|Student & Probationary Judges Lounge
What types of people become orchid judges?
A wide range of people contribute to our orchid judging – the deliberate, the impulsive, the
social, the reticent, the analytic, the artistic – but for all of the wide range, there are
• Judges like to learn about orchids (and often everything else in the world too). They
learn from each other and from judging activities, but they also do quite a bit of self-study
long after their student days are done.
• Judges are committed to the concept that a group can arrive at a better decision than
an individual – even a person as brilliant and insightful as himself/herself – and automatically
look for assistance for other judges when they have an unclear decision to make.
• Judges have judgment. While quite tautological, this is still true: judges naturally
integrate and balance disparate information to get a sound solution.
• Judges are willing to make a long-term, continuing effort. At times being a judge gets in
the way of the rest of life. Beyond attending judgings at their center and at shows, judges
have business meetings, training conferences, talks to give and many other incidental
duties. Most even contribute to the substantial work required to run a judging center and
their own orchid society. They may also mentor a student or probationary judge.
Obviously not everyone is intended to be an orchid judge, and before embarking on the long
journey to becoming an orchid judge you need to ask yourself, “Is this me?” Don’t let doubts
unreasonably deter you if you feel a strong attraction to the activity and the people in
judging. Many people contribute to judging in many different individual ways. If you don’t fit
the mold, don’t worry, there really isn’t a mold.
What would the judges be looking for in me, deciding if I would be a good student?
The absolute first thing on the judges’ list is whether several judges feel they know you well
enough to say you have real promise. It also helps if most of the judges can put a face to your
name. The judges will want some feeling that they might know what they are doing in
accepting you as a student. There are all sorts of ways that judges begin to know who you
are. One way is being active in your local society. Another way is participating in shows as an
exhibitor, clerk, or worker. Still another is helping for several months or a year or two as a
clerk at the judging center. This helps you learn about the judging process and enables the
judges to meet you. It also gives you a chance to assess the judges and judging and decide if
you find the process appealing.
Beyond knowing you as a person, there are a number of things in which the judges will be
specifically interested. They are interested in your working style and how you function in a
group. They are interested in your willingness to work because they know that the amount of
work which comes from being a student judge and later a judge will surprise you. They are
curious about what orchids you grow and which orchids you are looking to acquire because
this can tell them about your knowledge as well as your interests. They want to know about
The two formal requirements for being a student judge are that you be a member of the
American Orchid Society and that you are known to have normal color perception. Next most
important is that your personal integrity be more solid than situational. Following this come
the questions of your comfort with being a student again, your knowledge of orchids and how
fast it is growing, your judgment and your ability to work constructively with others. You do
need to get a copy of the AOS Handbook on Judging and Exhibition and read it carefully. You
should also subscribe to the Awards Quarterly. Aside from the required items, however,
potential students are evaluated as a whole, with strengths offsetting weaker areas.
What will I do and what will be expected of me as a student judge?
Student judges are expected to attend most of the 12 monthly judging at the center and also
to participate in judging shows in the center’s jurisdiction. In addition, you will be expected to
participate in at least one and preferably several judgings outside of your center’s
jurisdiction. This can be either at shows or monthly judgings. Students are required to attend
the center’s business meetings and separate judges’ education meetings. Note that this can
add up to considerable time and travel.
As a student you will be given self-study assignments most months. These take from several
to as many as a dozen hours to complete. If you have a computer and the Wildcatt database
the process is eased a bit. You will also be expected to do further study on your own,
following your own interests. While a student, and later as a probationary judge, you will be
expected to make one or two talks on specific areas of judging. You will be required to
subscribe to Awards Quarterly and own the current Handbook on Judging and Exhibition. You
should gradually build your personal library and most judges and students also subscribe to
Orchid Digest. Some also subscribe to the Orchid Review published by the Royal Horticultural
At monthly judging in the center, students are usually expected to sit with a judging team,
listening to the discussion and pointing most plants. They may also be expected to do much
of the research on the plants presented. They should expect to be asked to comment on the
plants and ask questions. Often students will be asked to discuss an entry or explain to the
audience why it was screened out.
During your years as a student judge, and later as a probationary judge, you will have a
primary mentor and a secondary mentor. They will be accredited judges and have
responsibility for working with you, helping you over any rough spots and maintaining a good
idea of your progress, strengths, and weak areas. The Training Coordinator(s) will choose
your mentors. They may welcome your suggestions as to whom you would feel comfortable
with and with whom you can work well. Your two mentors will usually be different types of
judges. This will give you different insights into the business of being an orchid judge. Later,
when you are an accredited judge, you will discover that being a mentor can also be
After three years as a student you will be eligible to be promoted to probationary judge. Most
students are advanced on the first vote, but it is possible that a student is not advanced until
the second, third, or fourth vote. Two-thirds of the accredited judges in the personnel
session of a semi-annual business meeting need to vote for promotion for a student judge to
be advanced. The AOS requires that a student judge not promoted to probationary judge by
the end of five years be dropped. Similar rules for advancement exist for probationary
judges. Thus, it is a bit quicker to obtain a Ph.D. than to become an accredited judge. One
reason for the three-year rule is to prevent over-enthusiasm on the part of the center’s
judges. Another is to give prospective judges time to recognize the length of commitment
and the effort involved before they become accredited judges. The intent of the student
program is to develop judges who will be active for one to several decades. In Philadelphia,
Dr. Wilson is in his sixth decade of service as an AOS judge.
In voting for promotion, the accredited judges of the center will look for a steady gain in your
knowledge of orchids. They will also consider your commitment and effort, your judgment and
effectiveness as a member of judging teams. By the time a promotion vote comes up most
judges have a clear view of the student and his/her capabilities. As a probationary judge, you
will be expected to take a more active role in judging, give talks to societies, prepare articles
for publication, and otherwise assume more of a leadership role.
After reading this and thinking about it, if you have answered “yes” to the first question, “Is
this me?”, and are wondering “when’ and not “if”, here are some suggestions:
• Are you settled enough as a person and your life settled enough overall that you are
ready to start an activity of more than a decade?
• Can you commit to the work, travel, and expense needed?
• Are you comfortable with the judging process and judges? Is it clear yet that the judges
are just people and have the strengths and failings inherent in being people?
• Is your orchid background sufficient and growing? Do you know a moderate amount
about all of the major genera and what makes a clone superior? Have you created or at least
helped with several exhibits in shows?
• Have you met the formal requirements of AOS membership and a color perception test?
Do you have a Handbook; do you subscribe to Awards Quarterly?
If you can answer these questions with a “yes”, jump in, the water’s fine. Alternatively you
could commit yourself for treatment of the condition.
This essay attempts to address some of the
many questions which prospective student
judges have both about becoming a student and
about their later activities.