Science Officer vs Operations Officer

My players and myself have been struggling with the distinction between science and operations as an officer role.

E.g. Spock was the science officer. Data and Kim were operations officers. Spock definitely had more science foci while data has a mix of science and engineering foci.

So I’m curious as to how others handle it. if they’re an operations officer, does that make all science officers as operations officers or is there just one operations officer and the science officers report to them? The Enterprise-D had clear science officers but data was the closest science officer on the bridge so did they answer to him?

In Trek, it appears to be nothing more than the Second Officer, but could include supervision of gunnery crews, tactical sensors, and shielding systems.

Real world:
USN, Bluejacket’s Manual (15th edition):

The operations department.—The operations department is headed by the operations officer. He is responsible for collecting, evaluating, and disseminating combat and operational information. He may be assisted in his duties by any or all of the following:
Communications officer […],
Comabt Information Center Officer [guy in charge of the systemry of the CIC][…],
Navigation Department[…],
Air Department […],
Gunnery (Deck) Department […].

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I generally see Engineering as the Hardware, Operations as the Software.

Check the descriptions of the roles on pages 126-127 of the core rulebook. Take Data out of the equation–he’s a special case because he’s 1) the ops officer on the Ent-D, 2) an android with the sum of human knowledge at his disposal, and 3) a main character who requires a lot of screen time.

There was a chief of sciences on the Ent-D, the show just chose to never focus on them or even introduce them. Data got all the science stuff because he was on the bridge all the time and has all the info in his head.

Operations and sciences, separate departments. Scientists report to the chief of sciences, ops officers report to the chief ops officer.


In my opinion, the Operations Department would oversee the daily maintenance and operation of a ship or starbase: Communications, maintenance/repairs, training, ‘flight deck’, cargo bays.

The Operations Division includes the Engineering Department, so essentially any sort of Daily maintenance or repair would first go to Operations. If more extensive work was needed, they would inform Engineering, otherwise they would make the necessary repair/recalibration to get the system working as intended. In my mind, Engineering focuses more on the Engines and Warp core/power plants than any sort of hiccup in say, the replicators not working right in one person’s quarters.

The Operations Division also includes the Security Department, so Ops could coordinate with Security on maintaining the weapons systems and targeting systems, as well as scheduling for training exercises.

They don’t really go over in any of the shows who is in control of maintaining or organizing the Cargo, so it makes sense in my mind for that to fall to the Ops department. Sure, for specialized cargo, they may need to coordinate with Engineering, Science, or Medical if specific containment measures are needed, but otherwise they should be able to handle that within the department.

In starship combat, for example - engineering and Ops have a cooperative job. If you look at their cards that come with the GM screen, a very helpful tool, it outlines their options, and can be handed to a player during the game. Ops controls communications and internal systems, for example. Engineering can do some of the same things, but also can repair broken systems. I remember reading in some Star Trek publication that Ops was the manager of ships systems; Ops tells which science department can use the starboard lateral sensor array for their astrophysic studies, and engineering can shut down the shield grid for repairs - or whatever.

From a gameplay perspective, the science officer handles the “Sensor Operations” position, and the ops officer handles both the “Communications” and the “Internal Systems” positions.

I have modified the sheets from the Borg Drone Bundle for the classic TNG/VOY bridge stations:

  • Captain/First Officer
  • Conn
  • Operations
  • Security/Tactical
  • Science

As far as I’ve been running it, the Operations department make up a large bulk of the behind the scenes crew on a ship.

If Harry Kim and Miles Obrien are anything to go by, they tend to be the Jack of all trades style character who cross over between departments as needed. Pretty capable at everything, occasionally very good at a specific thing. The software vs hardware distinction makes a lot of sense. I also tend to assume that they are responsible for the general maintenance etc.

So, I try to avoid the idea of “all senior officers are department heads”, because I tend to find that it implies whole branching chains of command that we don’t necessarily see on the shows. Further, not all ships have the same assortment of senior staff roles - they’re assigned as the Captain sees fit based on their perceived needs and preferences for who they want as senior advisors.

That in mind:

  • A Science Officer isn’t inherently the head of the ship’s Science department. Indeed, many ships don’t have a single fixed science department, but rather contain an assortment of scientific teams in different disciplines who come aboard and depart as required by the studies they’re doing (this seemed to be the case on the Enterprise-D). Rather a ship’s Science Officer, in the vein of Spock, T’Pol, Jadzia Dax, etc., is a bridge officer who serves as the Commanding Officer’s foremost scientific advisor, as well as handles scientific functions on the bridge. Klingon ships have a similar posting - we see Dax take up that role on the I.K.S. Rotarran briefly. Voyager does seem to have had a Science Officer as well, early on - Ensign Samantha Wildman serves that role in early seasons, taking the science station on the Bridge a few times, but she basically doesn’t appear in the later seasons, and Seven of Nine seems to cover similar ground narratively from that point on even if she doesn’t have a formal role on the ship.

  • The Operations Manager serves a similar role to an extent - Data was written to serve the Science Officer role in story-terms, but was put in a gold uniform because he apparently didn’t look right in Sciences blue - but also seems to cover Bridge engineering functions (allowing the Chief Engineer to focus on running Main Engineering). Ensign Kim covers pretty much the same job - operating sensors and internal systems from the bridge, providing information to the Captain about weird swirly things in space, etc.

  • Also worth noting that Data’s Operations Manager role on the Enterprise-D and -E is different from O’Brien’s role as Chief of Operations on DS9 - he’s functionally serving a Chief Engineer role (but there’s no “Chief Engineer” on a station as a station lacks engines), overseeing mechanical and technological matters for the station and any ships docked there. He’s not in charge of the Operations Division aboard the station, but is in charge of the station’s routine operations. The terms “Operations” and “Ops” get thrown around in a few different situations; Admiral Kirk was Chief of Starfleet Operations in The Motion Picture, but that was more “the Operations that Starfleet undertakes” as opposed to “Starfleet’s Operations Division”.

So, really, you don’t need both. Pick whichever one suits your game better, or take both and accept that there’ll be some overlap in their roles, because both roles are primarily “spout technical and scientific exposition to the Captain” and “scan things”.


I was in a group as an Operations officer, that also had a bridge Science officer and a Chief Engineer (like Discovery). What I did was assist the science officer on scans, take over science scans on the ship when the science officer was on an away mission or involved in an extended task, assist the chief engineer on engineering tasks (power generation, damage control), act as a second tactical officer (if more than two weapons fired), assist Conn on navigational tasks, and uniquely - I (as both player and character) would be the one allocating the ship’s total power points among our tasks (shields, movement, weapons) in combat. I was also the player who “rolls for the ship” if someone forgot. Since we had a Science Officer, the Operations Role perk for scanning (identical to the Science role) was replaced (house rule) with the Operational Authority NPC rule (from the Ops book, Ops officer NPC) that lets the Ops officer use the override without penalty. So that’s one way to do it if you have a big group.


Thanks everyone for the input, it helped tremendously. I’m just going to go with a science officer position for now to keep things simple.