From Syria to Southern Cross University, towards a career in forensic science

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Students, in the Chemistry lab Building B Gold Coast campus. Photo was taken doing filmshoot

To celebrate National Science Week, 12 August – 20 August, EducationDaily is publishing a series of STEM-focused articles featuring inspiring Australians and innovative ideas.

For Olivia Dalaf, education equals escape. She was born in Syria, then fled to Iraq with her family for five years before arriving in Australia as refugees in 2017. Despite missing three years of high school, Ms Dalaf learnt English in just six months, and completed years 11 and 12 at a school in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales (NSW).

Today, at Southern Cross University (SCU), she’s completing her Bachelor of Biomedical Science degree.

I enjoy the hands-on lab experiment and the opportunity to learn about cutting-edge research in Biomedical Science,” she told EducationDaily. “The degree also allows me to explore the fascinating world of the human body and how our systems work.

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Overcoming challenges with friendship and support

As a Biomedical Science student, Ms Dalaf admits the course can be very challenging.

However, Southern Cross University provides excellent sources, like tutoring and study groups, which also help me to make new friends. Also, all my fellow students are always there to offer support and share study tips,” she says.

Her career ambitions are crystal clear, with a plan to become a forensic scientist and “have the opportunity to be part of the community and bring justice to my community by gathering and examining evidence for law enforcement agencies” – a professional pathway that was inspired by a character in one of the many movies she binge-watched to help immerse herself in the English language and learn how to communicate in a new country.

I have always been passionate about science and wanted to pursue a career in the biomedical science field. The biomedical science degree combines knowledge from many displaces such as biology, chemistry, physics and engineering, which are all things am very interested in and love to gain more understanding on. Also, the excitement of learning something new every day and contributing to new knowledge and innovation, Ms Dalaf told EducationDaily.

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Women’s rights, awards and the life-changing value of education

Earlier this year, Ms Dalaf was awarded SCU’s 2023 International Women’s Day scholarship in recognition of her determination.

“Education has always been important to me. Especially as a young female from a country full of war and no female rights. My mother always told me that getting a degree is the greatest thing a female can do for herself,” Ms Dalaf said in a podcast interview after winning the award.

Ms Dalaf felt honoured to receive the scholarship and dedicated it to the many inspiring women in her life.

“All the females in my family are all so strong, starting with my grandma, who fled from Iraq because of war. She went to America not knowing English, a single mother with eight young kids,” she said.

“I’ve learned a lot from them. That’s why my sister and I have always been really strong women and want to pass it on to the next generation, our future leaders.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]