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Q&A With Dr. Erin Macdonald

Starfleet is excited to welcome back Dr. Erin Macdonald to Star Trek: The Cruise. Hear directly from the astrophysicist and science fiction consultant who opened up in a Q&A with Star Trek: The Cruise IV.

Engage: How was your maiden voyage earlier this year?

Macdonald: It was incredible, and unlike anything I’ve ever done; I hadn’t even been on a cruise before! While I usually do weekend conventions, the cruise was at least twice as long as those with way fewer attendees. This meant we had a lot of really unique events, and had a chance to really get to know a lot of people. I had so many memorable experiences ranging from laughing along to improvised Star Trek dialogue, to doing trivia almost every night, to answering science questions while doing a rum tasting. It was wonderful! I really enjoyed just escaping into a world of Star Trek for a week among fans and actors, and being able to bring science along as well!

Engage: As an experienced crew member, what are you looking forward to most on Star Trek: The Cruise IV?

Macdonald: Now that I know what to expect, I’m really looking forward to bringing some more unique space-themed events. It will also be wonderful to reunite with those I met last time who are coming back (hopefully with more science questions!) and to make new friends. The extra day will be great and I’m excited to see the new ship. I also need to improve some of my trivia scores!

Engage: You are joining a celebrity crew that features Kate Mulgrew, the first ever female captain of a Star Trek starship. How would you describe Star Trek’s leadership in helping to empower women and minorities to pursue careers in both the entertainment and STEM worlds, including your own?

Macdonald: Personally, Captain Janeway was instrumental to me during my PhD. I really related to her character having a scientific background and the struggles of being a leader and a woman in unique circumstances. In the times where I really wanted to give up or felt that I wasn’t worthy, I would watch Voyager and find my strength in her character. While I was drawn to Janeway, my best friend in graduate school was inspired to pursue engineering by B’Elanna Torres. I actually put an acknowledgement in my PhD thesis to Captain Janeway because I really don’t think I would have been able to finish without her inspiration. When I first met Kate Mulgrew at a convention, she was kind enough to sign my thesis and it was an honor to tell her that story in person.

Star Trek has always been a leader in reflecting diversity and inspiring generations from the beginning. Notably, Astronaut Mae Jemison (the first black woman to travel in space) points to Uhura as being a direct inspiration for her. Our world is diverse, and having that reflected in Star Trek helps each of us realize that we do have a place in the future, even if it doesn’t always feel like it today. That gives us the strength to keep going and fight for that future.

Engage: Have you always been a Star Trek fan? What are your favorite episodes and/or your favorite science-based storylines?

Macdonald: I actually didn’t really discover it until college. Unsurprisingly, there’s a big intersection of physics majors and Star Trek fans, so our evening parties usually consisted of The Next Generation playing in the background. Through the Trek-themed drinking games, I started to connect with the stories and my passion grew exponentially. This was also when you could rent DVDs through the mail (remember that?) and I started binging the shows on my own. That was when I finally watched Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and well, there was no going back. When I moved to graduate school in Scotland, a fellow colleague and I would battle homesickness by watching TOS together on Friday nights over wine and takeout. Star Trek was so fundamental to these friendships and memories, it really helped shape who I am today.

It’s really hard for me to pick out my favorite episodes. I always like the fun ones, because they never fail to make me smile. Anything with tachyons, worm holes, or time travel are a sure bet for me, so you can guess I watch “Trials and Tribble-ations” a lot! I would have to say though, Voyager has a lot of my favorite episodes. My favorite overall is “Counterpoint” because it’s a perfect mix of science and sci-fi, while showing more of Janeway’s character. As I said, I also love when episodes address that wormholes also could travel through time, such as “Eye of the Needle.” I also always reference “Blink of an Eye” as great storytelling through using gravitational time dilation. Deep Space Nine is my favorite overall series, and when I rewatch it I set aside a full day to watch the last 10 episodes as The Final Chapter arc. I can’t leave out TNG though: “Measure of a Man” was the first that drew me in, and “Darmok” is the one I make everyone watch when they say they’ve never seen Star Trek. Should I keep going? I think it’s pretty clear I could go on for a long time!

Engage: We know you are a science and Sci-Fi expert, what other amazing talent do you have that we don’t know about?

Macdonald: I was a competitive Irish Step Dancer and did tap dancing regularly for over 15 years! Though I don’t dance much these days, I occasionally break out my tap shoes at home to burn some stress or get some exercise. Having lived in Scotland for 5 years means I also love my whisky and am particular about my single-malts, which I think Scotty would consider a talent! After graduate school I also took professional theatre classes and started doing some side work as a voice actor, so when I get the chance I like to keep that going!

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