It is very interesting to read this thread. Hearing many perspectives of personal experiences with the AOS judging system, both positive and negative, is a good avenue to acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses of an institution whose primary goal is to serve the orchid public and to encourage better orchids, both species and hybrids.
As a newly minted accredited AOS judge who has gone through the training program, I have experienced more drama in 6 years than my 25 plus years of orchid growing. Everything that everyone has said, I have seen, heard and experienced. I have met both great inspiring judges and some not so. I have been praised as well as yelled at. I have been put under some situations that I thought was unfair but that eventually was understandable and sorted out for the best outcome.
Despite all that, and with a full practice, I persevered because of several reasons:
1. First, I have been fortunate that the training program in my center is top notch with many knowledgeable and inspiring judges. They have taught me and guided me to be who I am as a judge today. In fact, our training coordinator is working on systemizing the National AOS Training (so that is a good change worth noting). This training has allowed me to research for talks on orchids (with world experts) that are still on my lecture circuit that educates the public on their love of those particular orchids that are highlighted (eg. cuths, venustums, indigos). The research expanded my knowledge far beyond what I knew as a layperson particularly on genetics of color inheritance and taxonomy. This training has given me the confidence to even consider speaking at the WOC next year. Note that most judging centers are as good too. Not all are bad.
2. Second, through my association with the AOS, I have travelled to many out of region shows and met many wonderful people who become lifelong friends (other judges, hobbyists, scientists, etc). Through them, I have been fortunate enough to see private collections and orchids in their native habitats. It has opened up doors for me in US, Colombia, Brazil, Japan and WOCs. How else was I able to see the Emperor and Empress of Japan walk by but at the Japan Grand Prix Show as a judge there? Or the First Lady of Ecuador asking your compatriot about an orchid beside you?
3. Third, as a judge you get firsthand view of the flower in front of you. This is after all a flower club and to see a rare or stunning orchid up close and personal is a perk of the job. And to be the team that awarded it tops it all for me. A high really. I remember giving the first FCC in Medellin, Colombia to a Bulbophyllum, as well as the most recent two in Cali, Colombia (Cattleya trianae 'Pink Hippos' FCC/AOS and Stanhopea tigrina var nigroviolacea 'Black Widow' FCC/AOS). Unforgettable moments define these experiences that I would never have experienced if not for AOS.
For these reasons above (and probably much more), I am happy that I stuck it through and grateful such an institution exists to teach me the necessary skills to do what I love. It may not be for everyone because every center is different, but it may be for some that stick to their guns. Many times I had to swallow my pride and carry on. And trust me, the exit door was beguiling me many many moments (I did walk out once but that's another story).
Although the perceived staunched hierarchy system was set and undeviating, there are movements in HQ that are slowly becoming transparent and inclusive. The administration is well aware of the aforementioned problems in this thread as they are historically common ailments in the system, and are/may work on policies to hopefully remedy these problems through education and awareness ventures. In addition, a generation of new blood has joined several different AOS committees and they are very forward thinking with new and novel ideas. Perhaps those here that want change within the system can volunteer for positions in the AOS committees to forward the improvement they want to see. One doesn't need to be a judge to join some of these committees (eg affiliated societies). Just message the AOS and they will elaborate the details and requirements.
I know not everyone may agree with my thoughts and experiences. But that has been my journey of sweat, tears and joy. And I wouldn't change anything ... 'what doesn't break me, makes me stronger'.
A final note. I asked myself years ago what I wanted to do when I retired. One answer came up repeatedly:
'To travel the world and see/judge orchids. '
That is my dream and it has become my reality.
Well, that and my first slipper FCC I grew under lights!!
I imagine myself a modern day orchid adventurer where a stranger finding me fussing in the middle of the deep Congo might ask the legendary question ‘Dr. Ee, I presume?!’