Pros and Cons of Judging

This is one of three posts on the differences between competing in and judging student conferences.  Be sure to check out the rest of the story by reading through the biggest differences between competing and judging and advice for first time judges.

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Judges handing out awards at one of the national competitions

Pros of Judging

One of the best parts of judging is no longer being so nervous about the competition! You can relax and stop worrying about if your canoe will float or if you’re going to accidentally drop a wrench.  Not to mention, it’s a great trip down memory lane if you competed as a student conference.

Another benefit is truly helping the students grow.  Since you’re the rule enforcer, you are creating an environment where students will learn from the mistakes they made.  As a long-time competitor, I can tell you how much I learned about following specifications, formatting reports, and turning things on time.  Professional Engineers know that the real world is demanding! Students who go through these competitions will be better prepared for writing proposals, dealing with clients, and following strict codes during engineering design.

It is also very inspiring to see these young minds at work.  These students are the future of engineering and it’s exciting to see the amount of work they put into these design projects.  If your company is looking to hire employees, student design competitions are the perfect place to find talented young engineers who can truly apply their problem-solving skills.

I choose to judge these competitions for a variety of reasons. I feel like it’s a great way to support an organization that provided me with so many positive and challenging experiences and had a profound impact on my view of Civil Engineering and how I approach and solve problems. I’m always amazed to see how the competition has evolved over the years and to see how these teams have progressed since I was a competitor. Judging allows me to stay connected to ASCE as well as with students who will eventually take these skills that they have learned and use them to hopefully advance the industry.

-Danielle Steinmetz

Cons of Judging

Four out of five judges agree: the time commitment is the biggest con of judging student competitions.  Reading the rules, reviewing design papers, going through deductions, sorting through RFIs, and rating each individual team is time consuming! But realistically, if you spent 40 hours preparing for the competition, it’s only a fraction of the thousands of hours the students are spending to impress YOU.

The other negative is being the the one to deliver bad news to the teams.  They put so much time into these competitions and it’s your responsibility to tell them when they’ve made a mistake, no matter how small it may be.  Sometimes those mistakes can cost the team a trip to the national competition or a national title.

The worst part about judging is having to break their hearts from time to time. When the students make mistakes, I have to penalize them according to the rules. It doesn’t feel good to tell a captain that their product – which s/he has spent immeasurable time and energy leading – doesn’t meet the rules and therefore they cannot continue in competition. I was once a student too and losing is hard. I know now that there is a lot to be gained from failure, but that is not realized until later.

-Renee Whittenberger

Another challenging aspect of judging is being empathetic.  As a past competitor you may know a lot more than the students about steel bridges or concrete canoes.  I know when I judged for my first time, I was pretty harsh during the question/answer phase of the concrete canoe presentations. It can be difficult to remember that this is probably the first time they’ve participated in such a large design competition.

It is way to easy too be a jerk, and on the flip side it is way too easy to be too nice. It is difficult to strike a balance between judging your “peers” and treating students as “kids”. The reality is that these students have put a lot of time and effort into their work and ideally a judge should scrutinize and challenge students, while striking a balance of being fair and equitable.

-Robert Coomes

Do you have something to add about the pros and cons of judging a student design competition? Leave a comment below!  Or continue reading about advice for first time judges and the biggest differences between competing and judging.

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