Which Grass is GreenerWhich grass is greener?

Personal stories from PhDs about their careers within and outside of academia




May 2017

Dr. Inge van der Weijden CWTS, Leiden University
Evan de Gelder BSc CWTS, Leiden University
Dr. Christine Teelken VU University Amsterdam
Dr. Marian Thunnissen Fontys University of Applied Sciences


‘The stories contained here will resonate with many readers.’
Daphne Truijens & Lieke Kools of SMO Promovendi (‘Society and Enterprise Foundation’)

‘Highly recommended reading for everyone.’
Ilse Schenk, EURAXESS national network coordinator for the Netherlands

‘These portraits are a valuable resource, both for PhD students and for universities in their roles as employers.’
Ramona van der Linden, HR policy officer at Tilburg University

‘This should be required reading for current PhD students and for supervisors of PhD training courses who want to ensure that their students are well-prepared to enter the non-academic labour market.’
Hans Sonneveld, director of the Netherlands Centre of Expertise for Doctoral Education

Full reviews in publication.

Download pdf


The number of PhDs awarded by Dutch universities has doubled since 2000. Of those receiving a PhD in the Netherlands, 68% will ultimately be unable to find work at a university in the Netherlands or abroad (sometimes after first holding a temporary position). These PhDs will go on to find work in a non-academic setting. Until recently, there has been little insight into the types of careers pursued by PhDs after receiving their degrees.

In order to gain a better understanding of the subject, we decided to examine the various career paths of PhDs in the Netherlands. In this publication, we feature the personal stories of ten of our study participants, detailing their careers both within and outside of academia. They reflect on their academic careers and on their transitions into the non-academic labour market, sharing their experiences and telling what they enjoy about their work. They also discuss the challenges they faced, as well as the types of transferable skills they gained during their studies that have proven useful in a non-academic setting. The ten portraits of PhD graduates are complemented by three portraits of employers describing their experiences working with PhDs. These 13 unique portraits were selected from a total of 39 interview respondents and were approved by the interviewees themselves before publication.

The personal accounts featured in this publication contain a wealth of information and recommendations for PhD students, universities and employers alike. PhD students and graduates will find valuable career advice. For universities, the portraits offer the opportunity to reflect critically on how to be better employers for PhDs. And for employers outside the academic world who currently employ (or are considering employing) PhDs, these portraits provide an impression of the strengths and weaknesses of PhD graduates, as well as advice on how best to leverage their transferable skills.

Due to their highly personal nature, the stories featured here cannot be considered comprehensive or representative of all PhDs. But taken together, these individual accounts provide an impression of the rich diversity of career opportunities available outside of academia. We’re grateful to our interviewees for their willingness to participate in creating this publication, which will hopefully serve as an inspiration to young researchers and to employers.


Van der Weijden, I.C.M., De Gelder, E.J., Teelken, C., & Thunnissen, M. (2017). Which grass is greener? Personal stories from PhDs about their careers within and outside of academia. phdcentre.eu/en/practices/portraits.html