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Famously, Harry Kim was never promoted past ensign since there was no room for advancement on his ship. Tom Paris was demoted from Lt. (j.g.) to ensign. In TNG, ensign Ogawa was promoted to Lt. In each of these three examples, it doesn't appear that anything is gained or lost by the change in rank. Harry would not have gained more responsibilities unless there was another position open, he'd still be ops. Tom Paris appeared to be the head of something (all pilots perhaps?) and his demotion didn't really seem to matter to anyone else on the ship. Finally, Ogawa appears to just be turned into a Lieutenant but there was no position change for her, at least as far as I could tell.

In the real world, a change in rank at least comes with a change in pay, but that doesn't seem to be the case in Starfleet in general.

So, other than a position change that necessitates a change in rank, was there any benefit to a promotion, or downsides to a demotion?

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    You get one step closer to completing your pip badge collection. – Paul D. Waite Dec 12 '20 at 10:06
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    You get more hp! – Aganju Dec 12 '20 at 20:23
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    In the real world, if you're working only for pay, then you're missing out. There are plenty of benefits that come with increased rank that are not just getting money thrown at you; are you saying you aren't aware of any of these?! – Asteroids With Wings Dec 12 '20 at 21:33
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    Harry did get more responsibility as time went on, e.g. being in charge of the bridge during night watch and later even more. – Polygnome Dec 12 '20 at 23:07
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    @Polygnome: "Good news Harry! Even more night shifts!" – Paul D. Waite Dec 13 '20 at 0:35
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Senior officers are the ones giving the orders. No-one gives the Captain (or in reality, any of the more senior grades) punishment detail.

TUCKER: Almost. Got it.

REED: If the Captain learns about this we'll both be scrubbing plasma conduits for a month.

ENT: Dead Stop

and

RANSOM: I've got her emptying {bleep} out of the holodeck's [bleep] filter!

FREEMAN: ...Ugh. People really use it for that?

RANSOM: Oh, yeah. It's mostly that.

ST:LD Moist Vessel

Being promoted means that your job becomes more difficult (since it often requires you to supervise less senior grades) but also more exciting. Additionally, you're privy to closely guarded information about ship disposition, missions and starfleet's planning.

ROSS: I just got word. Captain Bennet's promotion has come through. At my recommendation, Starfleet's putting her in charge of Seventh Tactical Wing. She's one of the best adjutants I've ever had, strong grasp of strategy and an ability to see the big picture.

DS9: Behind The Lines

and

ENSIGN BOIMLER: We never know anything!

ENSIGN MARINER: We're 'lower decks'. No one ever tells us what's going on. We're not important enough!

ST:LD - Veritas

Lower ranks are given the crappiest jobs and night shift details.

ROM: No, brother. In appreciation of my work the chief has promoted me to the day shift. He says I have a promising future in Engineering.

DS9: The Assignment

You get extra training opportunities not available to lower ranks.

RANSOM: Lieutenant Mariner, report to the officers' lounge for ... management training.

ST:LD - Moist Vessel

You're also given additional respect by your peers, which I would assume is very nice.

SISKO: I remember when I got promoted to lieutenant. It took me a while to get used to being called "Sir" by my friends who were still ensigns.

DS9: Accession

Having the lowest rank means that you need to work much harder to gain respect from more senior grades.

SISKO: Congratulations, Lieutenant. I want you to take a good look around. You have just agreed to take responsibility for the mental health of everyone in this room. You have your work cut out for you.

BASHIR: Well, I'm glad they made you a lieutenant. It would have been hard taking advice from an ensign.

DS9: Afterimage

Conversely, a failure to draw promotion suggests that you're not doing a good job and looks bad on your record, preventing you from getting more interesting assignments in the future.

KIRK: Yes. He had been at the Academy for an unusually long time as an instructor. As a result, he was late in being assigned to a starship. The delay, he felt, looked bad on his record. My action, he believed, made things worse.

TOS: Court Martial

Oh, and being promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant means you get your own room without having to share with a smelly, messy roommate or sleep in a corridor

LAVELLE: Promote me, please, so I can make Lieutenant and have my own room.

TNG: Lower Decks

and

ENSIGN BOIMLER: You get your own quarters?

LIEUTENANT MARINER: Yeah. It's the worst.

ST:LD - Moist Vessel

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    "He had been at the Academy for an unusually long time as an instructor. As a result, he was late in being assigned to a starship." - what a curious statement. Wouldn't one hope that at least some of the instructors for future starship crew members would have first served on starships for a while, gathering first-hand experience, and then progressed to becoming instructors? – O. R. Mapper Dec 11 '20 at 21:49
  • @O.R.Mapper - Spock served as an instructor at the Academy because of his exceptional knowledge of strategic operations. There's no good evidence that he'd served on a ship prior to this. – Valorum Dec 11 '20 at 22:15
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    @O.R.Mapper lots of universities have student or grad instructors who teach before having fully started their careers. Usually because they are very knowledgeable about their field and it can give them the experience of leadership they may want/need. It’s be the same concept for an Academy grad in the ST world. – MissouriSpartan Dec 12 '20 at 5:03
  • @O.R.Mapper They seem to teach everything at the Academy, he could have instructed something like PT or first year calculus. – Azor Ahai -him- Dec 13 '20 at 5:17
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    @O.R.Mapper In modern academia, it is very common for people to take teaching positions at universities, intending them to be temporary positions before securing a research-based position somewhere down the line to continue their intended career. – user3482749 Dec 13 '20 at 11:51
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At least one arguable benefit to being promoted within Starfleet is your degree of authority within the command structure. Shortly after Paris was demoted from Lt. (j.g.) to ensign, there was a scene where B'Elanna -- a (provisional) Lt. (j.g.) herself -- playfully pulled rank on him, which she technically couldn't have done prior to his demotion.

TORRES [OC]: Torres to Paris.

PARIS: Go ahead.

TORRES [OC]: Rumour has it that you're free for dinner.

PARIS: Gee, I don't know. Are you sure you want to be seen associating with an ex-con?

TORRES [OC]: My quarters, oh seven hundred. That's an order, Ensign.

PARIS: Yes, ma'am.

(VOY: "Thirty Days")

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  • Due to the nature of gender roles in western societies, there are many women who could give that same "order" and many men who would happily obey it, regardless of their actual ranks. – Donald.McLean Dec 11 '20 at 20:56
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    B'Elanna was obviously being playful in that scene. Strictly speaking though, she did outrank Tom at that point, and could legitimately order him around. – LogicDictates Dec 11 '20 at 21:06
  • While that is true, if it were an actual order it would clearly be an illegal order. Yes, there is such a thing and an advanced society such as Star Fleet would absolutely have punished Torres if the exchange had been overheard by the wrong person. – Donald.McLean Dec 12 '20 at 15:59
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    @Donald.McLean - The order itself is perfectly legal. What she did after he arrived is where the offence took place (although he seems perfectly happy with the result). – Valorum Dec 13 '20 at 11:52
  • @Valorum - Pretty sure even coitus between off-duty crew members isn't a breach of Starfleet regulations. After all, no one was apparently reprimanded on account of of B'Elanna getting pregnant. :-) – LogicDictates Dec 13 '20 at 16:56
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Increased rank is also a sign of readiness for further things… As with admirals, captains and commanders - whether by rank or appointment - normally come from commanders and lieutenants, not from ensigns or midshipmen. I apologise if I'm repeating something, and I didn't notice this mentioned earlier.

That Kirk, for instance, got his first command by chance and was later confirmed in the rank that went with it is a preposterous exception, not a rule. Something similar applied to the immediate commissioning of most of the West Point seniors when the US Civil War broke out.

Here in the UK, officers might expect promotion every three years or so; by no co-incidence, the usual duration of a tour of duty in a given post - but that tour length is one of the huge differences between star-ships and submarines.

If planetary mariners had any scope for five-year missions then all other things being equal, the entire crew might be due at least one promotion with the only dead men's - or ladies'- shoes to fill being those vacated by boredom.

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  • Kirk didn't get his first command "by chance". He got given it because he saved the Earth. – Valorum Dec 13 '20 at 19:44
  • Sorry, Valorum… Kirk's position was confirmed - most service people would say unreasonably - because of his achievements in a command achieved by chance. He famously got the command by the pure chance of being in the right place at the right time… rather like the Custer of legend though in Kirk's case, his character did come into it. If you're suggesting Kirk achieved anything without already having taken command, can you say what or how? If you still doubt that after reviewing the films, please go to Chat. – Robbie Goodwin Dec 13 '20 at 20:26
  • As if to help us out, Corona-TV this afternoon showed me Episode 15 of TNG Series 7, which is almost wholly devoted to promotion-related crew performance reviews… – Robbie Goodwin Dec 25 '20 at 1:22
  • Yes, you get to go on missions where you'll be killed. – Valorum Dec 25 '20 at 1:24
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In Starfleet material needs seem to be taken care of, as long as you have power and replicators your basic needs are taken care of. Under these conditions people work for three things. To achieve mastery i.e. a sense of fulfilment at becoming good at something. To achieve autonomy, having control over what you choose to do and how you do it. Finally a sense of purpose, serving some higher aim.

Promotion in Starfleet serves these needs.

It is a recognition of and provides new challenges in achieving mastery. It provides more autonomy, you are running the ship or part of the ship instead of cleaning plasma conduits. Most of the crew have a strong sense of purpose. They are there in a dangerous environment to serve the mission of Starfleet. Promotion is a recognition that you are doing this well and gives you more opportunity to do this.

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