One weird trick for improving the outcome of your PhD defense.

Feed your committee.

At the very least, make sure your committee is fed. A hungry committee is a grumpy committee. A grumpy committee is just a little bit less likely to let you pass your defense. Sure, you can prep, polish your thesis to perfection, run through a half-dozen practice defenses. You can even invest in some serious snake-fighting lessons. But all of those solutions are practical, pragmatic, and belie a commitment to success that suggests a work ethic, expertise, and discipline. All of which you need, but don’t ignore the obvious, easy stuff, either.

Wait, Andrew, you’re serious?

If you’ve learned anything from reading this blog for the last 9 years, it’s that I am always serious. Humor is anathema to me. Let’s talk about the science.

In a 2011 paper, Danziger and friends looked at extraneous factors in judicial decisions. In short, they looked at how often judges granted parole to inmates as a function of when the decision was made. Parole judges often hear dozens of cases in a day with few breaks. What Danziger and friends found was that, immediately after a judge had eaten, favorable parole outcomes were much more frequent and that, as parolees got further and further from mealtime, their chance of getting out plummeted. Those whose hearings fell right before a meal break had a 0% chance of parole. The pattern was clear: never appear before a hungry judge.

Proportion of rulings in favor of the prisoners by ordinal position. Circled points indicate the first decision in each of the three decision sessions; tick marks on x axis denote every third case; dotted line denotes food break. Because unequal session lengths resulted in a low number of cases for some of the later ordinal positions, the graph is based on the first 95% of the data from each session. Danziger and friends, 2011.

Simple.

Well, not quite.

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