Academic Careers in the Netherlands

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The Netherlands is one of the best countries in the world to be an academic. Most PhDs get paid a living wage and the government continues to invest in research. But like many countries in the western world, securing an academic position is very competitive.

The Dutch University System

A spokesperson for European University Institute (EUI) points out that the Dutch university system represents a relatively high degree of competition in line with the main features of the Anglo-Saxon model, while offering a relatively high degree of job security and stability.

The Netherlands, the EUI says, has two major types of university system – universities and universities of professional education. While the latter focus on preparing students for specific professional careers, the former represent the traditional view of universities in the English-speaking world.

“For example, the sciences in the Netherlands are of highest international level. Content-wise, the Dutch system is very interesting and offers major opportunities and good work-life balance,” Nannette Ripmeester, an expert in international labour mobility says.

PhDs in The Netherlands

According to Ms Ripmeester, in most cases PhD candidates are employees of their university and are paid salaries.

Applications for PhD roles are often advertised in English as well as Dutch, and they can be found on websites such as Several institutions also use English and Dutch in teaching and research, and many of these universities offer non-Dutch speakers the chance to learn the language.

“Dutch universities use consensus model,” says Ms Ripmeester. “Everybody is consulted for their opinions and the decision-making process is not just based on the principal research investigator.”

The Rubicon Programme

Experts say academics who want to work in the Netherlands need a track record in securing research grant as well as in teaching.

“Funding experience is important as this proves you can generate income for your department and university,” says Ms Ripmeester. “So your citation index – your publication record – is therefore of great importance. Employers will also pay attention to whether you will fit into the team as a person and as an academic.”

For new PhDs, the main scheme that caters for postdoctoral research grants is the Rubicon programme. This scheme allows foreign nationals to spend a year at a top research institution in the Netherlands and also gives Dutch nationals the chance to do research study for two years at an institution outside of their country. Additionally, there is also The Innovational Research Incentives Scheme, which comprises three grants geared to different stages in a researcher’s scientific career: Veni, for researchers who have recently obtained their PhD; Vidi, for researchers who have gained several years of research experience after their PhD; and Vici, for senior researchers who have demonstrated an ability to develop their own line of research.

Apart from these two schemes, departments across many Dutch universities have postdoctoral positions, especially in the sciences and technology, which are advertised regularly.

Securing Tenure in the Netherland

Prior to securing a tenured post, you have to start as a ‘universitar docent’, a status akin to tenure-tracked position in the North American system. This is deemed as probationary period in which you hone your research and teaching skills. You may then rise through the rank to the position of a professor. It is also worth pointing out that tenured academics are considered civil servants, so your appointment as a lecturer, associate professor and professor are seen as permanent.

Tips on Application and Job Interview

Career experts advise that when applying for academic jobs in the Netherlands, your CV and cover letters should state clearly your experience, research interest and publications, without coming across as arrogant. Modesty, they say is valued by prospective employers. It is worthwhile to note that it is best to put your list of academic publications as an appendix rather than directly on your CV. This appendix may also be used to briefly describe your PhD or current research project.

And if you do get an interview?

“You cannot talk about your salary expectation during your first interview,” says Ms Ripmeester. “This will be considered rude!”

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