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Alumnus Sam van Noort tells about how the Research Master's in Social Sciences prepared him for his academic career.
Alumnus Sam van Noort

I applied to the Research Master Social Sciences in the expectation that it would prepare me well for an academic career. For me, as well as for other students from my cohort, the Research Master has certainly lived up to that expectation. The course directly led to me being offered a PhD position at the University of Cambridge, as well as a number of other PhD positions at highly-ranked British, American, and Dutch universities. To the best of my knowledge all other students of my cohort interested in pursuing an academic career also got offered fully-funded PhD positions in the year directly following their graduation. Other students from my cohort got well-paying jobs in the private or public sector, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

In my view the core strength of the Research Master is its intense focus on advanced research methods. The methodological skills that I learned during the Research Master have proven absolutely invaluable to my day-to-day work as a researcher. Although this may be different for more qualitatively-oriented researchers, almost no day has passed by during my PhD research when I have not made use of a method, or a derivative of a method, that I got exposed to during the Research Master. As I have several colleagues that lacked this methodological training before they got into a PhD, I am quite aware of how fundamental these skills are for a successful academic career.

Another aspect of the Research Master's which has been very important for my career is the close connection that the programme encourages betweens faculty and students. In my case the second-year internship has led to a peer-reviewed publication with several professors of the University of Amsterdam. In addition, and unlike elsewhere, the programme generally allows students to gain independent teaching experience already as a Master's student. In my case this led me to being appointed as junior lecturer in research methodology in the second year of the Bachelor’s programme, which is an important part of my CV. I know of several other Research Master's students in my and other cohorts that had similar experiences in terms of publications and teaching experience.

For students interested in pursuing a career in academia, my advice would be to try to find out early-on whether you would really enjoy such a career, or not. In my experience the best way to do this is simply to talk, as much as possible, to the professors and PhD students of your department. This will hopefully enable you to get an idea of what it is like to be a professional academic, and whether this is something you would enjoy. The earlier you know the better, because you need time to pursue the activities (e.g. research assistantships, extra courses) that will help you get the skills and knowledge that are important for being admitted to research-oriented Master's and PhD programmes. Getting in contact with your lecturers will also enable them to write a good and personal reference letter for you, which is very important when applying for PhD positions and academic jobs.