First-Time Operations Challenge Judge Shares Competition Insights

Laboratory director and prime analyst Tiffini Adams talks about her experiences as a judge of the Operations Challenge at WEFTEC 2018

First-Time Operations Challenge Judge Shares Competition Insights

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Judging the laboratory event at the Water Environment Association of Utah Operations Challenge prepared Tiffini Adams to judge the national competition at WEFTEC for the first time in 2018.

Adams, laboratory director and prime analyst at the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District in Park City, collaborated with four other volunteer lab judges to score 11 of the 36 teams in Division 2. “Each event takes about 30 minutes from setup to take down,” she says. “Being on our feet the whole time left us surprisingly tired.”

While judges never root for things to go wrong, spotting errors is the only way to establish the standings. “When one team member mislabeled a vial and the others didn’t catch it, all of us were willing them to see their mistakes and fix them,” Adams says. “We don’t want anybody to have time penalties.”

Competition jitters

These teams are the best of the best, and some have practiced so much that they’re almost flawless. However, practice at home doesn’t help them conquer a case of nerves. Adams sees hands shaking as team members try to pour liquid into graduated cylinders or aim pipettes in the right direction.

In fact, the most common mistake is pipetting technique. Tense contestants release too much of the vacuum bulb, sucking air bubbles into pipettes or the sample into the bulb. Once water is in the bulb, it doesn’t flow out; that forces teams to start over with new equipment.

“Now they’re moving so fast to make up time that they repeat the mistake,” Adams says. “They draw up more liquid than necessary and then inflate or deflate the bulb to bring the liquid to the correct level.”

The second most common mistake is the improper placement of the pH probe and stirrer. “As they lower the probe into the beaker, judges shouldn’t hear the stirrer hitting the side of glass,” Adams says.

After each team finishes the event, the head judge confers with the other judges, consolidates the findings and establishes the raw score before penalties. Then the head judge meets with the team captain to share the results. Adams observes, “Having multiple judges gives each of us affirmation and confirmation, and ensures that teams are judged consistently.”


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