11 Non-Scientific Reasons To Do A PhD In The Netherlands

Looking for a place to do a PhD? Maybe doing a PhD in The Netherlands is more interesting than you thought.

You have decided you want to do a PhD. It’s not all about the science. Of course you should carefully select the graduate school program. But it’s not only this.

You should also enjoy the place where you’ll do your PhD. There are plenty of non-scientific reasons to do a PhD in The Netherlands.

But what does The Netherlands have to offer you as a PhD student?

I have done a PhD in The Netherlands for the last 4 years (and something). The academic part was excellent. I couldn’t ask more. But life outside the lab has also been awesome.

Let me share with you some of the treats The Netherlands has for you in store if you decide to come to do your PhD here.

1. Salary

Most of the PhD students in The Netherlands get a salary. A salary like in a real job, paying taxes and getting fresh money every month.

PhD salaries are the same for everybody and they have yearly increases. From my experience and my fellow PhD students, this salary is enough rent an apartment/studio, groceries, going out and the occasional travel.

I know of people who even managed to pay a mortgage for a small apartment with their PhD salary.

Check this: because you are paying taxes you are entitled to unemployment benefits once your PhD contract is over. This will come in handy if you are a bit delayed with finishing your PhD.

It gets even better with the taxes. If you come from abroad to do your PhD in The Netherlands, you can ask for the 30% rule. In short this rule allows you to pay less taxes, which translates in even higher salary. The downside? The unemployment benefits will be more thin.

2. People

People in The Netherlands are handsome

Tall, handsome, blond, friendly, adventurous, smart, polite.

If you are looking for a partner this is your country. Either if you look for a tall blond partner or if you are more into exotic racial mixtures (there are many immigrants from former Caribbean and Asian colonies).

Dutchies are no-nonsense people. If they are at work, they are working, so don’t disturb them. They want to do the work that is expected of them and finish on time to go home and have dinner at 6pm.

In general they are honest, hard workers, they have integrity and they don’t like to cut corners. They are also welcoming towards foreigners.

They mind their own business if you want to, but they can also be warm and caring.

On the downside they are money minded, not greedy, they just like to save money, buy things with discounts and accumulate coupons.

Something else you should be aware is that Dutch people like to speak their minds. Everybody has an opinion and they are willing to share it with you, even when you don’t want to hear it.

3. Weather

A PhD in The Netherlands means a hort summer

Weather is not good. Cold never-ending winters. Many overcast days in a row. Lack of sun. Abundance of rain.

Sounds depressing right?

Well, on the one hand this weather will motivate you to stay inside finishing your PhD as fast as possible. On the other hand, living in a crappy weather will teach you to a) appreciate the weather back in your home country and b) enjoy your holidays to the fullest.

Are there sunny days? Yes, not many, but yes. Oh boy what you’ll do on a sunny day! You will go nuts organizing barbecues, touring the city channels on a rented boat, or you will put the sofa out in the street and drink cold white wine like there is no tomorrow.

4. Work/life balance

Like mentioned before, most Dutch people like to be at home for dinner around 6 or 6:30pm. They try to have their work done on time so they can enjoy the rest of the evening with the family or enjoying their multiple hobbies.

In this sense, it’s good if you live in the same city where you do your PhD. The ride back home will be short and you will feel like your days are longer than expected.

Also as a PhD in The Netherlands, you will get plenty of holidays and national holidays to travel back home.

A good tip is combining attending a conference with holidays.

If your boss is nice, which is often the case, you can do the following. Since the university has to pay your plane tickets to the conference, you could extend your stay at that country. The extra days you will pay yourself, but the plane tickets are already paid.

PhD in the Netherlands

5. Language

Not knowing Dutch is not a problem. Everybody speaks English quite well. As soon as you land in Schiphol you can find your way around by just talking in English. You will be fully functional and independent from day one.

This is great if you plan to stay temporarily in The Netherlands. You won’t need to learn the local language.

If you plan to stay long in The Netherlands after your PhD this is negative. You will not be forced to learn the language. Most of your friends will be either international or Dutch who will speak English to you.

The result is that after many years you will barely say two sentences in Dutch. In this situation you have a disadvantage to land a post-PhD job and to create a social life composed of mostly Dutch people.

6. Cities

Cities in The Netherlands are small, even for European standards. Think of Amsterdam, the largest city and it only has 800K inhabitants.

As a contrast, the region called Randstad is where most of the important cities in the country are and it’s one of the most densely populated conurbations on Earth.

As you can see, you have tiny cities, which you can easily cross by bike. They are not oppressive, you see a lot of green and water around. Truth be told, despite this you don’t see real (wild) nature in the Randstad. For this you need to drive 3 hours away and then you are already in Germany or Belgium.

In The Netherlands you also find small student cities that are perfect for doing a PhD. Cities like Leiden (where I live), Delft, Wageningen, Nijmegen, Groningen, Enschede and even the larger and Philips dominated Eindhoven have great social life, history and they are cute.

In these cities there are always activities for students. You can go out almost every night, as long as you do well next day in the lab, you party boy. Students don’t stop organizing barbecues or BYOB parties.

Living in these student cities means that a €100 bike is all the transportation means you need. All your friends will live 5 minutes away.

7. Music

You can party a lot during your PhD in The Netherlands

If you like music, specially electronic, The Netherlands is the place to be. Many superstar DJs are Dutch. Think of Tiesto, Armin van Buuren, Afrojack or Hardwell. There are plenty of clubs and festivals where you can dance to the tunes of your favorite DJs.

In summer, The Netherlands becomes the land of the music festivals. Any music taste will find its summer festival. And they are very well organized. They are clean and have great camping sites. Check two of the biggest festivals, PinkPop and LowLands.

Something also remarkable is that you can expect most of big bands and big world tours to have at least a concert in The Netherlands. There are many concert arenas scattered around the country. Many concerts will not take place in Amsterdam but in other cities. Do not be afraid, great public transport takes you everywhere.

8. Transport

Public transport is great, although a bit expensive. There is a large railway network connecting most cities and towns. In large cities you can also find trams and underground. If you travel outside the rush hours you will enjoy a fair discount.

Of course, talking about The Netherlands I could not forget to mention the bike. Ah the bike! Before leaving my home country I only used bikes for leisure. Here I discovered the pleasure of commuting by bike.

The Netherlands has everything a biker could dream of: a flat country, an extensive network of bike lanes (within and between cities) and car drivers that are careful with bikers.

There are many shops where you can buy a second-hand bike. You can expect anything from €50 onwards. For your first bike you are good to go in the price range €50-€100. Once you become experienced with biking in the city you can upgrade yours to a fancier one. Remember to use two locks, a fixed lock for your back wheel and a thick chain with a sturdy lock to attach your bike to street lights.

9. Beer

PhD in The Netherlands enjoy a great variety of beers

Center and Western Europe produce some of the finest beers in the world. They are known for their quality and variety.

We agreed you have to enjoy your social life, right? Why not do it in a country with excellent beer?

Check this: the best-selling import beer in your country, Heineken, is the standard in The Netherlands. You’ll find it everywhere. There also lots of other brewers of the liquid gold available.

Even better, it is located close to Germany and Belgium, other great beer producing countries. But watch out with Belgian beer, its high alcohol content can knock you down by drinking only three of them.

Remember to drink smartly. You need your brains in good shape to do in your PhD. Don’t overdo it with the alcohol. And if you know it’s going to be one of those wild nights, drink every now and then a glass of water to reduce dehydration and the chances of suffering a headache next day.

10. Open Minded Society

The Netherlands has been a pioneer in laws about euthanasia, gay marriage and the use of marijuana. The country is also known for its international courts.

Apart from this, The Netherlands is a welcoming country for political and war refugees. In fact, Dutch people have been for centuries intrepid adventurers. They have sailed the seven seas to trade the finest goods. And they have had many colonies. All this makes them a friendly nation towards foreigners, different cultures and beliefs.

Hundreds of NGO’s take care of national and international issues, from helping orphan children in Africa to protecting endangered species in the jungle of Borneo. In fact, giving money to charity is a sort of national sport in The Netherlands.

If you want to live in a place where nobody will judge for who you are, how you are, what you like and what you belief, come to do a PhD in The Netherlands.

11. Location, location, location

Map The Netherlands in Europe

This is one of the best things (IMHO) about The Netherlands. It’s central location in Europe. if you like to travel, The Netherlands is a perfect home base to explore Europe.

In 1-2hours flight you are in UK, Spain, France, Germany, Italy. Europe is full of history and its capitals make for excellent city trips. Enjoy that ton of holidays you’ll get by visiting the Old Continent.

The proliferation of low-cost airlines have brought down the prices of plane tickets. For €100 to €200 you will get a return ticket to most European destinations.

The main airport serving The Netherlands is Schiphol. It’s strategically located near Amsterdam and 30 minutes away by train from the other main cities in the Randstad.

Schiphol is one of the biggest, busiest and prettiest airports in Europe. The train station it’s right under the main departures/arrivals hall. As an example, I only need 30 minutes to go from my home to the departure gates.

And Finally, Good Science

OK, I said these were non-scientific reasons. But doing a PhD is not only about having fun, partying and travelling. Keep in mind that you are also expected to conduct good science.

So, is The Netherlands a good country for science?

Oh yes it is!

With a population of just 16 million people The Netherlands is one of the countries with the highest scientific output per capita. In a worldwide comparison, it ranks top #14 country in total number of scientific publications and top #4 in number of citations per paper.

Dutch scientists are well funded. They have strong collaborations, within the country but also across Europe and in America. This allows them to be involved in exciting research.

How To Find A PhD In The Netherlands?

I hope I convinced you to come to do a PhD in The Netherlands. Now it’s time to look around what’s available.

How can you find a PhD in The Netherlands?

Find a PhD in the Netherlands at Academic Transfer

In Academic Transfer you can find most of the PhD, postdocs and other scientific vacancies all over The Netherlands. They are even posted in English.

Go have a look in Academic Transfer and good luck with your PhD in The Netherlands.

(Here’s some extra information about coming to The Netherlands to work)

About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD student at Leiden University. He is interested in the role new technologies can play in the career of scientist. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on JulioPeironcely.com.

  • vickytnz

    Haha, you think public transport in NL is expensive? TRY TRAINS IN THE UK.

    • NextScientist

      Yeah, I had to take a couple of times the train London – Cambridge and it was rather expensive (and crowded).

  • Sp

    I can write an equally long article with negative comments on pretty much everything I read… according to my own PhD experience. It’s amazing how experiences on exactly the same subject can differ, and it’s also a shame this seems a bit like an ad piece.

    • NextScientist

      You can see it like an ad. I am grateful to the country and the people for all what I received from them during my PhD.
      This is my little contribution to attracting talent to The Netherlands.

      Cheers,
      Julio

    • A guy in Den Haag

      Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you look at it. Maybe you just tend to look at things more negatively. Cheer up and have fun. Life doesn’t last forever!

    • icameherefortheweed

      Living anywhere, especially outside your home country and away from friends, family and familiarity is bound to bring with is some negative experiences as well. While I cannot contradict anything pointed out in this article (mostly because it discusses a personal experience), it is easy to see that it presents exclusively positive aspects. It is this very lack of any downsides or otherwise “not-so-positive” experiences that make it look like an ad piece. Which is probably what got this article posted on my University’s promotional page as well!
      As a student in the Netherlands, if you come here expecting some kind of promise land where everyone is smiling, open-minded and honest, you are bound to be disappointed. While strangers do smile to your randomly on the street, you will learn that most smiles you will be granted are actually a sort of formality and do not carry the emotional meaning you are used to associating such actions with. And while it is promoted that it takes very “open-minded” to legalize marijuana and prostitution, after arriving here you might be rather shocked towards the average Dutchman’s negative view towards coffeshops, marijuana users and even tourists enjoying these vices that Amsterdam is famous for. Furthermore, I have found most locals do not exhibit this world-famous “open-mindness” in regular conversation, while many subjects seemed taboo, it is easy to accidentally push someone past their comfort zone. Worst, anything that does not conform to each community’s norm (or “their way of doing things”) is quickly judged, and you will soon find yourself exiled from that particular group. This makes it so that it nearly impossible to fully integrate in a Dutch group and you will quickly realize that in any student community there is a clear separation between the “dutch student house” (or groups) and “international student houses”.

      All in all, doing a PhD here is definitely not a negative experience, and with top-notch education supported by a very informal academic environment makes this a really good place to study. But don’t fool yourself that you will come here and have the time of your life. You might be disappointed!

  • Marcelo

    “On the racism point”, I am a foreign
    “secular” PhD student in Belgium, though Belgium is clearly not the
    Netherlands, some would agree that both countries share some common values. I
    can assert after some years here, that opportunities and treatment are clearly
    and openly differential, tougher projects (and therefore
    less likely to succeed) are given to foreign students, and
    surprisingly are those same PhD students that receive less help and
    assistance. Those “till 6pm” working hours sound to me like a common Belgian
    practice as well, though till 4 or 5 pm would be more accurate. On the other
    hand, in my experience all this “high standard” or living does not
    precisely translate in the results, from all what I have seen, are precisely
    those same foreign PhD that publish the best papers…

    Who thinks that racism is only related to Islam, is
    certainly missing the point. NO one would disagree that certain “religious motivated”
    practices are simply unacceptable. However, no providing the same opportunities
    to all, is a very common practice.

    I can tell that here in Belgium, but I will be very
    surprised it is a totally different on the other side of the border… So, probably
    most of the the stated is true, but for
    a foreign PhD student a card that cannot be dismissed is the openly
    differential treatment, which in part will motive some to work harder, but that
    at the end, it is simply not right.

    • Evert

      I’m not sure about the situation in Higher Education, but, being from the Netherlands, I think The Netherlands and Belgium are quite different in their overall attitude. Belgians are a lot more minding their own business and taking care of themselves.

      This may have to do with history, as stated in the article. The Netherlands have been explorers and entrepreneurs, not afraid of changes and foreign influences. In that sense you might say that Belgium is more inward oriented and The Neterlans more outward oriented.

      • Evert

        Just an addition, think of Belgium more in the direction of France in their attitude. Not all the way, but a bit. And as you may know France is very proud of its own culture and people and a bit xenofobic to foreign influences.
        Dutch speaking Belguim is in the middle between France and the Netherlands.

        • Jaap

          Let’s say that in my opinion, the Netherlands and Belgium share about the same amount of vlues as the Netherlands and Germany or Belgium and France.
          And my experience is that the tougher projects go to the students that can handle those projects better. What I also observe is that those students who come from abroad and don’t manage to build up a social network in the country, end up working very hard and therefore being very productive.

          • NextScientist

            Hi Jaap,

            From my experience (looking at other PhDs in my faculty), I do not see much difference in the performance of Dutch vs foreign Phd students.

            I have mixed feelings about giving tough projects to high-performing students. What I see in my group is that they have a new PhD vacancy, they promote it, they get applications from candidates and they select the best candidate they find. It’s not like they select a mediocre student instead of a good one because the project is easy.

            I think that building a network is essential for foreigners as long as they want to have some happy years during their PhD. People that do not have a life outside the lab tend to be very grumpy.

            Cheers,
            Julio

          • Annelies

            As a Belgian PhD in the Netherlands, don’t forget that ‘the dutch’ or ‘the belgians’ don’t really exist. It is a generalization from us being abroad. While there might be some common behaviour, you might just be lucky or not with the individual locals you meet… To still generalize a bit “being kind is received by kindness and the opposite…”

    • NextScientist

      Hi Marcelo,

      Thanks for your detailed answer about PhDs in Belgium.
      I have not experienced the fact that tougher projects are awarded to foreigners. What I see in my faculty is a similar proportion between Dutch and foreigners both failing and succeeding at their PhDs.
      What you can really see is that most tenure and professor positions are occupied by Dutch people (my professor, though, was not Dutch). I think this also has to do with the desire of foreigners to go back to their countries or to move somewhere else. It takes many years and dedication to build the scientific networks in the country so you can get the fix position.

      Julio

    • NextScientist

      Dear all,

      Discussions and insults about racism and religious beliefs have been deleted from the comments section.
      Please stay on topic (or divagate just a bit) and be polite to each other.

      • guest

        the article mentions ‘open minded’ wouldn’t it be better to allow a discussion on the increase of racism in the Netherlands?

  • Hannah

    Re: 11 – Even better, most European capitals can be reached relatively easily by train, which is much more environmentally friendly (not to mention much more fun) than those 1-hour flights you’re recommending ;)

    • NextScientist

      I used to go to Paris to work with some collaborators. 3 hours in the high-speed train were enough. The trip was pleasant, comfortable and productive (you can easily work on your laptop).

      For such a distance (500 km) the train saves you time since you don’t have to check in, go through security, taxi around in the airport and other nuisances. From NL you can easily travel by speed train to Belgium, north of France and west Germany. For longer distances I would still stick to the plane if you care about getting there fast.

  • Antonio Martínez

    Hi. I’m Antonio, I hope you understand my writing I don’t practise my english very often but I have some questions about your article wich I think is very inspiring. I live in Mexico and I have 25 years old, last year I get married and both my wife and I are pysicians. I graduated from a public university with a very good performance during my career and could have made an investigation career in my country, however a had a dougther and I needed to suspend my studies.
    So my question is if I can validate my pysician title and If I can expect to have enough money to support my family or if my wife have a chance to get a job in the health area in the Netherlands.

    • NextScientist

      Hi Antonio,
      I have no clue about validating titles. You should contact for this the medicine faculty of some universities.
      If you get a job in healthcare, either doing research or if you have a medical specialisation you can provide for your family.

  • geronimo

    hey where is EIndhoven- Brainport :) Nice article, though this also applies for students coming here for their Masters as well except for the salary.

    • NextScientist

      Added!
      I came as a master student and liked it so much that I stayed for the PhD.

  • Vincent

    You might also want to add Enschede with University of Twente. Until you mentioned Leiden, I was about to think “why does the name Julio not ring a bell?” as a lot of my friends are in the PhD group (completely mixed, no seperation I read below).

    Anywho, nice to see you enjoyed our country so far ;)

    • NextScientist

      Added!

      I really enjoyed the pros of NL and tried not to focus on the cons.

  • VM

    Great! Thank you!

    I visited the Nederlands for non-scientific reason and was about to apply for Master in Maastricht. My experience with the language was different. I found Dutch very attractive and worth learning.

    Nu leer ik de taal, maar begrijp geen Nederlands als je spreekt. ;) I mean, it is possible.

  • robvink

    Don’t forget the wonderfull traditional PhD ceremony we have in the Netherlands..

  • Rodrigo

    HI,
    About the 30% rule can you tell me how you did it to get the benefit? I’m starting my PhD in The Netherlands and knew about that rule and so I went to a tax office but they told me that I wasn’t entitle to that… I’ll appreciate if could help me on this matter.

    Best,
    Rodrigo

  • judas

    Dutch beer? Better drink my own piss!