PhDs in the Netherlands: accepting proposals again


PhDs are free here. Strong proposals about art and heritage crime welcome.

For the first time in a little while, I am accepting proposals from prospective PhD researchers who have strong, well-developed project ideas in my areas of interest. This is exciting for me as fresh research in this field is certainly stimulating. However, to those interested, please read this whole post before you get in touch. The information here is important to understand while you are considering a PhD.

PhDs are FREE in the Netherlands. Really.

There are no tuition fees for PhDs in the Netherlands. None. I know anyone from, say, the US or UK must think I have mistyped, but I haven’t. One does not pay for a PhD in the Netherlands. This blew my mind when I first moved here as well: it suddenly makes the whole fees thing elsewhere seem like a massive scam.

That said it is important to understand that there are two types of PhD in the Netherlands. Neither one COSTS anything, but only one of the two results in the PhD researcher getting a salary from the University. I’m going to describe both of them here.

PhD Type 1: Funded PhD

These PhDs are funded either by a research grant held by a PhD supervisor or by the Universities themselves. These PhDs positions are full University jobs: there’s a salary, you get guaranteed holiday, you get pension payments. They are usually full time, on-site, and last for 4 years. In addition to research, these PhDs help with teaching undergraduate and master’s students. They go to staff meetings. They get office space (usually).

These PhD positions are advertised, both on the university website and on the website Academic Transfer. Many of them have a set topic of study, such as this PhD position at Tilberg University focused on Antarctic Tourism Regulation that, honestly, sounds cool as anything (polar weirdness and disaster being a particular interest area of mine). You apply to it like you would any academic job.

Some funded PhDs, however, are “open call”, and the prospective PhD researchers must develop their own PhD proposal, approach supervisors to support it, and go through a very competitive application process. These opportunities are usually advertised once per year, starting around now and ending around February. Our open call at the faculty of law at Maastricht has just opened. more on that below.

PhD Type 2: External PhD

People who wish to research towards a PhD and who aren’t funded by the University can be external PhDs. The University doesn’t pay them anything, but they also don’t pay the University anything. They still have a University email address, library access, supervisors, etc, but they usually do not have teaching duties or a requirement to be physically present at the university.

External PhD research is for people who either don’t have or don’t need University funding. Perhaps they are funded by a research council in their own country, or by their employer who wants them to get a PhD. Perhaps they work part time and are doing their PhD part time. Perhaps they live far from the University (another city, another country) but still want to be supervised by particular researchers. Perhaps they didn’t end up getting one of the very few paid positions in the end, but still want to do a PhD. I’ll say it again, to drive it home, these external PhDs pay no tuitions fees to be a PhD researcher. They aren’t paid, but they don’t pay

How is this economically viable, you in the US or UK might be asking. Well the Dutch government gives the University a good sum of money for each high-quality PhD they award. The money retroactively pays for supervision time and the other things the University provides. External PhDs don’t cost the University anything so the University doesn’t charge external PhDs anything. Simple as that. There’s government support for higher education for you.

I suspect that every University and perhaps every supervisor has slightly different rules for accepting external PhDs. At Maastricht, at least two but not more than supervisors must accept the applicant as an external PhD, usually based on a proposal submitted by the applicant. After acceptance, well, the person starts their research. They have to meet periodic progress milestones (with a big one coming after the first year), but again, the PhD can be on a part-time basis and thus take a bit longer than a paid PhD.

All told, it is a really interesting option for a lot of people. If you are about to start PAYING for a PhD. Reconsider and consider the Netherlands.

And before anyone asks, I have been told that external PhDs are able to get visas to stay in the Netherlands and thus be at their University during their studies. I have not had this confirmed yet but I am in the process of doing so.

So, yes, I’m accepting PhD proposals again

In light of the above, I am accepting proposals from prospective PhD researchers, mostly from prospective external PhDs, but there is also a very competative opportutnity open for funded PhDs. Last one first:

The funded PhD
Currently the Faculty of Law at Maastricht is advertising for funded PhD positions. This is the kind of position where you must propose your own research topic, which will be judged in a pool of all the others who applied for a limited number of spaces. The important things to know about this are:

  • The project in question must be clear, squarely, demonstrably a law or criminology project and the applicant must have a background to match
  • The project must be within my research interests and areas of expertise
  • I am only able to support ONE project for this, and if I get multiple potential applicants, I will have to pre-select for the strongest
  • A second supervisor within the faculty of law at Maastricht is required, and they can only support ONE project as well so you must convince them too

It’s a tough road but not impossible. A project I am supervising (which is very strong and proposed by a very strong applicant) was selected last year and an equally strong project may be selected again.

The External PhD
I am able to accept external PhD researchers at any time, there are no deadlines, although of course there is a limit to how many PhDs I can reasonably supervise at one time. People who are interested in pursuing the external PhD route with me here at Maastricht need to know the following:

  • I’m only accepting PhDs to be written in English.
  • I will only be accepting external PhD projects that are well-developed, focused, and within my areas of research interest. I am unable to work with anyone to come up with a project.
  • I expect to see a full PhD proposal as well as a CV and a writing sample. I can tell prospective researchers what I expect to see in a PhD proposal, however
  • At least two supervisors are needed. While I can be the primary supervisor, if there is no right person to second supervise a proposed project, I can’t accept it.
  • Multidisciplinary projects and supervision is possible for external PhDs. However, I am best able to primary supervise projects that are based in criminology or in law because I am in the faculty of law. I can be more of a secondary supervisor for arts and humanities PhDs but there needs to be a first supervisor in that field.
  • Being an external PhD is lonely, especially if you are a distance external PhD. I expect a lot of autonomy and self-motivation from an external PhD. I hold hands sometimes, but there isn’t a lot of room for it.

All told, I have to be really selective so I’m going to be pretty direct with potential PhDs. I’ll tell you if it’s good, I’ll tell you if it needs work, I’ll tell you if it just isn’t going to happen. You can contact me about this directly.