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Ensign McDowell was on duty in late 2368 when the Enterprise-D encountered a damaged Romulan science vessel. He was left in command of the bridge several times around the time of that incident, such as when the senior staff attended the memorial service of Ensign Ro Laren and Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge. (TNG: "The Next Phase")
He was promoted to lieutenant by 2369 and was part of the gamma shift. Commander Riker intended to tell McDowell to launch a Class-5 probe into Cardassian territory until Captain Edward Jellico ordered the duty shifts rearranged, with the gamma shift being replaced by a new delta shift. (TNG: "Chain of Command, Part I")