By Jacob Muirhead

Networking is an exceptionally important part of landing a job.  A statistic that is sometimes thrown around is that nearly two-thirds of people secure their job through their network rather than through open more “formal” channels.

The pressure to network is quite high; a daunting task that can often feel forced, unnatural, or unpleasant. Partly, this is because we generally think of networking as a pursuit that takes us out of our comfort zone in order to build relationships for self-advancement. This blog post, however, isn’t interested in talking about that kind of networking. Instead, what I want to emphasize are the benefits of working within a valuable network that you may not necessarily know you have- your classmates.

As I think back over the past few years in my PhD, many of my greatest professional successes have come from collaborating with previous and current classmates. This might seem counter-intuitive.  My classmates are not power brokers.  They don’t hold enormous research grants and they can’t offer me teaching opportunities, or a permanent job in the federal civil service. But don’t overlook or under-appreciate their value. Drawing on their expertise has led to successes and opportunities that have positioned me well for the job market in three main areas:

  1. Peer-reviewed journal opportunities:

Publishing is the name of the game if you want to pursue a career in academia. This process can often be made easier through collaboration. Working together often helps both parties remain more accountable to the project and to follow through in meeting deadlines. The division of labour also makes the process take less time both while writing, and in responding to reviewer comments.  It also often leads to better work. You can refine and sharpen ideas through discussion, and your ego often demands that you produce your best work when you know you will be sharing it with your co-author. Collaborating in this way has helped me publish my ideas in major academic journals.

  1. Professional development:

Positioning yourself properly for an academic or non-academic job is hard. In both cases there are languages that you need to learn how to speak that are not necessarily intuitive. However, there are few people more qualified to give you a lay of the land than your classmates, who are going through, or have very recently navigated the process and made it to the other side with the lessons they learned still fresh in their minds. Getting feedback on your resume and cover letter, getting a sense of the cultural expectations around what employers in different sectors are looking for, sharing interview prep notes, working through mock interviews together and so forth have all been extremely valuable for me.

  1. Funding success:

Securing Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding can open up opportunities that would otherwise not be available to you (see for example the federal civil service’s “recruitment of policy leaders” program). But just as you must learn to speak a new languages to position yourself when preparing for the job market, so too must you learn to speak a new language in order to write successful research proposals. Speaking with classmates who had won a SSHRC scholarship and being able to go over their applications was by far and away the most important aspect in my own successful application.


Jacob Muirhead is a PhD Candidate in Comparative Public Policy at McMaster University. His research focuses on the regulation of transnational agricultural value chains through private standards and legal contracts. His most recent work is published as a chapter in Frogs, Fuel, Finance or Food? Cultures, Values, Ethics and Arguments on Agricultural Land. Forthcoming from the University of Toronto Press titled ‘Indirect’ Land Grabbing, Private Certification and GlobaGAP.