This is, what I had in mind, basically.
Yet, I would indeed go over the full process until completion of step seven (with the exception of step five, see below) within the course of the academy. First, because this means more possibilities for progression over the game.
Second, because you may choose to play a character that just graduated at the academy and goes on their first mission in the first session of the game, yet profiting from e.g. the Career Events. I’d say, career starts on the day a character enlists into Starfleet. Transporter accidents and the like can also happen on campus and even career events like “first contact mission” may simply be holographic simulations that despite not being “real” had a psychological impact on the character: “This is a lesson I learned at the First Contact Protocol simulation with Commander Examplia at the academy – I’ll never forget THAT day.”
I’m not sure whether I would tie the steps to years, though. I have a more flexible approach in my mind that ties every stat to a “class” or “course” you take. This does not need to say “you need to take two courses of Starfleet Protocol, one course of Diplomacy and can opt, but not necessarily need to take a course of Handling First Contact Situations”, but rather say “if you want to increase a discipline and/or focus, you need to do so in a suitable course, whatever it’s called”.
I’m not sure whether to tie defining/increasing stats to the milestones-system (simply renaming that to “academy credits”) or modifying this as well. Again, off the top of my head, maybe player’s taking a course can define/increase stats after completion of the course (i.e. the mission/adventure).
Thus, every course a player takes to gain some stat is actually an adventure seed: “So, you want to attend a course of specialised warpfield-dynamics? Cool, this course is actually a three-week practical seminar aboard the USS Testillus, tasked with tests of a new warp-drive.” Even if Players would like to have ‘classic’ lectures, one of them could prepare a five-minute-or-so talk about – whatever, everything from the history of Starfleet Engineering over the psychology of hostile first contact incidents to Antican physiology.
Some players would choose identical courses, so there may be more than one player ‘profiting’ from a mission, while others might be there for non-stat-scoring cross-training, to be in-game NPC belonging to the test-setting (just like there’s a whole cadet crew within the Kobayashi Maru test while primarily [there’s actually a discussion about who exactly is tested, somewhere in this forum] the commanding officer is tested), or simply portraying supporting characters.
In the beginning, I mentioned a step five modification: Step Five of the Lifepath system. This one is crucial, in my opinion and both the Value and the Talent shall be given to the players. The talent shall be “Cadet” (and be transformed to “Young Officer” the moment they graduate). More on that later.
The Value shall be the reason why the character joined Starfleet. I think this will provide a very good anchor for drama when questioned with good adventures. The character could be re-inforced with belief in this value or even think to drop-out of Starfleet when they have to challenge it. With a “why I joined Starfleet” value, every character can be presented with an adventure where they’re at the crossroads, asking themselves what Starfleet really means to them. Will Starfleet show up to their expectations? Will they be frustrated? Or will they see they might simply have had a bad idea of what Starfleet is – and in reality, it’s even better?
Last, but not least, the “Cadet” talent.
For an academy campaign, I imagine two things: Player Characters (1) are not fully-educated (which is represented in their low stats) and (2) try out different things.
Regarding the second, I think that the actual roles (commanding officer, science officer etc.) should rotate over the missions as every cadet should have sat in the center chair at least once. Of course, science characters will be science officers more often than commanding or executive officers, but the roles should not be as fix as with a ‘standard’ group.
The “Cadet” talent, as I envision it, supports both: It gives the bearer the possibility to do “preparation work” before classes, temporarily boosting one attribute and/or discipline (not sure how the actual mechanics should work, but you get the idea), whether for the duration of a scene or the whole course (I tend to the latter, but, again, these are basically my first ideas).
The more I think of it, the Value of Step Four could be granted after the first mission/course/adventure, representing the attitude the cadets show on campus. “Always do extra-work”, “Never the best, never the worst”, or “Fun starts after Classes” are examples that immediately come to my mind. If not challenged during the academy, this value, however, should normally be changed when leaving the academy and from then on represent, as with the standard life path system, a belief the character developed during their times, in retrospect.
Well, that “short throwing-around first thoughts” escalated quickly. If this is the moment I should ask for an email-address whereto I should pitch a more elaborate version of such a system/supplement, please let me know.