After your master, writing a PhD is an interesting option to further develop your academic skills. But after studying you also want to start thinking about a full income. In the Netherlands, you are fortunately often paid as a PhD student. But does that apply to everyone? And what are the possibilities in that are?

Writing a PhD: independent or employed by a university or company?

You can obtain a PhD from a university, company or public organization. You can also fund your promotion yourself.


In the Netherlands we have the fairly unique situation that you are employed as a PhD student at one of the 14 universities in our country. You will therefore receive a salary. To get such a PhD position you have to be lucky. The places are scarce and large parts of the research are already fixed.

In foreign countries you are not employed by the university. You usually receive a scholarship and clearly have a student status. PhD students at Dutch universities are expected to perform other activities in addition to their PhD work, such as giving lectures or reviewing examinations.

Several universities have considered replacing the salaries with scholarships in order to give PhD students a student status, but this has been largely blocked by the Supreme Court. Only the University of Groningen has a system with scholarships in which PhD students have a student status and therefore they do not have to give lectures.


Another possibility is to write a PhD in the service of a company. Especially in the medical-technical sector there are many companies that employ full-time PhD students. But the places are scarce and your research is already largely fixed.


Finally, you can choose to finance your promotion yourself. You will have to draw up a research plan independently, for which you will have to find a supervisor independently. Most people write their PhD on their own initiative alongside a job in business or during a sabbatical. The big disadvantage is that this puts a heavy burden on your life and costs you a lot of money, even though there are usually scholarships (more information). The advantage is that you have a large degree of freedom regarding the content of your research.


If you immediately enter the business world after completing your master, you will usually receive a relatively high salary. Being a PhD student, on the other hand, is not a big money maker. On the other hand, you have a lot of freedom during the writing process and after obtaining your doctor’s degree, you are well-qualified in the labor market. So on the long run you are not bad off as a PhD student.

Health insurance

If you are employed by a university or a (Dutch) company, you can often be able to get group health insurance. In most cases that can save a few euros.

Collective labor agreement

PhD students that are employed by an university, research organization or company are in most cases subject to a collective labor agreement. Research assistant trainees have also been appointed as PhD students since 2004 and are therefore also covered by this collective labor agreement. PhD students at foreign universities are an exception because they are rarely on the payroll of a university. They are registered as a student and receive a scholarship for their activities.

Depending on where you are employed, you are part of a specific collective labor agreement. University medical centers, for example, have a different collective agreement for their PhD students than public organizations or private companies.

In your collective labor agreement, matters such as your salary, the number of days off per year, possibilities for an extra personal budget and entitlement to unpaid leave are described. Below are links to the collective labor agreements that include most PhD candidates. If yours is not listed, then it is best to go to the collective labor agreement of your university or check with your work.

  • Most PhD students at Dutch universities are part of the NU CAO.
  • A large part that is employed at a university medical center is part of the UMC collective agreement.
  • Some PhD students are employed by a research institute, such as the Center for Mathematics (CWI), the Dutch organisation for scientific research (NWO), The Royal Library (KB) and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (Kon. NIOZ). The CAO OI is a guideline for them.


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