by Warrant Officer Morgan Saunders
Retired Director, TF Science Corps
So you want to play a science officer?
From the illustrious career of Spock, to the varied yet tragically ended life of Jadzia Dax, and back to the beginning again with stoic T'Pol aboard the Enterprise NX-01, the role of a science officer has played a significant role throughout the history of the Star Trek saga.
Responsible for scientific investigations and providing the command crew with scientific information needed for command decisions, a science officer's task is diverse and interesting.
To get you started on your path to becoming one of the foremost scientific minds in the Trek galaxy, this article covers two main topics: the Facts and the Tips. The Facts cover the Trek-based information of a science officer and the position's role in the Trek universe. The Tips give a new player ideas on how to play a science department character and have fun doing it.
What does a science officer do?
Generally, a science officer's duty aboard ship is to provide the scientific data and expertise necessary for the mission of the ship.
On the bridge, the science position is responsible for analysis of sensor scans. Generally the scans themselves are run by the Operations officer, but the analysis of the scans - getting into the gritty, detailed scientific facts obtained by the scans - is the job of the science officer.
On an away mission, the science officer is responsible for data gathering and analysis. The science officer reports the findings to the Away Team commander as well as records their findings for later detailed analysis aboard the ship.
In the labs, the science department conducts experiments and creates reports of scientific analysis of data. Each science officer generally has an area of expertise and they work in that particular area.
Not at all, if you play it right. The science officer has the advantage of having a place on the bridge, like the Flight Control and Operations officers, but also have duties when they're not on the bridge like Engineering and Medical. That gives science characters the ability to get involved in a variety of storylines and missions, whether the action is on the bridge, on the ship, or on an away mission.
In addition, the skill set a science officer must posses can involve them in other departments as well. A physicist could work with Engineering on improving the fusion reaction of the impulse engines; a biochemist could assist the Medical department on finding a cure for a newly discovered disease, a sociologist might work with the Diplomatic or Intelligence departments when encountering a new species.
All things considered, being a science officer can be one of the most versatile and enjoyable positions on a sim.
Why have a Chief Science Officer?
After all, TNG and Voyager didn't need one, right?
Blame Gene Roddenberry.
When Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the drawing boards back in the mid-1980's, one of his cardinal rules was to make it different from the original Star Trek, to change what he could but still have it be Star Trek. Which was one of the reasons why the series was set 78 years into the future of TOS, and why there were no Vulcans among the main crew. And why there was no chief science officer - at least, not in the main cast.
Spock was considered one of the defining roles of the original Star Trek. Roddenberry knew that any Vulcan or science officer would be held up to Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of the Vulcan CSO, and he was trying to minimize the number of controversies about his new series. So any ideas for having a Vulcan among the main crew were nixed by the man in charge.
For the alien, outcast type character Roddenberry created the android Data, who Roddenberry himself admitted was based off his own previous creation Questor from the proposed TV series "The Questor Tapes". This android was in some ways the antithesis of Spock, striving to be human while Spock tried to overcome his emotional humanity. But with his computer mind he would serve the same purpose as Spock, as a source of information on nearly every subject for the commanding officer.
So how could you have Data fulfilling that same purpose without being the Chief Science Officer, fulfilling Spock's role? Answer - create a new position. Data became the Operations Manager (or Chief Operations Officer), a position that replaced the main functions of the science officer on the bridge.
Note that among the other positions from the original series - commanding officer, chief medical, chief engineer, helmsman, navigator, and communications officer, only commanding officer and CMO remained intact. Even the role of chief engineer was empty until the second season, when Geordi transferred from flight control (which gave Wesley a position to fill on the bridge).
Another factor to consider is the fact that the television shows were designed to focus on a handful of characters, with a significant amount of time being spent on the bridge.
Consider the Chief Security Officer on TOS versus TNG. Surely they had a Chief of Security on Kirk's ship. It was a big department, losing red-shirts on every other episode. Someone must have been in charge of all those people. But it wasn't a bridge position, so it was relegated to the background and a Chief of Security was never seen on screen. In TNG the position was expanded to include the tactical responsibilites once taken by the helm and navigator positions, and the Chief of Security became a bridge role and a main role.
So no doubt, the Enterprise-D with it's numerous science labs and mission of exploration (among other things) must have had a Chief Science Officer. But it was no longer a bridge position, and so the role was never seen.
And even though the Operations position supplanted the CSO position on the bridge and in the main, credited roles, both the Enterprise-D and Voyager had science departments. Neela Daren, Mendon, the Delaney twins, Samantha Wildman; all were science officers. Captain Janeway and Tuvok had both been science officers during their Starfleet careers, and in Picard's Tapestry-twisted career he ended up a junior science officer.
In Tango Fleet, the sims focus on more than a handful of principal characters. On each ship there are usually more than a dozen different active players. Characters are built and developed not only during the missions or "episodes" but also between them. The chief science officer fills a role that, while perhaps not essential to the current 24th century ship-based television series, can fulfill an essential "background" role aboard the ship sims in the fleet.
Have a field of specialty
Having a field of specialty gives your character a focus and a discipline where your character can excell. Though a chief science officer can be expected to know something about all scientific disciplines, having a field of expertise will help to give your character definition. Such fields can be used in storylines or subplots, and can further develop your character beyond the generic blue-collared character seen at the rear bridge station.
Some specialties are:
Anthropology, Archaeology, Astronomy, Biology, Botany, Chemistry, Computer Science, Exobiology, Geology, History, Linguistics, Mathematics, Metallurgy, Physics, Stellar Cartography
Just don't make your field too obscure. Having a doctorate in Ancient Vulcan Philosophers (Pre-Reformation) may sound terribly impressive, but the chances of being useful in a mission are pretty slim.
Use the internet
You don't have to be a physicist just because your character is. However, like any good role-playing, your ability to play the character is based on your personal knowledge and skills. But being on an e-mail based sim allows you to do research for your posts, and the internet is an excellent source.
Is your character analyzing the readings from a newly discovered pulsar? A quick search on the internet will provide numerous sites that will give you everything from a layman's definition of a pulsar to the intricate scientific details of the stellar phenomena.
The added bit of realism from a well-researched scientific post can define your character in his role as well as intrigue the scientifically minded players in the group.
Just be careful not to overdo it - add detail without getting tedious. You can bet that most of the other players won't be scientists, and probably would not find a eighteen-paragraph post on the mating rituals of a Klingon targ all that compelling.
Also check out the Sixth Fleet Wiki for more useful information.
Develop your character outside of the lab
Essential for developing any well-rounded character, this is especially important for a science officer who can become too easily defined by his role in the science lab. Extracurricular activities or interests, hobbies or talents, your character should have something non-science related that they do to "unwind".
Vulcan Lyre, Clarinet, Bagpipes, Ressiken Flute
Klingon Opera, 20th century Rock and Roll
Ballet, Tap, Ballroom, Disco
Karate, Kung-Fu, Klingon Mok'bara
Bajoran Poetry, Old Earth Novels
3-d Chess, Parisses Squares, Vulcan Kal-toh, or even good old Poker
Know your role
Playing a science officer has a distinct advantage over some other positions in that character has duties both on and off the bridge. The science officer aboard a starship has a variety of roles and duties, which allow you to keep your character from being boxed in to one location or setting and can get your character involved in a variety of plots. There is a science station on the bridge as well as the science labs to keep your character busy. A physicist could work on a project with engineering; a chemist with the medical staff. There are few locations on the ship that a creative science officer couldn't find a reason to be there.
At the same time, you do have a specific function to perform on the sim and you need to make sure you don't neglect it. Whether you're the chief of the science department or a raw crewman recruit, the science department fulfills a critical role in the Star Trek universe.