Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Anyone got any good defense stories?

A while back, an inmate in an Atlanta courtroom had a not-so-great conversation with a judge. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's legal blog: 
The extraordinary hearing, first reported by the Rome News-Tribune, occurred June 17 and lasted about 11 minutes. Allen is accused of beating fellow inmate Stephen Rudolph Nalley to death at the Floyd County Jail in August 2015. 
During the hearing, Allen told Durham he would murder his whole family. “I’ll cut your children up into pieces,” Allen said. “I’ll knock their brains out with a (expletive) hammer and feed them to you. … The babies will be going, ‘Daddy, daddy, help me.’” 
When Durham told Allen he didn’t have any children, Allen said, “Then I’ll get your nieces, your nephews, your sisters.” 
Durham said he had none of those either and told Allen he’d “be in jail so long you won’t have a chance.” 
At the outset of the hearing, when Durham told Allen he couldn’t have a lawyer of his choosing, Allen said he’d then represent himself. But Durham told the defendant “that would be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life.” 
Within minutes, Allen told Durham he would “hold myself in contempt.” 
“Listen to me,” Durham interjected. 
“(Expletive) you,” Allen told the judge and then continued saying the same thing.
The funny part about this situation, of course, is that Mr. Allen did not have much leverage with Judge Durham, and yet decided to berate him.

It reminds me of a question I've always wanted to ask - does anyone have any good stories of exchanges between committee members and graduate students during thesis defenses? I presume there's got to be some good stories of retorts on the part of either graduate students (less likely) or committee members (far more likely.) Readers, do tell.  

12 comments:

  1. I talked about some science, my committee and audience asked some questions, I answered some questions, and nobody was threatened with a hammer :-/

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a few steps removed from a thesis defense story, but is still rather amusing. Just before his qualifying exam, one of my coworkers had a dream about it where he used the phrase "if you smell what I'm stepping in." One of his committee members (who is well-known for missing American euphemisms) stopped everything to make him explain the phrase. Needless to say, he did not actually say that during his real exam.

    ReplyDelete
  3. For my Masters defense, one committee member stopped me every slide and questioned me for at least 10-15 minutes about it. The whole ordeal took over 2 hours whereas I had observed PhD defenses lasting 30 minutes or less. My advisor was weak and chose to not interject, however I really wanted to threaten that member with a hammer; some of the questions were wondering why I did not do calculations before starting my experiments (organic synthesis), why did I not evaluate more temperatures (relatively low-boiling compound), and many other mundane type of questions that I feel a first year grad student would ask.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Isn't that court case the one that the Rick and Morty guys read at Comicon? That was bouncing around the internets in the last year... if it is the same thing, listen to the whole thing. It's horrific.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup! It's pretty great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vN_PEmeKb0

      Delete
    2. Oh, man, that was hilarious.

      Delete
  5. At my oral exams, I had two committee members arguing amongst themselves over the theoretical definition of a cycloaddition. I think the expectation was that I should choose a side. I tried to stay diplomatic and somehow came out unscathed (except psychologically).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The discomfort that one can feel when two PIs that you like are arguing with one another (and not doing so jovially) is very uncomfortable.

      Delete
    2. Our candidacy exam was traditionally 2 hours, no matter the student or committee. It was almost as if the professors were ordered to grill students for that amount on time. In the middle of mine, two committee members started arguing with each other (over a result, not over any of my answers or my proposal). I decided to shut my mouth and quietly retreat back into a corner of the conference room while these two argued for a solid 30 minutes, eating up much of my question and answer time. After my advisor finally broke up the fight, the committee only kept me for another few questions. Quite the sight to see...

      Delete
  6. My favourite response to a 'why didn't you do X' question - 'that would be a different project'

    ReplyDelete
  7. Not my defense, but my prelim exam: in the middle of my closed-door Q&A grill session, the building's fire alarm went off. As my committee was leaving the building, one of the members instructed me to grab the large pad of paper, easel and a marker sitting in the corner of the room. They proceeded to continue the grill session in the middle of the courtyard outside of the building. The large gathering outside gradually took more and more "what's going on over there?" interest. After a few minutes, my closed door grilling turned into a public grilling in front of ~50 people gathered in a circle around me. I couldn't even write I was shaking so hard, and it was in marker so I couldn't erase a thing. I eventually froze and couldn't force a single word out of my mouth. Luckily, at this point my advisor stepped in and suggested we go find another room somewhere else on campus. About 30 min later we found a room (possessing an actual door that would close), I calmed down and eventually finished. I think they actually ended up taking it pretty easy on me (presumably due to the fact that they already accomplished their hazing), but there's not much I can remember about the second session.

    ReplyDelete
  8. My defense was relatively short, but like a few other posters my candidacy exam wasn't. About halfway through I had the following exchange with one of my committee members:

    CM: "When you think of acid catalysis, what two kinds do you usually think of?"
    Me: "Bronstead & Lewis."
    CM: "That's a fair answer, but distinctly not the one I'm looking for. When you think of Bronstead acid catalysis, what two types do you think of?"
    Me:

    This was then followed by 30 minutes of my committee member leading me by the nose through general vs specific acid catalysis.

    ReplyDelete