Mosaics have mesmerized people across the world with their vibrant colors and distinct style. This beautifully constructed colored craft, which dates back at least 4000 years, offers an eye-catching approach to art and adornment. Mosaics are artworks made up of tesserae (small pieces of glass, stone, or other nature-based materials). Designs can be simple or complex, and they can feature geometric patterns, animals, people, or simply be abstract. The tesserae will be formed by the artist, who will usually cut them into squares or use specific equipment to shape them. The tiles or fragments are then organized into patterns, portraits, and other decorative designs using an adhesive and grout. No fragment is considered invaluable; each one finds a way to contribute to the work of art.


My work-in-progress design (created via make-a-mosaic)

To have a successful and fulfilling career as an academic, I strive to perform, achieve, and/or succeed in scholastic activities that comprise what we think of as academic excellence. There are numerous days when staying focused and goal-oriented is quite easy. I have to admit though that there are some days when staying motivated proves harder. Personally, I like to think of these as “moments” rather than “days”. Looking back on these moments in my life, I can see how they have all contributed to the current artwork I have. Each moment, a mosaic piece of the design.

Let’s start with the base and basic  tesserae:

I’ve always known that I am interested in academics.  When I think back to my school days, I remember enjoying difficult tasks and research assignments.  Tertiary education opened up a whole new world to me, and opportunities to present in classrooms or subsequently, to host guest lecturers, quickly became distinguishing tesserae in my mosaic. Later on, I got the opportunity to interact with students and provide ad-hoc lectures, which was a dream come true. I absolutely love research, and the thrill of making a breakthrough or learning something new may keep me enthralled for a long time! And then, there are conferences; each one offers a unique viewpoint, so what’s not to like?

Then there are some tesserae that don’t quite fit; over time, a nipper or clipper is used to shape the tesserae for the artwork. I found the bureaucracy and general rules of the various systems and research institutions to be the most challenging.  Each has its own set of interrelationships, which can be complicated. Another challenge has been maintaining my academic and research voice. We are all aware of the research process, and it is a continuous process of editing and refining between selection committees, scientific committees, and publications who provide input and feedback. I recall having a lot of controversy on my PhD selection committee, and barely being able to sign my name after receiving feedback from publications.

But these were fleeting moments, fragments of a larger work of art. These little fragments appear negligible on their own. Someone may walk by and dump these small shards of material out of a tray of tesserae, not appreciating their potential. The artist, on the other hand, knows exactly where these small parts belong. These mosaic pieces, which may appear trivial to others, are what distinguish a masterpiece from a work of art. Working in different systems and finding my feet has also aided me in developing a community and inclusive culture that values, respects, and engages with individual differences, diversity of viewpoints, and diversity of cultures. Finding my voice has aided in the development of critical thinking, professionalism, and leadership abilities. And if somebody tells me I don’t have the ability to do something, well just watch  me, you’ll be amazed at the results! Each mosaic piece contributed to the creation of my own work of art – my goal of academic excellence.

I’ve also learned about the importance of adhesives and grout, which will be used to ensure the tesserae adhere to the base material and fill in the gaps for added strength and longevity. For me, this has been an excellent mentorship. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a mentor who has helped me by guiding me, advising me, opening my mind, encouraging me when things don’t go my way, and reminding me to keep on track with my goals. My artwork has gained strength courtesy of a terrific mentor, encouraging colleagues, and being in right place in my career.

My craft is not yet finished, it is a work in progress. 

But I adore how each step of my academic journey can be included into the overall design, and I can’t wait to see the final product. Have you ever reflected on the events that shaped your academic career? Perhaps you’d want to use this fantastic online tool to illustrate these moments? Who knows, maybe you’ll start your own mosaic project 😊.

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