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The GSDSEF has three types of judging with various awards:


Categorical Judging – PLACE AWARDS

Category Judges decide the GSDSEF’s award placements (first, second, third, and fourth place) in 15+1 different categories, based on scientific merit using specified criteria. Categorical judging takes place in the morning. There are 15 categories in Senior Division and Junior Division has one additional category. 

GSDSEF Categories and Descriptions (updated September 2021)

  • All students are given a Certificate of Merit for participating.
  • All students receive a Place Award ribbon on-stage at the Awards Ceremony.


Grand Awards Judging – GRAND AWARDS 

Teams of Grand Awards Judges review projects that have been recommended by the Category Judges for Grand Awards consideration. Grand Awards judging takes place in the afternoon and Grand Awards Judges must be willing to stay until at least 3 p.m. the day of Judging.  

  • Four Grand Awards and four Grand Award Runners-up are selected in the Junior Division (6th-8th grade) and receive cash awards and a plaque/trophy.
  • Four Grand Award Runners-Up/Alternates are selected in the Senior Division (9th -12th grade) and each receive a cash award and a plaque.
  • Four Grand Award Winners are selected in the Senior Division. Each receives a college scholarship award, an engraved plaque, and the opportunity to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).


Professional Societies Judging and Professional Society SPECIAL AWARDS

Over 100 Professional Societies and other organizations provide their own judges and each set their own criteria for awards. Professional Societies/Organizations judge student projects during the afternoon of judging day. 


Professional Societies and organizations provide their own awards - ribbons, certificates, or plaques, and/or monetary scholarships. Awards may be left with the GSDSEF for distribution directly to students or the Professional Society may arrange another method to present their awards. Several of the Professional Societies present their awards at their own banquets or board meetings and certain organizations/companies present their Special Awards on stage at the Awards Ceremony.

  • Professional Societies and Organizations Awards list is passed out at the Awards Ceremony and their names are listed on screen before Awards Ceremony begins.
  • SPECIAL AWARDS given by Professional Societies are presented on-stage at the Awards Ceremony. These include the BD Awards, Fred H. Rohr Award, Ronald E. Domb Memorial Award, Mickey Award, Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) Awards, Reuben H. Fleet Awards, San Diego Zoo Global Awards, and Student Leadership Award. Other Special Awards may also be presented on stage.

NOTE: Judging Team Projects 

In judging a team project in comparison to one done by an individual, it is fair to have a higher expectation of the team project regarding the overall level of effort involved in the project.

Team projects have greater resources (the number of minds working together) and therefore a greater capacity for more research and data collection, more time, effort, and thought spent on the project, as well as more/in-depth analysis than someone acting alone. This should be evident in the project.

There should also be evidence of team collaboration and synergy among team members (which should become evident during the interview process).

Who are the Category and Grand Awards Judges?

Category judges are scientists, engineers, computer science/technology specialists, professors, and other professionals, whether currently working, or retired. They are community members who are interested in encouraging the young people of San Diego and Imperial Counties to consider a career in science, engineering, technology, or mathematics.

Grand Awards judges have 7 or more years of experience in judging science fairs.

Awards are announced at the Annual Awards Ceremony. ALL students receive their place awards ribbons on stage culminating with the Grand Awards Winners announcement.