Turkey’s top model pursuing a Ph.D. on genetics
Ayşe Arman - ISTANBUL Photo: Emre Yunusoğlu
24-year-old Melis Durası won third place in the 2012 Turkey beauty pageant contest. And she is also smart. She studied Molecular Biology, Genetics and Bioengineering, and now she’s doing her doctorate. She will then study gastronomy and dietetics.
That’s not all: She’s also a sportswoman. She played volleyball for 10 years in Fenerbahçe, and was talented enough to be invited to the National Team. She declined due to her university exams, but she still didn’t quit sports. She started running and ran in a marathon. She is the symbol of beauty and intelligence, and she deserves praise for both.
I also liked her approach on being a celebrity. For her, fame is a product to be consumed: “Today you are famous, but tomorrow you are not. I don’t want to be consumed. I want to do persistent things that will contribute to myself and the society I am living in. I think this is the true meaning of being celebrated,” she says.
- (Laughing) No! Usually everyone who hears this gets surprised. I guess it is not a common thing.
What kind of reactions do you get?
- There are various reactions to it. There are some who counsel, some who pity and some who criticize, but also some who congratulate.
Then can you tell me your story from the very start? How did you decide to enter a beauty pageant?
- It was my childhood dream. That crown, the jewels, that extravagance, that elegance always enchanted me. I have always been a successful student. I was in the “intelligent” category. At the same time, I found myself beautiful enough to dream about entering such a pageant.
- And I continued to be a successful student while dreaming about beauty pageants. Actually I wanted to participate in the first year of university, but it coincided with my finals. After my graduation, while doing my doctorate, I managed to participate in the pageant without affecting my academic schedule.
Were you trying to prove something?
- Of course! The generalization “The smart woman is not beautiful, and the beautiful women are not smart” makes me mad. It was like a challenge to me, and it was something I wanted to do. I am happy that I did it. Actually I do not care about being labeled “beautiful” by someone else. I do not become beautiful or ugly with their consideration. In the end, it’s a show. I tested my confidence there, discovering a life out of the academy. I met many people from different cultures. It was a great experience. It broadened my vision.
How do you assess the “smart-beautiful women” division?
- I find it ridiculous. Women can be both beautiful and smart. There are tons of examples. But beautiful women are seen as, “Why do you work so hard? You don’t even have to work with these looks.” I heard the same quote in an American movie, so it’s not only in Turkey. I wanted to challenge this thought. Every confident women is beautiful, but everything needs effort in this life. To be beautiful, to be fit, to be smart, to be successful. For me, each of them compliment one other.
What was your dreams after the pageant?
- I never thought of it as a profession. Yes, it delighted me to advance on that subject, but I already had another profession which I liked. The pageants are events that you warm up [for] like a sports competitions. It is a process, during which the aftermath should be decided. Life itself is a decision. It’s about, how you do want to live? You choose a lifestyle for yourself. I was happy with an academic life. That’s why I moved on my own path.
How did you decide to study genetics?
- Initially I wanted to study medicine. Because solving health problems for people is important for me. Then I met an important teacher whom I would later work with for my doctorate in Sabancı University. She convinced me to study genetics and I was able to apply for Molecular Biology and Genetics after my exam results.
Genetics was not enough for you. You’ve studied further on.
- Yes, every profession has its own requirements. Some are enough for the licence degree; some are necessary for the higher degrees. I wanted to be productive about my profession. That’s why I decided to do a doctorate. I hope I would be one of the scientists who could discover some other knowledge than what is known.
Do you feel safer in university?
- I like its environment. I feel free here. No limits, Think it, shape it and do it. You feel safe when you feel free.
What’s the tip for being good at doing so many things so successfully?
- To like what you do! That’s the biggest secret of it. When you like something you do, the effort doesn’t wear you out. It makes you happy. For example, I liked playing volleyball. I was in love with it. I played for 10 years in Fenerbahçe. I used to forget everything else while I was focusing on playing. I wanted to play in the National Team too, but I couldn’t. Because I had to make a decision. Either I would study fort he university exams and get in the faculty I wanted, or I would become a volleyball player at the expense of my academic career. You can’t do everything at the same time. You have to know when to stop. But sports were always a part of my life. After that, I started running. It had positive effects on me, and I could not quit. The marathon was a test for me to discover my limits and to contribute to the society. My first half-marathon was the San Fransisco Women’s Marathon. All the money earned there was donated to the leukemia patients. When I had finished the marathon, I thought “everyone should experience this once in their lifetime.” It was an astonishing experience for me to understand how your mind is a strong source of motivation for you.
Didn’t you want to be famous? All of Sabancı University’s circles know you and admire you, but this could be the whole of Turkey.
- I never had such aspirations. Fame is a thing that is consumed quickly. Today you are famous, but tomorrow you are not. I don’t want to be consumed. I want to do persistent things that will contribute to me and the society I am living in. I think this is the true meaning of being celebrated .
What does fame and money mean to you?
- Fame is a moment as short as a clap of the hand. It’s temporary. Money on the other hand has an important effect on our lives. But it is only a mean to satisfy our needs. A key to happiness? Certainly not. It has to be balanced. You shouldn’t be enslaved to it.
What kind of men do you like?
- A confident man who knows what he wants in life. A man with his own philosophy of life and who is also respectful of other people’s way of life. I would give the same answer if you asked “what kind of women do you like?”
What is the most important thing you learned from your parents?
- I learned not to use the word “impossible” from my mother. It is in our hands to realize what we seek to achieve. My father, on the other hand, taught me to be honorable. I learned the importance of sharing from my little brother.
Why did you take the university entrance exam? What was your purpose? You already had all of these degrees, and you’ll study gastronomy and dietetics on top of it.
- It is something I am interested in. I could use what I have learned until now and I can blend two branches, genetics and gastronomy into an interdisciplinary field. This subject is like an untrodden field.
Would the image of a sexy woman make you sad? Does the sexiness of a woman damage her intelligent image?
- No. Being sexy is not a deficit. Sexiness is not all about legs, hips and breasts and curves. On the contrary, it’s a woman’s attitude, her tone, her looks that makes her sexy. Briefly, the ability to present and carry herself, and this needs intelligence.
Is your imperfection being too smart? Or don’t you have any deficiencies at all?
- Nothing much, nothing less… I am happy with myself. If I think I have shortcomings and if I am able to overcome them, I would try to overcome my shortcomings. My biggest shortcoming would be to think I have excesses.
There is a classical pathway taken by the beauty pageant contestants. They either become models, or they start a career on TV screens. Why didn’t you choose any of them?
- Every path requires effort; to be a good model, to be a good actress or to be a good genetician. I want to do my job respectfully and as well as possible. You need to spare time for it. You have to dedicate your life to it. This means choosing a lifestyle. We all choose the lifestyle that is the most satisfactory for us, don’t we? I chose the one which was the most satisfactory for my personality. That’s why I did not pursue these careers.
What does not fit your lifestyle in these careers then?
- The time! Until now, all the decisions I faced required me to dedicate all my time and leave my academic career behind. Therefore it was not possible for me to realize them. Because my priority was always my academic profession.