Being a graduate student or a postdoc in our "QO & QI" group

What is the scientific atmosphere in Leiden like?

Our institute LION, which is an abbreviation for the dutch version of "Leiden Institute for Research in Physics", welcomes students and postdocs from abroad. In line with this, and in view of the number of active foreigners, the atmosphere at the institute is quite open and international. The group "Quantum Optics & Quantum Information" has typically postdocs and graduate students from half a dozen or more different nationalities. The scientific atmosphere in the group is also influenced by the fact that most faculty members have worked abroad and that it is our ambition to do experimental and theoretical physics on an internationally competitive basis.


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. You will therefore quickly participate in active research and in all the scientific gatherings and social events (like the yearly "christmas breakfast" and "sailing trip"). Scientific meetings on a weekly or biweekly basis are:

  • At the weekly lunch meetings, alternate group members pick and discuss an interesting subject from the (physics) literature, to broaden the general interest.
  • At the group seminars alternate group members have more time to discuss their specific research topics and get feedback from their colleagues.
  • On the institute level the colloquium Ehrenfestii is an extended seminar on wednesday evening, after dinner. The tradition of this colloquium runs back more than 70 years to the time of the big physicist like Einstein, Bohr, Ehrenfest, Schrödinger, and others.
  • The physics colloquium on friday afternoon is another way to broaden your scope of physics.


How do I apply for a position?

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 generally to contact directly a professor with whom you would like to work ( see jobs).


It may be worthwhile pointing out that in recent years, there is a shortage of students in the Netherlands who are interested in doing a PhD in physics. So if you are well 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. Luckily, our system allows this flexibility.


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 starts at 24,500 Euro in your first year, rising to about 31,000 Euro in your fourth and last year. This won't make you rich, but is a fair amount for the relatively low cost of living in Leiden when compared to that of larger cities.


When looking for positions, it may be useful to know that PhD students in the Netherlands are referred to as AIO's if they are paid directly by a university, and OIO's if they have position funded by the science foundation FOM.


The normal duration of an AIO or OIO contract is for four years. In our group, most graduate students are indeed able to complete their PhD in about four years. If there are good reasons why it takes longer, contracts can be extended.


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. Furthermore, important results will generally be presented at international conferences and the graduate students and postdocs who obtain these results are definitely the most likely candidates for such presentations.


Do I need to speak or learn Dutch?

The scientific language in physics in the Netherlands, and hence also at our Institute, is always English. The only exception, of course, are private discussions among 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.


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 who are employed by our physics funding agency FOM get reimbursed for the tuition and study material when they take Dutch language courses.


Do graduate students and postdocs in Leiden have to teach?

Yes and no. Like basically everywhere in Holland, graduate students 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. Postdocs, of course, don't teach. When they are involved in educational activities, this is voluntary.


Three useful addresses.

  • Here is some practical info for foreign students in Leiden (formalities, housing, transportation, etc.) that you might want to have a look at.
  • If you will be employed by FOM, you could check out this source of general information.
  • Finally, our secretary (Daniëlle van Raaij) has ample experience in assisting interested candidates or new groupmembers with all the fine (and course) details that have to be dealt with.