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First of all, I've already asked my adviser about this, but I just want to see what is the overall idea of the community on this.

In Mexico it is usually required for the student to do this, but that is about the only place I have references of people doing defenses.

I was thinking on bringing bottled water, but since is the middle of the winter I thought coffee might be a better choice.

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It may vary a lot with respect to countries, universities, departments etc. And the best place to ask is to people at your department. –  Piotr Migdal Jan 16 '13 at 11:40
    
Remember: that food might change the outcome :): blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/04/11/… –  Suresh Feb 24 '13 at 5:41
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8 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

How I have seen it handle in France: usually, no food and drinks is given out during the defense, except for a bottle of water and a glass who are set on table of each member of the defense committee. However, as you say, it may be cold outside and committee members may be glad for a hot drink and/or maybe something to eat (depending what time it is). So, it is quite customary for the thesis advisor(s) to actually invite the committee members to join him some time before the defense starts, where they can make small talk and drink coffee. If the defense starts early afternoon, they committee can even go to lunch together, giving them an opportunity to discuss practical stuff (who will chair the committee? what order will people talk in? etc.).

Then, after the defense is concluded, there is a celebratory “cocktail” (buffet and drinks) to which the defense committee is invited, and to which they usually attend at least for half an hour.

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In mine, there are no conventions per se, but I've seen people get food ready for just after the defense. Since it's extremely rare to get to a defense and fail it, I'm not too concerned about the 'foregone conclusion' problem.

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As others pointed out, the answer depends on the country, particular university, as well as local habits at the department.

Just to complete the international picture:

In Germany (at places I had an opportunity to observe), it was customary to provide a treat in a style of "wine & cheese" of course modified to local tastes (meat in Germany :-) ) including a glass of sparkling/normal wine (usually "Sekt"), but all that after the defense. People would normally order the food by a local butcher (many of which specialise in this kind of stuff as a side business).

The same would go for some Eastern European countries, like Czech Republic, or Slovakia.

In the Netherlands, at places I saw, there is often a small reception after the defense too.

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I think it's highly country-dependent. In Italy, it is normal to offer food after defending a thesis (not only phd, also bachelor and master), either directly on the place or by taking all the friends attending to a bar after the defense. Sometimes the university itself even offers a small part of the refreshment.

Often there is enough food that you can skip your lunch (if it's in the morning).

If you find it weird to bring coffee and cookies to the defense, you can simply move to a bar, a common room or another place to celebrate.

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As a grad student in the US the tradition in my department was that all meetings involved a snack (usually doughnuts for morning meetings and cookies for afternoon meetings) and coffee. The snacks and coffee were set out before the meeting started. Our thesis defenses included a public and a private portion. The snacks at defenses were sometimes a little fancier (if I recall correctly, I sprung for a $20 cheese and fruit platter and a couple bottles of fancy water). As a post doc in the US the meetings typically only involved coffee. I think this was because a number of faculty in the department had strict dietary requirements (e.g., a number of vegans and kosher people), but I am not sure. In my current department in the UK we never have snacks or drinks. I really miss it.

I would suggest you ask other people in your department what is the norm. If the norm is not to bring snacks and drinks, think if you want to start a new tradition: everybody likes cookies/biscuits.

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Another variant:

My defense (UK) was informal, but very much an examination and as such there was no food or drink. However in the evening my supervisor invited myself and my examiners to a restaurant (not sure what would've happened if I hadn't passed!).

I have also heard of situations where the examination was particularly long and the examiners and candidate broke for lunch and came back - again there was no repast in the examination room.

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It depends on the department I would expect. Mine for example bans food and drink at a PhD defense, both because they think is puts an undue burden on the student (why should you have to cater your defense?) and creates an inappropriate atmosphere. Cookies, generally, are a celebratory food for example, and while you should pass your defense, having already broken out dessert suggests that its a foregone conclusion.

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I don't think there is a set rule prescribing the food and drinks that are welcome in the doctoral defense rooms/halls but I am afraid it is culture- and convention-dependent. I have never heard of such a thing that doctoral students can bring in any food or hot drinks when they defense their dissertation. Bottled water is ok. However, personally I don't reject any idea of taking food to defense rooms as long as the chair and the committees think it is fine. Food and drinks sometimes ease nervousness and anxiety and may make the whole process an easier one, as we all know. So why not food and drinks?

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