I am an undergraduate student in the Netherlands (and non-EU citizen). For some reason I feel research assistantships (at my level, or even once you graduate) are more common in the US than in Europe. Perhaps I am not familiar with the lingo here though.

I was wondering where to look for, or what should characterise an RA position in Europe and how to find one at my level.

So far, all I have been able to do is volunteer at a lab (doing grunt work and getting some crappy data to play around with in return). But nothing serious that involves me in one of the projects of the laboratory, gets me close to collaborating in a publication (even if my name is not in it), or resembles what I think the definition of RA should be (since I am not collaborating on any research).

I am looking for a bit of clarity on where and what I should be looking for. Thanks!

  • Since you're in the NL, have you tried going to en.academicpositions.nl and searching for research assistant jobs? It may vary from field to field, but I'm not sure I'd characterise research assistant positions as being particularly uncommon in Europe.
    – Ian_Fin
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 16:00
  • Yes, but I have not found anything Undergrad Friendly there. I just feel that RA possibilities as undergraduate are very uncommon in Europe (compare to how widespread they seem in the US). Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 16:14
  • What do you mean "undergrad friendly?" Something where the only required qualification is an undergraduate degree? Something where you don't even need that?
    – Ian_Fin
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 16:15
  • 2
    Grunt work that produces data sound like research to me. (Not necessarily interesting research, but it sounds like some research.) Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 16:52
  • 2
    I strongly wish this question were renamed to "... position in the Netherlands?" (although I do not want to make the edit myself, as it kind-of changes the OP's intent as originally written). In organisational aspects, "Europe" is rather too diverse (e.g. what counts as "undergrad"? What is an RA, and are RA and TA two different things or the same thing? Wh offers and hires RAs, university, department, single professor?) for the question to be answerable (in particular in such a way that is helpful to the OP, who is now, and probably for the time being, located in NL). Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 23:12

3 Answers 3


The Dutch term you are looking for is Studentassistent.

My experience in the Netherlands (some time ago and in the social sciences) is that these positions are fairly rare. Moreover they were rarely advertised. If someone had funding for such a position, a student was directly asked. At my current institution in Germany we have so much funding earmarked for "HiWis" we have trouble filling all the positions.

So I don't think it is a European thing; there are huge differences between countries and disciplines.

  • 3
    I believe that's the crux of the matter. "If someone had funding for such a position, a student was directly asked." If a Professor already knows hundreds of his students (both previous students and current ones), he will draw from that pool of students when he needs to. So at the very least, the OP needs to visit his Professors (and even visit other Professors he doesn't know) during office hours and make his interest known to them. Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 20:53
  • From what I've seen a "studentassistent" is generally a teaching assistant (Dutch wikipedia confirms this). Though I may just not have seen them in a research capacity due to differences between universities/departments/etc.
    – J. Doe
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 13:09
  • 1
    That is not quite true, but it does lead to a good point: No distinction is made between research and teaching assistents, they both have the same name. So you need to ask what your duties will be if you are interested in doing research and get offered a position as studentassistent. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 13:23
  • @MaartenBuis That explains! Just not a thing in the departments I'm familiar with then : )
    – J. Doe
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 13:35

Such positions are likely to be extremely rare in The Netherlands (this possibly extends to a number of other European countries with similar bachelor-master structures).

As an undergraduate you are not expected to do much in terms of research. It is not unusual for the only research to be part of a bachelor's thesis, if that. This likely stems from there being no use in this from the perspective of Dutch higher education. You usually don't need research experience (never mind publications) to get into a masters program and it would be highly exceptional if you landed a PhD position without a masters degree.

Once in a masters' program (assuming it is research oriented) you will find more opportunities, though these may simply be research projects that are part of the program and not RA positions. If you do well in such a research project you should find your professor happy to work with you. And while at this level funded RA positions exist I don't believe they are common. And as @MaartenBuis mentions, a professor is likely to know who they want for such a position. Moreover, usually there will be plenty of students looking for a thesis topic that will work for free...


"what I think the definition of RA should be...."

It's possible you have a fundamental misunderstanding about research assistantships ("RAships"), at least as they are structured in the U.S. I hope others will post to describe what the definition of "RA" is in other parts of the world. Perhaps you could post some links if there's something you read on the internet that shaped your thinking about them.

I will describe what I know about the most common research positions for students in the U.S., for comparison purposes.

  1. Here's my understanding of how RAships most typically work in the U.S. My understanding of an RA position is that it is offered to a grad student. Typically a professor with grant money would offer an RAship to a student he feels is very promising. Typically, the student accepting the RAship would move from a teaching assistanship (TAship) to the RAship, and this would take 20 hours of grading and office hour duties off his To Do list each week, enabling him to focus more intensively on his research. Most often, this type of RAship is offered when the student is a well-known quantity, for example after passing the basic (but substantial) PhD exams (which have different names at different institutions).

    However, sometimes a professor will offer an RAship to an entering first-year student.

    The RAship, similar to the TAship, comes with a stipend and a tuition deferral. Meaning, you get a bare bones salary, and you get to register for classes at a cost of $0. This is extremely important in the U.S.

    My impression is that this tuition deferral is of much less importance (or relevance) in Europe.

    An RA might be assigned to do very specific tasks for the advisor, to a greater or lesser degree, but never more than 20 hours per week (averaged out over the semester). In any case, he will be expected to work hard on his own studies which are supposed to lead, eventually, if he's a beginner, or directly, if he is farther along, to a PhD thesis. He will be expected to reporting regularly on his progress. His advisor is supposed to be actively involved in mentoring and guidance throughout the research endeavor.

  2. Separate from that, there are REUs in the U.S.: Research Experiences for Undergraduates. I see these taking place in the summer, but I'll let you read about them to see if they are actually only done in the summer or not.

    An REU, to be a successful experience for the student, needs to be carefully structured by the scientist mentor.

I imagine there are questions here at Academica SE about how to choose an advisor and how to choose a research project, that could be useful for you. My guess is that this is the important thing for you. (I am not sure that focusing on the financial aspects would be particularly helpful.)

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    In the Netherlands an RA as you describe it would make no sense: PhD students are either full time employees or get a full stipend and they don't pay tuition. This would be an explanation why the RA position does not exist in the Netherlands. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 9:22
  • @MaartenBuis - Thanks for confirming that. What is confusing for me in this question is the OP's undergrad status. Can you clarify (perhaps in your answer) the difference between research positions for undergrads vs. grad students, in the countries you're familiar with? Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 17:23
  • Grad students in the Netherlands are paid to do their research. So the position "grad student" is all there is, there are no additional TA or RA positions. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 20:22
  • The German situation is a bit more complex. A common model ( in the social sciences) is that the prof acquires funding for a gradstudent to work on a project for 50%, and (s)he gets paid for just that 50%. They are then expected to do their PhD research in the remaining 50%. I guess this is a bit similar to an RA. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 20:28
  • Research positions at the undergrad level either involve repetitive simple tasks or a researcher wants to coach a promising student. The former can be helpful for the researcher, the latter just costs the researcher time (but has other rewards like seeing a promising student improve her or his chances). I do the latter, but I don't have the capacity to do more than one at the time. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 20:36

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