It is frequently mentioned that PhD students are employed in Europe (e.g. the Netherlands, Scandinavia, etc). I still don't understand how this affects a PhD program.

What is the difference when one enrols as a PhD student in the US or has a work contract in the Netherlands? Is there any specific difference in responsibilities, expectations, freedom, etc?

Please make a tangible comparison rather than listing various possibilities. If a student enrols in a PhD program in the US or in the Netherlands, how will their work and life be different?

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    Having been a grad student in the US, and a post-doc at a Dutch institute with grad students (albeit some time ago), I'm not sure there was much difference in work or life for a student at either place (over and above general differences in work/life in the respective countries). Your mileage may vary... – Jon Custer Jun 19 '18 at 16:17
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    Workplace rights are generally afforded to employees but not students. – astronat Jun 19 '18 at 19:19
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    Europe is dozens of countries with different legal and academic systems. Asking about the Netherlands might be fine, Europe, not so much. I wouldn't expect the same answer for Portugal, Norway and Belarus at the same time. – user9646 Jun 19 '18 at 19:49
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    @Googlebot You got my point, kudos. – user9646 Jun 20 '18 at 2:12
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    Is there any specific difference in responsibilities, expectations, freedom, etc? These vary between countries, universities, faculties, departments, programs one is enrolled in, supervisors,... So, do you expect a comparison between all of the dozens (or even hundreds?) of thousands PhD students' situations? – user68958 Jun 20 '18 at 6:51

Geographically, the UK is between the Netherlands and the US. In many aspects, the system is something in-between. There has been a long debate in the UK for giving the status of full employment to PhD students or not. This is a brief list of pros and cons argued by both sides of the debate.

Note that these are not my opinion, and I am simply narrating what I recall. A quick search in the UK academic websites can provide sufficient resources.


  • An employed PhD has better work conditions and rights.
  • They have better reception in the society. For instance, when it comes to renting a house, PhD students are considered students, and most houses are not available to student tenants.


  • PhD stipend is tax-free, but upon employment, the salary is taxable.
  • The salary is lower than £32,000 (typical for postdocs), and international students should pay around £15,000 tuition fee.
  • non-EEA students cannot get Tier 4 student visa and should apply for a work visa.

In conclusion, there is not much difference in terms of academic experience.

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