signed off “gossiped about and hurt humongously.” Hopefully you can understand that you were likely gossiped about because you hurt someone else humongously, and that this is just as much about them than about you. Which is not to say you haven’t been hurt, but if we spend all our time licking our own wounds rather than understanding what went wrong, then no progress will be made. I do actually think this turn out well, but it will require you to think about what you did, and to make amends for that first, before trying to address yourself.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I take my six-year old daughter to school on subway every day. Recently, ads appeared on our line, which sometimes happen to be right in front of us, for the Museum of Sex, or “MoSex” (incidentally, located around the corner from MoMath). They include the quote “Like a Willy Wonka sex dream!”

My daughter hasn’t asked anything yet, and probably hasn’t paid any attention. I still think it’s inappropriate. Sex may be great fun and entertainment to some, but shouldn’t be advertised as such to children. Am I a prude?

Anyway, I was bothered enough to write a complaint on the MTA website. I got a response:

“As you may know, the MTA’s Board had enacted an advertising guideline that prohibited ads that are demeaning to people on account of their race, sex, religion or national origin, but that guideline was recently struck down by a federal court as inconsistent with the First Amendment. As a result, the MTA is prohibited from applying that standard to restrict ads and must post the ad in question. As we have sought to make clear by requiring prominent disclaimers, the MTA does not endorse or support this or any other paid advertisement that appears in the MTA system. The MTA displays advertisements in the system to generate much-needed revenue to support the MTA’s vital transportation function.”

The response makes me angrier.

Is there anything else I can do? Or should do? Or should I relax and be grateful there is no outright pornography in the subway? Or should I be sad about it? It could also generate much-needed revenue…

Not a fan of MoSex

Dear Not a fan,

It’s New York. And your kid hasn’t actually complained. Personally I find the constant barrage of sexualized advertisements with perfect plastic people more demeaning than straight up sex museum advertising, but I don’t know who to complain to about that.

Luckily, you do have lots of power in this situation, since it’s your kid. Namely, you can talk to her about how ads manipulate people and make her aware of stuff before they reach puberty but after she start actually reading the ads.

Those are some of the best parent-to-kid conversations I’ve ever had, and they basically sparked an ongoing game, whereby my two teenagers compete to explain what the “underlying message” of any advertisement or TV show is (but my 6-year-old doesn’t understand what we’re talking about and that’s fine). It’s fun! It’s life!

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am a man, not exactly young (I have grand-daughters in high school and college now, and I retired one year ago). My quandary is the following: I have been diagnosed with prostatic cancer and the prognosis if I don’t have surgery is bleak: between one and two years. But the prognosis if I have surgery is bleak as well: even if the hospital I go to has very good reputation, the risk of relapse combined to the pain of post-op, the damage to urinary and most importantly for me to sexual function would probably make me miserable for say five or ten years I would possibly gain with this procedure. I feel very much like choosing to spend the next two years having all the great sex we want with my lovely wife, put my scientific papers in order and damn the cancer anyway.

What is your opinion?

Shadow Or/And Prey

Dear SOAP,

It’s your life! And if you have the option to have more sex with your hot wife, I say go for it. People overemphasize length of life over quality of life.

Aunt P


Hi Aunt Pythia,

I have a higher libido then my boyfriend, who I love very much. How can I satisfy both our needs? I find it would be awkward to “help” myself if he is there, we live together. I think I would be up for doing it everyday, for about 2/3 of the month, he, far less so… On a related note, is there good erotica you would recommend?

On a completely unrelated note, what was your advisor student relationship dynamic like back in your math phd years? I have had both a young advisor and a relatively old one (current) and find that the two operate very differently. With the younger one, we talked a lot, whereas with my current one, I am left with a question and it’s harder to talk to him about intuitions for the problem…etc. We also meet weekly, but I feel like it is harder to speak about a problem with him. How can I improve this to a working relationship that is more similar to the one I had before (in case you are wondering why the previous one is over, it was for an undergraduate research project).



Masturbate! Masturbate until you’re raw, if that works! If your fingers get tired, consider getting an electric vibrator, they are easily available.

And if you find masturbating awkward, keep in mind that the alternatives are often way more so. And hopefully the above-mentioned erotica will help. Please send me reviews of each and every book on that motherfucking list.

As for the advisee situation, experiment on more structure in your meetings with him, until you find a format that leads to better and more fluent conversations. For example, tell him to come each week prepared with three specific questions. And think about it from his perspective, he’s so lost he probably doesn’t even know how to describe how lost he is, and giving him a task to complete, even if it’s just “write a list of three questions for me,” might help him a lot.

UPDATE: some eagle-eyed readers noticed I likely misinterpreted your question. I thought you were the advisor, not the student. Now that I’ve been set straight, though, I wouldn’t change my advise too much. Set yourself the goal of asking three specific questions, and see how that goes. Tell your advisor you’d like to improve the fluency of your conversations and you’re trying different things towards that end. Tell your advisor it’s important to you to have an easy conversational relationship with them.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Well, you’ve wasted yet another Saturday morning with Aunt Pythia! I hope you’re satisfied! If you could, please ask me a question. And don’t forget to make an amazing sign-off, they make me very very happy.

Click here for a form or just do it now:

Categories: Uncategorized