I'm working on a story that revolves around a research team in a remote setting. They would have supplies so they don't have to leave the area they have to research for about a year. So far, I am planing on the team to be composed of both scientists and people they need for support. By this, I mean someone who is in charge of security, someone who is responsible for health monitoring, and so on. The thing is, I am not sure if this would make the team too large. At the moment I am considering a group of 8, 4 being the scientists and 4 being these support people (a member of the military, a doctor, a computer tech, and a communications official). Would this be too much? Too little?

Note: The group would be isolated for the year, in a very cold setting where they would spend most of their time indoors. Food and supplies all provided so no need for survival skills.

Editing to answer some points I have in the answers:

  • Would it being a science fiction setting change the amount you would suggest, @Amadeus and @Keith Morrison?

  • @DPT yes I have thought of that. The idea started as something being discussed with a friend so I had been a bit hesitant to change some of the characters but I could drop or merge a few (as you mention the doctor I always felt could be merged with one of the main members of the research group)

  • Considering it's a scifi setting, would rotation of the team done from a station or from maybe a cycling of people in stasis be viable?

Still trying to work this out and as I said it was originally done with someone else and now I am working on it on my own. So maybe the best idea is to scrap most of it and starting over on the character pool? So far only the main character is someone I really would not scrap and mainly change the people around him.Thanks for the advice so far!

  • It's not a perfect comparison, but you might want to look at research article abstracts from scientific journals. There's always Science and Nature (which I suspect are the most widely known, and which both cover a lot of terrain), and there's about a gazillion more specialized publications as well. See how many people are named as authors or contributors to an article describing a research result of your choice. – user Jul 23 '18 at 20:57

I am a research scientist, and I have worked on teams ranging from two (I suppose the smallest group that could be called a team, although I have done solo research as well), to fifty six, if you include support personnel; and that included a few dozen PhDs. The team at the Large Hadron Collider has literally hundreds of PhDs on board.

For the purposes of realism, your group size can be anything. As far as for fictional purposes, many stories are set in large companies, it is okay if your MC does not have much personal interaction with everybody on the team.

In a way, you might want a "more is better" approach, if there are only eight people in your story, you will be expected to provide details, interactions and personality for all of them. If there are twenty-eight, you have variety when you need it, but the reader doesn't expect a full character profile for all twenty-eight of them, and you can have "circles" of interactions. Innermost, medium, distant from MC, but then your innermost circle can be perhaps four or five people the MC works with every day, the mid-range circle is people he works with once a week, the outermost circle is people the MC knows but converses or interacts with less than once a week, the computer technician, communications, security, supplies, transportation, etc.

  • I like your thought on large companies where many times we don't see everyone all the time. It could actually help to fix a point I had been stuck on and the reason why I am now working on this alone. My main worry with having too many characters was keeping up with their reactions to events in the story, would you think in this case even if we see the reactions (think along the lines of body snatching and similar story lines) of a few characters it would be enough? – Scott.Bell Jul 23 '18 at 19:58
  • Yes. A story is viewed from the perspective of the MC (or MCs) and how they react when they hear the news or see the event. Typically, the first time you write about it is the most detailed and strongest reaction, so you pick the char POV most affected. Then like IRL the others are stunned, angry, unexpressive, etc, hearing the news instead of witnessing it. Outside the POV, their inner circle reactions are seen, others can be assumed or hinted at by one guy the MC encounters; "I can't believe that about Mike, that sucks. Scary. Has security figured out what happened yet?" – Amadeus Jul 23 '18 at 21:37

I have research buddies that go to Antarctica on a regular basis, and the research trips are usually shorter (maybe two weeks) and have more people ... because the cost of getting there is relatively high and if you have a research vessel already heading there you will try to get the biggest team your grant can afford. You will also try to save money by sharing transportation with another research group from another institution, the costs are split between grants. There are as often as not a range of mentorships on these trips - Head PI's, post docs (doing a lot of the work), students (learning) and tech support (grunts.) Then there's the people that transport them (research vessels, but for you could be something else.)

So my sense is this is too few people, but I would buy in if it was set up well.

I am mostly concerned (have far greater concern) by the presence of military and communications. That smacks of puppets that you the author need, rather than what makes sense.

What is the security for? If the location is remote and presumably hostile, then they will be safe from any human danger. Communications doesn't make much sense either. They have computers, are a small group, I don't see needing a communications person. Personally, these are the two oddball features to me.

(incidentally, The doctor should be able to double up on research help and the computer guy can as well (everything is data driven these days.) I don't think a group like this would take dead weight along, and a doctor and computer guy would be dead weight unless they multitask.)

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    Thanks for this, I think it was one of those moments you need someone from the outside to state the obvious. I have been wanting to get rid mainly of the communications guy because I feel in a setting where technology is supposed to be advanced it makes no sense to have rather old fashioned coms. The doctor I would want to merge since as the story develop the doctor's role expanded. – Scott.Bell Jul 23 '18 at 19:56
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    Security and "communications" as separate roles filled by specific people really made me pause as well. – user Jul 23 '18 at 21:03

Just as a comparison, Canadian Forces Station Alert. Of the 60-odd personnel on station, only about 6 are there for the stations primary function (communication interception and monitoring). The remaining personnel are for food services, vehicle maintenance, building and service maintenance, airfield maintenace, housekeeping, running the power plant, and administrative support, or the weather observatory.

The weather station at Eureka, on the other hand, has 8 staff (6 Meteorlogical Service of Canada, 2 contractors).

Note that in both cases, people don't stay there for a full year at a time: CFS Alert has the military personnel on 6 month deployments, with some on 3 month rotations. Eureka has a rotation every few months. And neither is out of contact, with flights at least every few weeks.

  • I could probably shorten the time as the reason the year timeline had been given was thinking of a very long time to isolate these people. But the story could happen in less time. Would that be a viable change and maybe commenting on how there is rotations? – Scott.Bell Jul 23 '18 at 20:00

Vostok Station in Antarctica has winter staff of about 20 people, and they typically stay there for a little less than a year. Acclimatization to local conditions may last up to 2 month, which dictates typically long duration of visits.

Generally, a group of 10 or less people will be definitely suffering from "cabin fever", and even large groups would not enjoy staying mostly indoors for the whole year.

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