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The great pipette tip caper

From the LabLit short story series

Julia Richards 24 October 2016

As wife #3 and a former grad student, she was only a few years older, but she towered over me in 4-inch stilettos

The he little white plastic tip at the end of my pipettor stared up at me mockingly. I was almost certain I had used it for water, but I had been on autopilot for the last five minutes. Should I risk reusing it? If, in fact, I had used it for DMSO, I would contaminate the glycerol. On the other hand, a box of pipette tips cost $5.34, which made each tip worth 6 cents.

Now, 6 cents may not have sounded like a lot, but my advisor, Professor K. Smith Duguid or “Goodie,” had recently failed to have his primary grant renewed. He dealt with the loss by locking himself in his office one weekend and going over lab expenses with a fine-toothed comb. His conclusion was that we spent too much money on consumables, and Goodie dealt with that by locking pipette tips, gloves, tubes, etc. in a large cabinet to which only he had the key.

I gave the little pipette tip a mournful glance before ejecting it into the waste container. Every Monday morning, we gave Goodie a list of experiments planned for the week, along with our estimate of how many consumables they would require. He’d then do his own calculations and give us about half of what we needed.

I would have thought his time would be better spent applying for new grants, but what did I know?

Carefully, I pushed my pipettor down onto a new tip. Water, water, water, I repeated in my head. This time I would remember. My experiment yesterday didn’t work, so I was already over my allowance for the week.

“Hey!” a loud voice boomed behind me.

I jumped with my pipettor still pressed against the new tip. My arm jerked, and the box hit the floor, spilling everywhere.

“Sorry!” The owner of the loud voice, my labmate Gina, scooped up a bunch of them. “The janitor mopped last night. You can still use these!”

“What do you want?” I collapsed on my stool, not even bothering to salvage the little bits of plastic.

My life was over.

Gina gave me a big, fake grin. “You’ll think this is funny, but I’m out of pipette tips. Can I borrow some?”

“I’m already in a deficit.” I stared at my poor box, splattered across the floor like a successful suicide.

“Crap, do you have any PipetzPointz?” Gina asked.

Each purchase of pipette tips came with a peel-off sticker that represented a certain number of what some marketing genius had named “PipetzPointz.” The points could be traded for products on the company website. For example, that $5.34 box of tips could be purchased for 10,000 points.

Each sticker was worth 10 points.

“Maybe you could talk to Goodie…” Gina said.

“Absolutely not,” I said. Goodie would probably decide to cut expenses by an amount equal to my stipend. “We’ll just have to go begging to the other labs. Again.”

After visiting five floors and being chased off four of them by angry lab managers and getting a single box on the fifth, we trooped back down the stairwell. Professor Larkin, whose labs were on the same floor, opened the door for us.

“Beautiful ladies first,” he said with a wink.

We hurried through the door and down the hallway as fast as we could go.

“Ugh,” I said. “Can you believe that guy? He’s been married three times, and they were all his former grad students.”

“Wait a minute.” Gina grabbed my arm. “Larkin’s lab is well-funded. The floors are practically paved with pipette tips.”

I stared at her. “Are you suggesting we flirt with that sleazebag to get lab supplies?”

“No, I’m suggesting we set a honey trap and blackmail that sleazebag to get lab supplies.”

“Absolutely not.” I wasn’t that desperate. Not yet, anyway.

“It’ll be easy,” Gina said. “Just set your phone to record and go see him in his office. He’s sure to say something creepy.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Lab meeting is in two days. Do you have any results to present?”

I tapped my chin. A thought pushed through the image of our tip-less future.

“I have an idea,” I said.


I entered Larkin’s office in a low-cut top, carrying a bunch of flyers about sexual harassment awareness. He always worked late, and no one else was around.

“Professor Larkin, do you have a minute?”

“Of course!” Larkin leapt up to pull out a chair for me. “You’re one of Goodie’s girls? Ha, ha. I mean, you work for Professor Duguid.”

I ignored the chair and sat on the edge of his desk, swinging my leg insouciantly. Of course, I was wearing chemical-splattered jeans, but I think it still worked. “Yes, Professor.”

“So, what can I do you for? Ha, ha!”

“Well, you may know that it’s sexual harassment awareness week–”

At those words, Larkin, who had regained his seat, stood up so fast his chair practically flew out the window. Within two seconds, he had crossed to the other side of the room. This was working better than I could have dreamed. My plan had just been to distract him with some lawsuit statistics. Numbers that would chill the marrow of any university employee.

“I’m handing out these flyers,” I shouted across the eight-foot space between us. “Would you like to hang one on your door?”

“Of course, of course.” Larkin held out his hand and averted his eyes, all the while maintaining his distance.

I quickly scanned the desk and saw his key ring lying under a folder. With a quick peek to make sure his eyes were still elsewhere, I slipped it into my pocket.

“Here you go.” I pushed a flyer into his outstretched hand and sped out of the room. Gina was waiting outside, and I handed her the key ring.

“Give me five minutes,” she whispered. “I know exactly where they are.”

I spent the time plastering the hallway with flyers. Hopefully, no one would Google when the dates for the real sexual harassment awareness week were. At one point, Larkin stuck his head out the door. I smiled at him, and he nodded before retracting like a turtle.

Gina flew around the corner, pushing a lab car loaded with pipette tips and gloves. She threw the keys at me without stopping. I tucked them into my pocket and knocked on his door.

Larkin was straightening his chair when I entered. Once again, he backed up so quickly that it tipped over. “Sorry, you startled me. Ha, ha!”

“I just wanted to thank you for letting me hang those signs,” I said, perching myself on the edge of the desk again.

“Sure, no problem.” Larkin pressed his back against the wall. “Always happy to support the cause.”

I leaned over, causing him to back up even further. “Can I leave a few extras with you? It would be great if you could spread the word.”

“Yes, yes.” His eyes were fixed on the floor.

“Great, I’ll leave them here on your desk.” With one hand, I placed a stack of papers down. With the other, I slipped the keys out of my pocket and under the original folder.


For the next few weeks, Gina and I pipetted with abandon, dancing around the lab to Kool and the Gang while we worked.

Until the day Larkin’s wife walked in.

“Where is he?” Mrs. Larkin demanded of me. As wife #3 and a former grad student, she was only a few years older, but she towered over me in 4-inch stilettos.


“My husband,” she said, advancing on me.

“I don’t know.” I dove across the computer to hit pause on “Celebration.”

“What’s with all these sexual harassment flyers outside his office?” She took another step toward me.

“I don’t know.” Shoot, we really should have taken those down at some point.

“Has he been sending dick pics to students again? Did he send you one? Did he?”

“Absolutely not,” I assured her. “I’ve never received a dick pic in my life. Not from him, not from anyone, I swear. People don’t even forward me viral cat videos.”

“ARRRRGUHHHHAAAAA!” Mrs. Larkin made a noise like a dry vacuum pump and ran out of the room.

I locked the door behind her and was still cowering at my desk an hour later when Gina knocked.

“Look at what I have!” She was carrying an armful of pipette tip boxes. “I walked by Larkin’s lab, and someone had thrown a bunch of stuff into the hallway. It looks like a hurricane went through there.” She put the tips on my bench and went to put her purse away, not noticing that I was still frozen to my chair.

Ten minutes later, Goodie walked through the door Gina had left open.

“Have you run that gel yet?” he asked. “My grant application is due at midnight.”

I looked at the stack of ill-gotten pipette tips. “I’m working on it.”