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Narrowboat Jen – Bath Spa University

MA student takes her degree aboard her narrowboat

Wednesday, 30 August, 2023

First year nomadic boater and MA Nature and Travel Writing student, Jennifer Ratcliffe, has chosen to pack up her books and take her degree aboard by studying while navigating UK canals on her narrowboat.  

Jennifer’s unconventional lifestyle allows her the ultimate work life balance; choosing part-time distance-learning over a full-time, in-person degree. While a normal day on a narrowboat may seem different to traditional study, Jennifer attends lectures and enjoys being part of the Bath Spa University community, just as much as her fellow students. 

After meeting her course mates at an introductory writing retreat, she’s been able to continue connecting with the MA community in the virtual world, while drawing inspiration for her writing from her surroundings. 

Jennifer said: 

“This is all possible due to studying online and part-time. I can be adventurous and not worry about getting to a physical classroom. My course, MA Nature and Travel Writing, is designed to facilitate this type of learning and in turn, the way I live inspires the work I do on the course.” 

Alongside her online lectures and coursework, Jennifer plays an active role as a student representative and takes part in online meetings, fully immersing herself in the university experience from the comfort of her narrowboat. 

Embracing the flexibility that part-time, distance-learning has allowed her, Jennifer has seized the opportunity to seek new and exciting experiences in other areas of her life, too. Adding another string to her bow, Jennfier has started her very own Substack blog and even made it to the final of the prestigious Porthleven Prize - an annual art competition based in the coastal village of Porthleven. 

As a nature and travel writer Jennifer’s work reflected the competition's theme: ‘Porthleven and its Environment.’ Her essay submission explored how psychogeography had influenced her work and the connection between people and place. 

Talking about the initiative, Jennifer said: 

“As a nature and travel writer, the Porthleven Prize seemed an ideal project for me. I’m very interested in writing in unexpected, inclusive, and artistic ways. I’ve been intrigued by how provenance manifests as an ever-reoccurring thing. Abstractedly there are no beginnings but simply a chain of connection between art and nature.” 

Although somewhat untraditional, Jennifer’s lifestyle works. With access to the wealth of learning resources, books, journals and inter-library loans offered by the University library, she’s able to fully immerse herself in the Bath Spa community and log in to learning opportunities from anywhere. 

“Unconventional is my style and learning in this hybrid manner enables me to embrace this. I can pack up my four walls and learn from anywhere without hesitation.” 

Proving that there are many ways to study, Jennifer describes her lifestyle as an opportunity to gain more insight into the world, encouraging others to consider both their learning and lifestyle requirements. 

She said: 

“Some like to consume their subject all in one, but I’ve always been a slow burner. Giving myself the time that suits my learning style makes me feel empowered and at ease. I wanted to fully embrace my subject. For this I needed to maximise the time spent whilst having the flexibility to take on other projects. My routine hasn’t altered as much as before. My life still has new possibilities, but more downtime than I would if I studied fulltime.” 

A blue narrowboat sailing down a canal lined by trees.

You can follow Jen’s adventures on her Instagram, Tiktok and Twitter

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