This month, Rhiannon D’Averc grabbed some email time with model and neuroscientist Aya Osman for our first lockdown interview!
First, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hey Guys! My name is Aya Osman and I am a behavioral neuroscientist and a part time fashion model! I was born and bred in London UK and now living in New York City completing my post doctoral training as well as pursuing commercial modelling!
How did you get into modelling?
I first got into modelling at the age of 17. I was in my local hair salon getting a blow dry for an event later that day, when the salon owner told me that a close friend of hers, a Ghanaian designer, was looking for models for her new lookbook. I was totally taken aback especially as modelling really went against my Islamic background, but none-the-less curiosity got the best of me and I agreed to be connected with the designer. A week later I was on my very first photoshoot and fell in love instantly. After that I was connected to several agencies and eventually got signed and so began my modelling career.
There’s an unhealthy and untrue stereotype that models are dumb. Your work as a behavioural neuroscientist proves the opposite! How do your two kinds of work gel together?
Haha, yes, this stereotype does unfortunately plague models. I was aware from very early on that I wanted to do more than model, this mainly stemmed from a deep belief within myself that we have zero control over how we look or our physical features. We are simply born with a set of genes which make you look a certain way but that shouldn’t be the only thing that defines you! I didn’t want to be known only for my appearance.
Moreover, life is unpredictable and you never know what may happen to change your looks or whether the current market even considers your look to be beautiful.
I felt all these uncertainties around appearances meant I couldn’t pin my whole life to it. I wanted to utilize other parts of me that I do have more control over! I believe our minds are our best features, I’ve always enjoyed reading, questioning life and investigating to find out more and learn. These character traits meant I ended up choosing a career in scientific research, with focus on the brain. Most people don’t realize this but science is a very creative field and so both my modelling and scientific work channel my creative side
Now I am focusing on merging the two careers and doing science communication via media, from documentary making to chat shows. I have always enjoyed teaching and sharing information or knowledge with people so what better way to do that than via media?
The modelling has helped me build up confidence in front of the camera in prep for this merging of the two careers.
Have you come up against unfair stereotypes in either of your fields of work? and if so, how did you deal with them?
Yes, certainly all the time! In the science world, looks mean absolutely nothing, if anything being good-looking in science may actually count against you. If you wear lipstick or make an effort to look nice in science people automatically think “the time you spent applying that lipstick could have been used to read more scientific papers” [laughs]. So, yeah, I definitely face a stereotype in the science world where people think if you look nice it must mean you are stupid! And I actually have to squash that misconception on a daily basis. With age this has bothered me less and less as I am now more confident in who I am, and I believe character always speaks for itself. Since moving to the states I have actually found people here are a lot more accepting and less judgmental of my dual careers whereas when I was back in London I definitely got strange looks for being both a model and a neuroscientist.
When the modelling world hears about my science career they are a lot more accepting and less judgmental! I reckon this is because most models do something else on the side (from being dentist to lawyers to engineers). I actually think this is so awesome and needs to be portrayed more often especially for young girls growing up in a world which is so focused on only looks. so I definitely appreciate platforms like yours sharing this.
Tell us about your current research.
So, my research at the moment focuses on two different things: Firstly, I study brain development in childhood (the first two years) and how diets such as breast milk and cow’s milk effect brain development. I focus on how disruptions to this normal development in the first two years by having bad diets can result in a number of psychiatric conditions including autism. There is currently a lot of money in autism research because of how common the condition has become and we still don’t know what causes it or how to cure it. Secondly, I also study addiction. I’m focused on understanding the underlying changes that happen to a brain once it’s addicted to a substance. The whole aim behind this is if you understand how a brain changes to become addicted then you can figure out a way to stop and therefore cure addiction.
Can you name a favourite image of yours, or perhaps a favourite catwalk that you walked on?
Yes, my fav images have to be for the British Hairdressing Awards where I was turned into a blonde for a week! I loved the stylist behind the shoot and the photographer was absolutely amazing. I do love me a good catwalk! I think everyone should do one runway show in their lifetime, the adrenaline rush is simply like no other. My fav catwalk shows have to be my first NYC fashion week show, and also I walked for Africa Fashion Week on a regular basis back in London.
What’s your proudest achievement to date?
Proudest achievement is completing my PhD. It was by far the biggest challenge of my life thus far, but since completing it I have been reaping the fruits of my labor. It’s made me realize if there is one thing that is guaranteed in life… it’s that hard work ALWAYS pays off
Do you have any big ambitions or dreams that you’d like to achieve, either in neuroscience or in modelling?
Yes! I’m working towards becoming a public science figure. That to me would show that I successfully merged the two careers.