on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

Words by Mirabai Knight, CCP; XHTML Code by G.D. Warner

Report From the Trenches of the Ivory Tower:

A Day in the Life of an Academic CART Provider


Yes, I know ... I already have an article on CART here on ol' Cheap and Sleazy.

However, that first article (How to get a Start in CART: A CART Provider Shows the Way) was more of an overview ... and, in reading Mirabai's posts on Depoman, her blog, and yes, even her tweets have convinced me that the bird's-eye view presented in Louise's article could use a companion article with a different view ... like, say, a view from the trenches.

While there are no bayonets or X-Wing fighters in this article, it does give you a good, up close and personal look at a day in the life of a CART provider -- namely, Mirabai Knight.

If Louise's article got you thinking about CART, this one will show what a day in the life of a CART provider is like: The research, the preparation work, the dictionary building -- all of that fun stuff!

So, grab some popcorn (and, perhaps, a Cheap and Sleazy Mocha to wash down those stubborn kernels), sit back and relax ... and prepare to be immersed in a Day in the Life of a CART Provider!


When Glen asked me to write this article, he wanted me to say a little something about how I got into CART and what steno students should do if they're considering it as a career. Then I unwittingly foiled his plan by uploading two articles to my website that I'd been working on, which essentially answered those same questions: How I Got Out of Steno School, and Is CART Easier than Court Reporting?

I didn't want to be redundant, so I figured that the best way to fulfill his commission would be to lead readers through an average day on the job.

6:50 AM

The alarm goes off. I drag myself out of bed and into the shower. Freshly scrubbed and moderately more awake, I open my closet and dig through my laundry for a black t-shirt and black slacks. The majority of CART providers who work in universities usually dress to fit in with the other college students, but I like having a uniform. All black is what ASL interpreters traditionally wear, and it keeps me from having to agonize over my clothes when I'm still staggering blearily around in the morning.

	Brooklyn in the morning

Brooklyn in the Morning

7:10 AM

I'm on the subway, heading downtown. This semester the majority of my classes are for two students at a university in Brooklyn, though I also have two classes for a student at a university in Manhattan. I get a seat after half a dozen stops or so and pull out my RPR workbook to study for the written knowledge test I'm taking later this week. Unlike most court reporters, I decided to make passing the CCP a priority before tackling the non-realtime tests. I passed it last May, so now I'm hoping to pass the RPR so I can qualify to take the RMR. If I could take a higher-speed (non-legal) realtime test, I'd go for that instead, but the RMR is the fastest skills test currently offered by the NCRA, so it's what I'm aiming for at the moment.

Mirabai demonstrates her mastery of the Art of the Schlep!

Mirabai's "Mobile Office"

8:10 AM

I get off the train in Brooklyn and head for the office space I'm renting. In previous semesters (I'm starting my third year of providing CART full time) I'd been granted access to various universities' wireless networks, but the disability office at the university I'm working at this year wasn't able to get me an account. Fortunately I've found a building just a block away that offers coworking space with internet and all the coffee I can drink for a low monthly fee (low for NYC, anyway). I was pretty diligent the day before, so I don't have to edit any last-minute transcripts, but I pour myself some coffee and do a little more RPR studying until about 25 minutes before class starts. Then I amble over to the university and set up all my equipment before the other students start filing in.

Ideally I'm ready to go 15 minutes before each class, just to allow for any logistical contingency.

Mirabai's Classroom Setup

Mirabai's Classroom Setup

The student sits directly behind the computer, in the second row.

8:55 AM

The student I'm CARTing for comes in. He's in his fifth year of pharmacy school, and this is my third semester of providing CART for his lecture classes. I sign, "Hey! How are you?" in ASL.

"Fine," he signs back. He has a cochlear implant and prefers ASL interpreters for his lab and discussion classes, but he likes CART for lectures because there's so much high-speed technical terminology that's difficult for the interpreters to fingerspell.

Five minutes later the professor walks in, and it's off to the races.

11:00 AM

The first two classes of the day went off without a hitch, so I pack everything back up into my backpack and buy a sandwich on the way to my office space. Over breakfast I edit the morning's transcripts. They were pretty clean, so it doesn't take long. All my transcripts go through three passes before I send them off. First I scan for my flag stroke (I use PHO*EUFP). I have it defined as {NULL}, which makes it invisible, but I write it whenever I notice an error -- in word boundaries, spelling, translation, or capitalization -- that I'm not able to fix on the fly. I correct those, then go back up to the top and scan for words translated phonetically or guessed by Translation Magic. Sometimes these go in my dictionary as is, and sometimes I need to redefine them. Finally I export the file into .txt format and open it in Vim. I run spellcheck, googling words I'm not sure of by highlighting them and pressing Alt-9.

When I've fixed everything, I email the transcripts to the student and head back to the university at 11:35 for the next block of classes.

12:00 PM

The noon class is always the hardest, and I have to concentrate intently on both the professor and the PowerPoint slides to make sure I get everything. If I get the handouts ahead of time, I'll enter all the new words into my dictionary, making up brief forms as I go for long words and phrases such as "equilibrium" (HRAOERPL) and "glomerular filtration rate" (GHR-*FR).

When something comes up that I haven't been able to enter in advance, I use my custom Eclipse macros to make globals from my writer. Since I've been at this for a while, I've got two pretty good medical dictionaries built up: One pharmacological, with 3,699 entries, and one ophthalmological, with 651 entries; all on top of my general dictionary, which is 117,338 entries.

It took a lot of effort to get there. When I first started providing CART at this university, I spent hours entering in every drug name, disease state, prefix/suffix (469 of those in my pharmacological dictionary and counting) -- both stroking them out phonetically and making up brief forms for fast-paced lectures where they came up a lot. For example, Rituximab is in there both as REU/TUBGS/PHAB and as RUBGS/MAB. Glucuronidation is in there as TKPWHRAOUBG/ROPB/TKAEUGS and TKPWHRA*EURBGS. Usually I enter the phonetic version first, then after I've had to stroke it out a few times and I know it'll be coming up again, I think of a nice time-saving brief for it.

For ease of making definitions during class I've set the globaling window to transparent, made it tiny, and put it in the upper right hand corner of the screen, so the student doesn't even notice when it pops up while correcting errors and making new dictionary entries. I also do a lot of spot correction whenever the professor stops for breath, moving the cursor around the transcript and toggling hyperkeys on and off to delete errors and replace them with what was really said. Fortunately I've got "follow always" selected, so as soon as the professor starts speaking again, I just have to start writing normally and the cursor jumps back down to the bottom of the transcript by itself. The noon class lasts two hours, then there's an hour-long class, and then I get a three and a half hour break!

Editing Process

Editing Process

This is a screenshot of the editing process, not of the CART window! When providing CART, be sure to hide the notebar and customize the font size according to the client's preferences.

3:00 PM

To the office once more, to edit the afternoon's two transcripts, do any necessary prep work for upcoming classes, maybe read one of the chapters in my Academy of Hearing Loss Support Specialists self-paced certificate course (both useful in its own right and for completing the CEU requirement of my CCP certification) and take care of any transcription work I've got pending.

Like many CART providers, I'm usually not able to secure steady CART work over the summer semester, but unlike most of them I don't have any training in court reporting, so I can't just go do deposition work. I usually fall back on general transcription for focus groups and research studies. Usually I drop it all once the fall CART season starts again, but recently I managed to find a transcription client I enjoy working with so much that I decided to keep them year-round; they're a company that publishes articles on ophthalmology, and I'm always eager to add new medical words to my steno dictionary, so I consider it steno practice as well as a little extra cash to be made in my spare time.

Transcription Setup One Transcription Setup Two

Two Views of my Transcription Setup

I don't usually use my Samsung Q1 when I'm transcribing, but I wanted to show it off, and I'm not using it in the classroom today; it mostly comes in handy for classes with a lot of moving around.

5:00 PM

I finish transcribing the ophthalmology interview, edit it, and send it off. Next up is checking in on my Twitter feed, Google Ad results, and website maintenance. The next time the slow months come around, my goal is to make it through on CART rather than transcription. I've definitely been getting more per diem jobs lately, as I've begun to get my name out -- though I hope that semester-long academic classes will still remain my bread and butter for most of the year. Last summer I got the chance to provide CART for a disability conference which kicked off with a live speech by the Mayor of NYC. That was probably as nervous as I've ever been in front of a steno machine, but I carried it off all right, and each successful job brings in new work by word of mouth.

Later in the summer I was asked to provide CART for two sessions of a disability conference at the United Nations.

The person who hired me for that had found me via my website, so I try never to forget that a healthy web presence is one of the best ways to find work as a freelancer these days. I sketch out some ways to expand my site and read up on the latest steno news going around the internet. Finally I've done about all I need to do in my office, so I put my gear away away and head out for a quick bite from the gyro cart before my evening class.

A Different Kind of Cart.

A More Delicious Kind of Cart

6:30 PM

Last class of the evening, for a graduate student getting her MFA in poetry.

The infinite diversity of classes I get to transcribe is my absolute favorite part of the job. I've done everything from Tax Law to Urban Planning to Architecture to Sociology, and I never want to stop learning. My ultimate goal is to CART a Deaf or hard of hearing student through medical school (Another reason to hope Michael Argenyi wins his case and establishes a national precedent), which is why I like the ophthalmology and pharmacy work so much. But I think the literature and writing classes are my second favorite. Part of what makes this job great, though, is that I'm always winding up in the middle of classes for fields I'd barely heard of, had never thought to study, and wind up learning all about. It's the best thing in the galaxy for a dilettante like me. I feel ridiculously lucky as I pack up my gear and head to the subway around 9:15. I usually get a seat at that hour, so I do a little transcript editing or brainstorming or studying during the trip.

10:20 PM

Back at my apartment. I have a light dinner, send off the last transcript, kiss my partner, feed my cat, and crash.

The next day ....

6:50 AM

.... Do it all again! Woo-hoo!


Mirabai Knight is an academic CART provider in New York City.