04 May 2022 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Charl Devenish
Daniëlle van der Merwe
All smiles. Daniëlle van der Merwe with her degree in Bachelor of Medical Science Honours in Anatomy and Cell Morphology as well as the Dean’s medal which she received for achieving the best results in respect of a Bachelor Honours Degree in the faculty. She graduated on Friday (22 April 2022) during the April graduation ceremonies.

For one Dean’s Medal winner in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS), her motivation for working hard and therefore achieving this accolade, comes from her moral responsibility to be as good as possible as she is working towards becoming a forensic anthropologist, which means helping pathologists identify the skeletal remains of possible homicide victims. 

Daniëlle van der Merwe was awarded the Dean’s medal for achieving the best results in respect of a Bachelor Honours Degree in the faculty. She graduated on Friday (22 April 2022) during the April graduation ceremonies with a Bachelor of Medical Science Honours in Anatomy and Cell Morphology. 

“I honestly was not expecting this, and it’s all still pretty new, so I’m still processing it a bit. Everyone keeps telling me to feel proud of myself, but it feels weird to be rewarded for doing what I am passionate about. I really love what I do, and I want to be good at it. I never really thought about the rest,” says Van der Merwe on being awarded the Dean’s Medal. 
She attributes her achievement to being lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly supportive and encouraging family and friends, and a postgraduate team that really challenged and equipped her. Her actions could be the difference between a guilty man walking free or a family finding comfort in justice. And to her, she says, that carries weight.
What goes into an achievement like this?

Van der Merwe, who is currently enrolled as an MMedSci (Anatomy & Cell Morphology) student, and will be starting a research assistantship soon, says it sounds a cliché but a lot of discipline – in terms of hard work, managing your time and prioritising – goes into such an achievement. 

“There were a lot of moments that came down to simple ‘SOS’, a term coined by my study leader, which means “sit op stoel”, in other words, sit on your chair and study. Sometimes you just have to do the work. Other times, however, you have to do the extra work   making sure you understand the theory instead of ‘parroting’ it, rereading your assignments until all the words jumble, rewriting your thesis until you feel like English doesn’t even make sense anymore. I think those times meant a lot more.”

Being inspired

Van der Merwe says it is not difficult to be inspired in her line of work. It is interesting, challenging, and sometimes even fun. She is also blessed to have a study leader who simultaneously nurtures and fuels her passion for forensic anthropology, and who has given her many opportunities to test that passion in the real world to see if she has what it takes.

Explaining her reason for going into this field, Van der Merwe says: “My mom often says I’ve always been more interested in the slightly ‘unconventional’ things in life. Whenever I explain to people what I do, they always say something along the lines of ‘I’m so glad God makes people who can do that, because I never could’. I kind of get where they’re coming from and I agree with them. It takes a certain someone to do this, and I really think I’m one of them. I always say that I didn’t choose forensic anthropology, but that it chose me, and for that, I am very grateful.”

What is next?

Van der Merwe wants to finish her master’s degree and obtain her doctorate as soon as possible. She is also passionate about academics and has been tutoring since high school, and would love to work in the UFS Department of Basic Medical Sciences as a lecturer one day. 

“I have also been enjoying assisting on forensic cases recently, and would love to become a more permanent member of the anthropology team at the university,” she says.

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