Student Profile - Ryan O'Neill

A PhD is a heavy undertaking.

For Ryan O'Neill, it is measured by The Weight of a Human Heart, his collection of short stories that has thus far been published in Australia, the UK, the US and Israel.

The collection, which has also been shortlisted for two writing awards: the NSW Premier's Literary Award and the Queensland Literary Award, represents for Ryan a dream come true.

But the process has not exactly been a walk in the park. "I had just about given up getting a collection of stories published when my book was accepted by Black Inc.," Ryan says.

"I've been extremely fortunate in that my collection has come along at a time when short stories are experiencing something of a renaissance in Australia and beyond, and I think this is a good part of the reason why my collection has been published in several different countries.

"I did dream I would be heading down this path, but I never thought I would get this far," he says.  Ryan did a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English Literature and Modern European History from Strathclyde University in Glasgow, and a few years later a Master of Science in International Development at the University of Bristol.

Ryan OneillHe had been working on his PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle since 2009, culminating in The Weight of a Human Heart.

Ryan says PhD supervisors Kim Cheng Boey and the Ourimbah campus's David Musgrave were "always extremely helpful and encouraging'' and he "very much enjoyed being a postgraduate student at Newcastle".

As part of his PhD, Ryan presented a paper at the International Conference of the Short Story in Arkansas, US, last year.

"There I met many brilliant short story writers, and I was very pleased that my paper was well received," he says.

Ryan was born and bred in Glasgow, Scotland, and attended government  schools before going on to uni.  He spent several years travelling and teaching English in Lithuania, Rwanda and China before meeting his Novocastrian wife and settling here.

With a PhD behind him, Ryan continues to pen short stories as well as teach at Newcastle.

"At the moment I teach English, Film Studies and Directed Study in the Newstep program in the first semester, and English Literature and Film in the Open Foundation program in the second semester."

For some time before that he taught English as a second language to international students at the university's Language Centre.

"I love working at the uni, and am looking forward to teaching Creative Writing to undergraduate students for the first time in the upcoming semester," he says.

Ryan says doing a PhD can be a solitary process.

"So try to make friends with other PhD students, especially those in your area of study, and you can give each other feedback and support along the way."