Monday, April 23, 2012

CART Problem Solving: Summer

CART Problem Solving Series

Sitting Apart
Handling Slides
Classroom Videos
Superscript and Subscript
Schlepping Gear
Late Hours
Expensive Machines
Communicating Sans Steno
Cash Flow
Test Nerves
Speech Recognition, Part I
Speech Recognition, Part II
Speech Recognition, Part III
Speech Recognition, Part IV

CART PROBLEM: CART work is harder to find in summer than in the rest of the year.

Most full-time CART providers work in universities, which tends to be highly seasonal work. Academic CART work is great because it means steady weekly hours over the course of a semester, but when the semester is over and the summer begins, it can be tricky to fill the gap until the school year starts up again in the fall. There's occasionally some conference captioning to be had, but it's hard to keep a roster of conference captioning clients on deck, since so many opportunities have to be turned down while the school year is busiest. There's also the lucky break of getting summer classes to caption, which I'm happy to say is going to be my solution to the problem this year. I just got word that my medical student passed her classes and will be passing on to her second semester. Unlike most universities, medical schools tend to run year-round, so even though my onsite work has dropped off drastically (I'll have only one weekly onsite class), I'll have plenty of work to keep me busy, which is a real treat. In past years it hasn't been so easy, and I have no guarantee of what next summer will bring, but I'll definitely enjoy it while it lasts. When steady summer academic work is thin on the ground, what are the potential alternatives? Here's a couple I can think of:

* Get daily remote work (usually a mix of academic CART and employee CART, with occasional public meetings thrown in) from a big national company. These jobs are usually scheduled only a day or so in advance and there's a lot of competition for them, so you've got to be glued to your computer on Monday if you want to schedule anything for Tuesday. Even so you'll usually have a few false starts before getting any assignments. These sorts of jobs can be good if you live somewhere with a relatively low cost of living, since rates for remote work and onsite work might be close to par even with the national firm's cut off the top, but if you live somewhere expensive like New York City, you'll be working at a significant discount. The jobs are also usually fairly short -- an hour or two per day, typically -- and the audio quality is not always of the best. But even an hour here and an hour there is a lot better than nothing, and at least there's always a nice variety of work. The biggest disadvantage to relying on this sort of work is that you always feel like you're hustling. You spend a lot of time camping out at your computer waiting for jobs to come in, and you can't plan out your schedule each week, since it changes from day to day.

* Get daily offline transcription work. This pays much less than remote CART work, but it has the advantage of flexible scheduling; you can get it in the morning, go for an afternoon walk in the park, and turn it in that evening, unlike the remote work, which has to be done at the particular hour appointed by the firm. Still, it takes an awful lot of transcription work to make ends meet, and again the audio quality can sometimes be a little dodgy.

* Do depositions. I think this is the option preferred by most of my colleagues, but I've personally never done a deposition, so I wouldn't even know where to start. I'm not a notary public and I've never prepared a legal transcript, so if you need advice on the details of this one, I'm not really the one to ask.

* Do quick-turnaround sports transcriptions. One of my colleagues does this sort of work, going around to various games and transcribing post-game interviews with athletes for journalists. I know nothing about sports, so this is definitely not the job for me, but it sounds like a fun summer interlude for people who are into that sort of thing.

* Live off savings. One the one hand, you get lots of free time to go out in the sunshine and enjoy the summer. On the other hand, watching that bank balance drip down day by day with nothing to fill it back up until September can be a pretty unnerving feeling. Still, if you plan ahead well enough and you've got a fairly solid margin for error (estimated taxes, unexpected expenses, overbudget vacations, late checks in the beginning of the school year), you'll be sitting pretty. I know a few CART providers who go this route, and while I don't think I'll be planning to kick back all summer any time soon, I do intend to take a few weeks of unpaid vacation this summer to see my brother in Seattle and my parents in Montana, which will definitely be a nice respite from captioning medical school.

* Mix and match. A combination of any or all of the above. A little here, a little there, and maybe some other paying piecework to spackle in the gaps. Anything I missed? What do you do?


  1. Back home, the medical student is the student that almost always have no time to enjoy a full day's relaxation. Always holding on to their medical books. It would be a treat to hear a story that they enjoy a study day, despite the presence of of pool fences in Tampa Bay, preventing pushing of their colleagues unto the water.

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