Sidekick (Cont’d Adventures of Superhero PhD)

Science doesn’t stop for holidays, so Superhero PhD must always be vigilant- even if the Ivory Tower is officially closed. For biology research labs, something is always growing and can’t be left unattended for two weeks or more. For these working holidays in the lab, Superhero PhD has a special sidekick- PhD Junior. No really, he is a literal sidekick. One of his superpowers is stealthily climbing into bed with Superhero PhD and SuperChef whereupon he flops and kicks the both of us until it is approximately 30 minutes before the alarm clock buzzes (Yes, just enough time to slip back into such a deep sleep state so as to achieve maximum aggravation by the alarm). Below is his character fact sheet:

Alter ego: Deuce* (4 yr old male)

Tag line: If I have to come to the lab today, we’re going to see Mike the Tiger. It’s really not as much like Monster’s University as Superhero PhD promised.

Special powers: Pushing elevator buttons, adorable pronunciations of Chlamydomonas and Thermosynechococcus

Transportation: A booster seat with cup holder in the backseat of the PhD-mobile

Sidekicks and Associates: Legos, Zoobooks and a Kindlefire loaded with StarWars Angry Birds and Netflix

Nemeses: stairwells, vegetables

Backstory (read with the gravitas of a movie-trailer voice-over): PhD Junior is the spark of chaos in Superhero PhD’s life that pushes her to be increasingly efficient. His sense of wonder and non-stop questions about the world around are an inspiration of Superhero PhD.

Skills Breakdown:

Speed 20

Endurance 20

Stealth 30

Agility 30

During one short visit to check on cultures, Superhero PhD and PhD Junior approach the locked Ivory Tower. It is practically abandoned on the cold holiday, but bacterial cultures must be checked. But first, a potty break. As the mission resumes, Superhero PhD makes for the stairwell. The growth chambers are in the basement and it is only one floor down. PhD Junior balks at the dim and somewhat sinister-looking stairwell. Apparently, they are like kryptonite to him. Anyway, PhD Junior’s special skills include pushing elevator buttons. Superhero PhD says, “Of course we can take the elevator.” But silently calculates how long it might be before someone could come extricate them from the elevator on a holiday (Superhero was stuck for a while on said elevator once when she was still pregnant with PhD Junior). Fortunately, today the elevator functions without incident.

Since PhD Junior only makes rare appearances in the lab, his skill set it not often helpful for the experiments at hand. However, he is honing his own superpowers of logic, reasoning and knowledge by incessantly inquiring, “What’s that? What’s this? Why did you do that?” Superhero PhD is able to answer all of these questions with ease as she carries out her tasks. She peers at the plates of cyanobacteria evaluating their growth. Deep in thought for just a moment, then she snaps back quickly because the questions have stopped from PhD Junior. Silence is always suspicious. Out of the corner of her eye, there is a sudden dimming, and she focuses her attention like a laser on PhD Junior who is now very close to the fluorescent light banks and shaking cultures of Chlamydomonas that belong to the Moroney lab. “Did you just pull the chain on those lights?” asks Superhero PhD. A shy smile broadens across PhD Junior’s face as he nods. Superhero PhD turns the bank of lights back on. “Don’t touch anything” becomes the mantra of the mission.

When PhD Junior is in the lab, Superhero PhD must kick her superpowers up a notch to channel his excess energy and dangerous curiosity. For longer missions, “Don’t touch anything” and “Do you need to potty” become regular utterances for Superhero PhD. Monday was a longer mission fraught with danger. OK, not as dangerous as if he would have gone to work with SuperChef where everything in the kitchen is hot and sharp, but pouring gradient acrylamide gels and silver staining another gel are not small tasks in the presence of a 4 year old. Supplies are brought in to keep PhD Junior occupied- books, legos, snacks in a T-rex lunchbox, cash for the vending machine on the first floor, a Kindle fire loaded with apps for Netflix and Star Wars Angry Birds (Pro tip: Turn off one-click ordering for and the appstore if a preschooler will be using your Kindle fire unattended for long periods of time.)

PhD Junior is first taken aback when Superhero PhD dons her uniform (lab coat). “Don’t be a Dr.!” PhD Junior pleads. In his defense, the only people wearing lab coats that he interacts with are medical professionals of some kind trying to give him a shot or look down his throat or ears with an uncomfortable instrument. Superhero PhD quickly diverts his attention with the Kindle and bag of distractions. He plays Angry Birds for an hour. Superhero PhD dives into her experiments with lightning speed, arriving at a critical moment just as PhD Junior wanders over to her bench. Let’s just say that loading an acrylamide gel while fending off a 4 year old playing ninja fight is now one of Superhero PhD’s superpowers.** The critical gel was loaded. No one was exposed to any toxins.

Superhero PhD successfully manages to again divert PhD Junior’s attention with games and Scooby Doo on Netflix as other experiments are done. However, just as a critical stage is reached in silver-staining an acrylamide gel, PhD Junior announces, “I’m hungry!” Superhero PhD  is at first taken aback by this because one of her superpowers is working without eating (or going to the bathroom) for hours on end as experiments are executed. Nevertheless, she materializes food from the lunchbox and sets up lunch time just outside the open door of the lab (no food or drink allowed inside of course). Superhero PhD’s experiment continues.

By mid-afternoon the mission is almost complete, which is perfect timing because PhD Junior has eaten through all of the provisions packed by Superhero PhD. The last thing that must be done is scan the stained gel. This must be done in a separate lab room, but PhD Junior is happily assembling Legos in the main lab room. Superhero PhD explains the dilemma to PhD Junior and offer options- stay with Legos or go with Superhero PhD. “I’m building a Lego car!” is the terse reply. After 10 minutes of scanning and saving the image, Superhero PhD’s work is done for the day. She returns to the lab, but PhD Junior is nowhere to be seen. It is quiet. Superhero PhD nervously calls for PhD Junior. No answer, she detects the slightest movement out of the corner of her eye. Then she sees small grey tennis shoes under the bench where the Legos are. First Middle Last Name (redacted)! PhD Junior sheepishly emerges from under the lab bench and says, “I was hiding for you.” Superhero PhD is relieved that PhD Junior is found and her anxiety is eased only slightly by PhD Junior’s misuse of prepositions. They have a serious discussion about Not. Hiding. Evar.

Mission accomplished, it is time to leave the lab. It takes 20 minutes to pack all of PhD Junior’s gear. This includes finding a way to hand-carry the Lego Car and House constructed by PhD Junior. He adamantly refused to disassemble them (ala Johnny Five) and place the pieces back in their case. Everything makes its way back to the PhD mobile and PhD Junior is sleeping before they reach their secret lair.


*For those of you paying attention his nickname is Deuce Roose.

**Remind me to update my CV and LinkedIN profile.


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