Leiden University
Graduate study FAQ
Thank you for your interest in getting a PhD in Leiden! Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about working at the Instituut-Lorentz or, more generally, about studying physics in the Netherlands.

Wim van Saarloos


What is the scientific atmosphere in Leiden like?

Well, here is one rather flattering perspective. My own perception of the atmosphere at the Instituut-Lorentz is that it is quite open and international. We typically have postdocs and graduate students from a dozen different nationalities. The scientific atmosphere in the theory group in Leiden is also influenced by the fact that all our faculty members have worked abroad for several years - it is our ambition to do physics on an internationally competitive basis while fostering an open and friendly environment and the fun of doing physics.

Research groups in the Netherlands are often rather small and not very hierarchical, and most professors try to get their students involved as fast as possible in the active research on the frontline of physics. This certainly holds for my colleagues and myself at the Instituut-Lorentz: you don't have to fear getting a "run-of-the-mill" type of problem here as a graduate student. Our attitude is that our very best graduate students, who have a real chance of getting a faculty position somewhere, have the best chances when they're out and independent and strong enough to compete on the postdoc job market when they're about 27 years old.

At the Instituut-Lorentz, we find it important to try to keep one regular theory seminar for the whole theory group, in addition to more specific group seminars. Following a long-standing tradition, we gather with the whole physics department about twice a month for dinner followed by a Colloquium on a topic of general interest.


How do I apply?

This depends on whether you already have a Masters degree or not.

If you do not have your Masters degree, you should apply first to the MSc program of our graduate school.

If you do have a Masters (or equivalent) and are ready to start your PhD research, the preferred route is to contact directly a professor with whom you would like to work, and inquire whether there are openings in his or her group. (Here is an overview of the groups at the Instituut-Lorentz.)

If you are motivated and well qualified, you should in principle have a good chance of finding a PhD position in the Netherlands. In fact, most of us have the attitude that even if we don't have a position available, if we do have a very strong candidate who we really would like to have, we will do our best to somehow create a position.


Will I get paid for doing my PhD?

Yes, a PhD position in The Netherlands is a job that comes with a salary. There is no fee for tuition. The salary won't make you rich, but is enough to live on your own in Leiden.


How long does it take to get a PhD?

The normal duration of a PhD contract is four years. Most of our graduate students are indeed able to complete their PhD in this time frame.


Do I need to take courses?

This depends on the university. In Leiden, we offer a few courses especially aimed at graduate students, and it is expected that students take some of these.

In addition, the rule is that a graduate student attends at least one or two summer schools during his or her time in Leiden. In practice, most of our graduate students attend more than two, and in the condensed matter theory group, it is quite usual that a graduate student attends a meeting like the APS March meeting towards the end of his or her graduate studies.


Do I need to speak or learn Dutch?

The scientific language in physics in the Netherlands, and hence also at the Instituut-Lorentz, is always English. The only exception, of course, are private discussions amoung individuals who share the same mother tongue. All seminars and colloquia are given in English, and undergraduate and graduate theses are normally written in English. Actually, grant proposals in Holland are also written in English, as in practice about two thirds of the referees of proposals are foreigners.

At the Instituut-Lorentz, people usually gather around 11 AM in our coffee room for coffee and social talk. At these occasions, there is often a bigger tendency to slip into Dutch (especially when the latest idiosyncrasies of Dutch university life or national politics are discussed).

In daily life outside the university, you can certainly get by with English almost everywhere in the country. For this reason, most postdocs who stay with us do not bother to learn Dutch. For graduate students, this is possible as well, but I personally advise foreign graduate students to learn some Dutch: it helps to get more social contacts at our institute and outside, during the 4+ years that they are in this country. Moreover, graduate students normally assist in some teaching duties, and it helps if they can interact with the undergraduate students in Dutch as well.

Graduate students may be eligible for reimbursement of the tuition and study material when they take Dutch language courses.

Do graduate students in Leiden have to teach?

Yes, like basically everywhere in Holland, they are involved in some light teaching activities, such as assistance with problem course. Typically the teaching load is of the order of half a day per week. Quite often, a graduate student assists a faculty member other than his thesis advisor with the teaching.

Do postdocs in Leiden have to teach?

Postdocs, of course, don't teach. When they are involved in educational activities, this is voluntary.

Settling down in Leiden.

Here is some practical info for foreign students in Leiden (formalities, housing, transportation, etc.) that you might want to have a look at. Our secretaries Marianne Gouw & Fran Ouwerkerk have a great deal of experience in assisting foreign students, so don't worry: you are not on your own.