'Studying forensic odontology in the UK gave me the expertise I need to help families in Pakistan find closure after tragedy'
Falak (Dr. Syed), from Pakistan, graduated with a master’s in forensic odontology from the University of Dundee in 2019. She became an expert in her field in the UK, and in 2020 she played a vital role in the response to a major plane crash in Karachi by helping establish facts through the use of dental evidence.
'Forensic odontology is an emerging field in Pakistan that very few people know about'
After qualifying as a dentist, I wanted to take my studies further, to do a master’s overseas and preferably in the UK. After looking into some options, I became fascinated with forensic odontology.
Forensic odontology is an emerging field in Pakistan that very few people know about. It’s the expert study of dental evidence to establish facts, such as what has happened in a crime or identifying bodies in a disaster. Here’s a video I presented for the University of Dundee on the subject.
It sounded so different. At that time, the University of Dundee was the only place which offered a postgraduate course in it. My friend, and fellow dentistry graduate, Suman Shoro, both applied.
‘In the UK, my education was so much more than just a qualification’
When we arrived, everyone from our housemates to our lecturers was so open and friendly, and we felt supported. We also had a say in what we wanted from our studies. Tutors listened to our opinions and our ideas.
In the UK, my education was so much more than a qualification. Every day I felt myself growing as a professional and as a person.
'As part of the course, we worked with local police and mortuaries'
As part of the course, we even worked with local police and mortuaries. To be able to apply my learning so directly to the real world gave me a huge sense of purpose and was very different from studying theory in a lecture hall.
During my studies in the UK, I was able to submit three research articles for publication, in large part due to the supportive study environment and the encouragement I received.
‘Suman and I became the first female forensic odontologists in the whole of Pakistan’
Graduating felt wonderful. Suman and I became the first, and to date only, female forensic odontologists in the whole of Pakistan.
‘After a major disaster in Karachi in 2020, I joined a team headed by the first-ever forensic odontologist in Pakistan’
In 2020, 98 people were killed, and many were injured after Pakistan International Airlines Flight 8303 crashed in a residential area of Karachi. After this major disaster, professional teams were needed to make sense of the tragedy and to help the families involved.
I was invited to join a team headed by Dr Humayoun Temoor, the first-ever forensic odontologist in Pakistan. He actually also studied in the UK at the University of South Wales. Dr Temoor, Suman and I met with high-ranking airline officials, the police and other experts working on disaster response.
In these meetings, we were able to explain the vital role odontology plays in identifying the victims. The sense of professionalism and confidence we developed in the UK was extremely important.
‘Forensic ontology is about more than just identification. It is about helping families find closure after tragedy’
In the weeks after the disaster, the team worked extremely hard, even spending time away from our families over Eid. It wasn’t easy, but we knew what we were doing was very important. The work we were doing was about more than just identification. It was about helping families find closure after the tragedy. And while we were doing scientific, clinical work, it was for a very human reason.
‘I became an expert while studying in the UK’
I am the professional that I am today due to having studied in the UK. I became an expert and truly learned about my field there. I find my work very rewarding and am very proud to be a forensic odontologist.
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