News - April 19, 2012

‘A scientist doesn't have to be a nerd'

It is a striking combination: taking part in a student beauty contest while studying for a PhD. The Bulgarian Tanya Radoeva, a talented PhD student at Plant Sciences, doesn't have a problem with it. She has already reached the final of the Student of the Year competition.

Tanya the scientist  and Tanya the model
Of the 24 competitors, Tanya is the only candidate from Wageningen in the Student of the Year competition run by, a commercial site whose main judging criterion is a competitor's looks. Photos of Tanya have been posted on the organization's website: stunning portraits in black and white, as well as pictures showing her posing in underwear and as a naive chambermaid.
How did you get involved in this competition, Tanya?
‘A friend of mine told me about it. "It's right up your street", she said. And she was right. I've been doing modelling work for years. And I was Miss Bulgaria Tourism in 2008. That meant going to China for a month, to take part in the global final.'
Aren't you worried that you'll be taken less seriously as a scientist if you present yourself in this way?
‘No, I have been getting only positive reactions, from my colleagues, and even from my supervisor. They understand that this is actually a good way to challenge the strange preconceptions people have about scientists. There is no reason why I should be a nerd. I want to prove that you can be a scientist and good looking. And vice versa, I want to show that a model is not necessarily a dummy.'
The contest has been embroiled in scandal in the past. For instance, that time the candidates threw in the towel when it turned out they were expected to play strip poker on a TV show.
‘Really? I didn't know about that. To be honest I don't know that much about the organization. Everything is done by email. I have no idea what the competition involves from this point onwards. But of course I do have clear boundaries. I would not take off my clothes. It's got to stay fun.'
Competition success depends on internet votes. Are you campaigning?
‘No, I have told only my family and good friends that I am taking part. It is really not that important. I will see how far I get.'
Imagine that tomorrow you are offered a fabulous contract to be a model. Would you give up your scientific career?
‘Absolutely not. Science is my career. Working as a model is something I see as just a hobby and a fun way of earning extra cash.'
I mean the cover of Vogue, travelling the world, fame and glamour ...
‘Ha ha, the answer is still no.'
So what are your ambitions?
‘For the next few years I will be working with the model plant Arabidopsis Thaliana. I will see where I end up after that. Perhaps in a company or a university, wherever.'