Category Archives: Amsterdam

PhD thesis!!!


Presenting: my PhD thesis!! The whole thesis is downloadable here on the UvA Digital Academic Repository. The cover is an accreting black hole with a jet, seen through a light curve with quasi-periodic variability. Design by Libby Taggart Singh, image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In the Netherlands it’s traditional to print up like 200 copies of the thesis in soft-bound B5-size (6.8-9.8 in) and hand them out to everyone at the institute (the API has 100+ people), your close friends and family, and mail some to collaborators and close colleagues. It’s almost like your business card. I have about 20 PhD theses of people who graduated from API before me while I was there, and it’s really nice to finally get to pass out a thesis of my own.

My public PhD defense, reception, and party are Thursday April 19th in Amsterdam! If you’re around and would like to come, please contact me via email or Twitter to get the details! Only 6 more days to go!!!

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Cycling through the tulip fields

Tulip fields in South Holland, the Netherlands
It’s tulip season in the Netherlands!! So on a sunny day off at the beginning of Easter weekend, we went for an afternoon-long bike ride through the tulip fields (or more generally, bulb fields) in South Holland, a province of the Netherlands. I recommend going in the middle-to-end of April for optimal spectacular sights, but as many guidebooks will tell you, anytime mid-March through mid-May should still yield picturesque views.

Bikes

Bikes in tulip fields
Since I live in Amsterdam, we didn’t want to cycle alllll the way there and THEN cycle around, so we started in Sassenheim, a town between Amsterdam Schiphol airport and Leiden. It costs about €6 on top of the normal train fare to bring your bike. If you’re just visiting and don’t have your own bike, you can rent bikes at the airport or Keukenhof gardens and cycle from there, rent them in town and take them on the train, or if you live in the Netherlands, rent them at train stations with OV-fiets. A cruiser bike or road bike is fine for this trip — no need to have a fancy off-road bike.

The route

Bike route through tulip fields in South Holland, the Netherlands
I consulted these sites to determine the best route for us: Holland Cycling, Tulips in Holland, and The Spinlister Blog. Most of them make use of the bike path network, which has numbered points (knooppunten) with various connecting routes. The route mapped above is 30 km (18.6 mi), which takes about 2 hours without stops. Keep in mind though, you’ll stop frequently to take photos and enjoy the view! I encourage you to use the Fietsknoop app to plan the above route (unfortunately I can’t embed it as a navigable map) or make your own!

At or near each knooppunt, there’s a map showing the local area with connecting paths and points, so you can navigate without needing GPS. In the picture above, the route we took is marked with green lines, and the dark blue lines show the other bicycle routes in the area. In purple between points 44 and 48, I marked the part where we deviated from the nice paths and went on the normal bike path alongside the road. As mentioned above, we started at the train station in Sassenheim, and just went towards the town center until we hit Hoofdstraat, then turned right. That pretty much put us at point 50 (bottom center, marked with a big star).

The route in text: Sassenheim Station > 50 > 58 > 55 > 57 > 38 > 07 > 49 > 40 > 48 > 11 > 44 > towards 06 then turn left at Delftweg to 48 > 47 > 80 > 75 > 74 > 59 > 58 > 56 > 50 > Sassenheim Station.

Cycling through tulip fields!

Hyacinth field in South Holland, the Netherlands
Red and yellow tulips in South Holland, the Netherlands
We improvised a bit (that’s the polite phrasing for “going the wrong way but being fine with it and eventually getting back on track”, right?), but generally stuck to the above route. Go at a comfortable pace, take photos, pull off for a picnic when you feel like it, and don’t forget to literally stop and smell the flowers! There are also a couple cafes throughout the route, and their prices looked reasonable.

Local tips

  • There are other systems of numbered route points that you’ll see on wooden posts as you cycle around. You want to use the green circled numbers that are on small street signs.
  • Bring picnic snacks (cheese, crackers, fruit, etc.) and at least a liter of drinking water.
  • Dutch words that might be useful:
    • bloem(en) = flower(s)
    • bollenvelden = bulb fields, the more accurate name for the tulip fields (since there are daffodils and hyacinths as well)
    • fiets = bike, both the noun and the verb
    • tulp(en) = tulip(s)

Tulip fields without cycling

If cycling isn’t your forte, you can still see much of this route if you take the train from Haarlem to Leiden (about 20 minutes), though be warned that it flashes by pretty quickly. You can also walk through displays of countless varieties of tulips and other bulb flowers at the Keukenhof gardens.

Is seeing the Dutch tulip fields on your bucket list? If you’ve already been, what’s your favourite route?

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Summertime activities in Amsterdam

Summertime in Amsterdam. Clipart via imgarcade.com
There’s a heatwave in Amsterdam! Yesterday it got up to 31º C (88º F) and today it’s looking hotter. You might be accustomed to more heat, but for the Netherlands, this is really hot. Here’s what you can do to make the most of the fleeting Dutch summer:

  • Eat ice cream! There are lots of  “ijs” or “softijs” places around town! Splurge on a double scoop. Or, get a box of popsicles at the grocery store and keep them in the freezer at home for later.
  • Go to the restaurant at the top of De Bijenkorf in Dam Square, make a custom magnum ice cream bar, and eat it on their rooftop patio.
  • Head to the beach at IJburg or Diemerpark. IJburg and Diemen are always windier than Amsterdam, and the little beaches are cute and just a (sweaty) cycle ride away. Bring a towel to lay on, a small picnic, and a good book!
  • Go to the beach at Zandvoort aan Zee. It’s a 30 minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal, and I think the trains go twice an hour. Beware, it’s PACKED. Bring your own beach umbrella and something to lay on, and lots of sunscreen (as well as the usual towel, swimsuit, picnic, book). The water in the North Sea is extremely refreshing!
  • Go to the Amsterdamse Bos. It’s a great little forest just south of the city that you can cycle to, and it has a cafe and a small lake you can go for a dip in. Definitely bring snacks, if not a portable barbeque. If you don’t want to be by the little lake, hang out in the shade of the trees elsewhere.
  • Sit outside at a cafe on a canal, river, or dijk. Oostpoort has some nice ones, and the Jordaan neighbourhood is chock-full.
  • Hang out on the banks of the Amstel river. Bring a blanket to lie on if you’re fancy.
  • If you have a hammock, go in it immediately.
  • Sit on your balcony with your feet in a tub of cool water and sip a cold drink. Least amount of effort, decent payoff.

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Astro PhD positions available in Amsterdam

Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy Instituut voor Sterrenkunde
From the PhD recruitment team:

The Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy (API) at the University of Amsterdam invites applications for multiple PhD positions in astronomy and astrophysics. The positions are open to candidates from any country. The institute provides a stimulating, international environment in a city where English is a common language. Of our current 42 PhD students, over 70% are foreign, and over 40% are female.

PhD students execute a vigorous research program, under the supervision of one or more faculty members. Positions will be available in a number of fields of research where the institute is active, including exoplanets and planet formation, compact objects, astro-particle physics and radio transients.

More information about our research can be found at http://www.astro.uva.nl/research/ .

University of Amsterdam PhD students are fully-funded for four years and earn competitive salaries. The gross monthly salary starts at 2146 euro in the first year, gradually increasing to 2744 euro in the fourth year. This is also topped up with an end of year bonus (one month salary) plus May holiday bonus (also close to one month salary). Additional comprehensive benefits include paid vacation, sick leave, disability insurance, maternity and parental leave and pension contribution. The mandatory Dutch health insurance is not included but is very affordable (~100 euro per month). Relocation costs (within reason) will also be reimbursed.

Instructions for applicants are available at http://www.astro.uva.nl/jobs/phd-positions-at-the-api/. Applications will be via online submission where, as well as providing details of at least two referees, applicants will have to provide a curriculum vitae, a transcript of all university courses taken and grades obtained, and a cover letter which includes a brief statement of research interests and experience.

The successful candidates must have a MSc degree (or equivalent) by the PhD starting date, which will typically be in Autumn 2016, but this is negotiable. Applications need to be submitted on or before December 1, 2015. By early January we will invite promising candidates for a presentation and interviews to be held on February 11 and 12, 2016.

API PhD jobs website: http://www.astro.uva.nl/jobs/phd-positions-at-the-api/
Contact email: api-jobs [AT] list.uva.nl
Contact person: Ms. Milena Hoekstra

Please send this to students and colleagues who may be interested!

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PhD candidate status in the Netherlands

Image from http://www.eurogates.nl
The Dutch Ministry of Education wants to change the status of PhD candidates in the Netherlands from civil employees to students. This may not sound like much to those outside this system, but it is HUGE to us.

Our salaries are on par with a PhD candidate in the US, but it’s just that — a salary, not a stipend or scholarship. We tend to call ourselves PhD students because that’s the colloquial term, but technically we aren’t, and we like those technicalities that set us apart.

As civil employees we have full-time work status, a union, unemployment benefits, pension contributions, and other legal protections. We don’t take classes, don’t pay tuition, and at UvA the teaching load is ~15-20% of our contract (the rest is research). International PhDs also get the 30%-rule for taxation, thanks to which I can afford to actually go home and see my family. A big reason why I came from the US to do a PhD in the Netherlands is, in no small part, because PhD candidates are recognized civil employees, and those benefits were the tipping point for me when considering PhD positions at different institutes in different countries. The research at top Dutch universities is as good as in other top universities abroad, but our legal protections as junior-career scientists are distinct. As far as I know (in the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe), in the Netherlands we have the best job protections and job security.

Cancelling this status (as an “experiment” or otherwise) would be a slap in the face to me and the many, many other international PhD candidates who move far away from our home countries to work in the Netherlands. It is absurd — please, please do not let them do this. To start, you can help by signing the petition to ask the Dutch Minister of Education to not do this, and the Dutch universities to not participate in this: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/promotiestudent/

There’s more explanation in the petition description, in Dutch and English (scroll down for English).

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Travel guide: Amsterdam, Netherlands

This is my go-to list of fun things to do and see for when family and friends visit me in Amsterdam, Netherlands! I compiled this from suggestions from friends, colleagues, and travel guides; we haven’t done everything on the list, but we made a valiant effort. It’s Amsterdam-based/focused, since that’s where I live. Things with an asterisk are must-do’s!

Amsterdam canal houses Holland Netherlands

In Amsterdam

These are accessible within Amsterdam, and typically some can be combined in one day. Look into buying a museumkaart – many of the museums in Holland are free with one.
– * Albert Cuypmarkt or Dappermarkt (open air markets) for fresh stroopwafels
– Amsterdamse Bos (nice for a picnic in the summer! requires cycling to get there)(visit the goat farm, cherry blossom park, and Scottish Highlander cows)
– * Anne Frank house (you absolutely should buy tickets in advance to avoid the long queue; book ASAP!!)
– Bloemenmarkt (the flower market – pretty quick)
– * Canal cruise (this one is pretty good — I recommend going at dusk!)
– Cheese tasting (we did this one at Reypenaer and loved it; book in advance!)
– Dam square (pretty quick)
– * Eat an Indonesian rijsttafel (places I’ve been that I liked: Desa, Sampurna, or Kantjil & the Tiger)
Heineken Experience (a tour through the old Heineken brewery with demonstrations on how they make Heineken beer; book tickets in advance, since the line gets long)
Hermitage Amsterdam (art museum with a rotating exhibit, so check before going)
Hortis botanical gardens (best in the spring and summer)
Kalverstraat shopping
– Oude Kerk (oldest building in Amsterdam — founded in 1213!)
– * Parks – Vondelpark, Oosterpark, Amstelpark, Frankendael, etc. (Distilleerderij ‘t Nieuw Diep is a little cafe in Flevopark; there’s also a teahouse in Vondelpark)
– Rembrandtplein (cool statues, and lots of clubs/nightlife)
– * Rijksmuseum: classic huge art museum with lots of stuff to see! The building itself is also gorgeous. I recommend starting at the top floor (in the “hall of greats”) and working your way down.
Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses, dating back to the middle ages!)
Tropenmuseum (anthropological museum with many traces of Dutch colonialism/imperialism)
– * Walk through the Jordaan canal district and old city center. Rick Steves has a free audioguide for walking around this neighbourhood. (navigational note: the city is laid out in polar coordinates, not Cartesian) (watch your step on the cobblestones and curbs, and always check for bicycles before crossing!)

Other places in Amsterdam for food: Winkel43 for Dutch apple pie, La Falote for classic Dutch food, Upstairs Pannekoekenhuis for Dutch-style pancakes (like crepes, but with the toppings cooked into the batter; also available at many other cafes), La Vallade for fancy upscale European food, Albina restaurant for Surinamese food, Le Petit Latin for French food, Ponte Arcari for Italian food, Tapas de Arroyo for Spanish tapas, Taytu Restaurant for Ethiopian food, India Roti Room for Indian food

Other places in Amsterdam for drinks: Gollem Raamsteeg or Gollem Daniel Stalpertstraat for Dutch and Belgian beers, Brouwerij ‘t IJ for local Dutch beers, Wynand Fockink for liqueurs and jenevers (like gin), Whiskycafe L&B for whiskeys, Mulligan’s Irish Pub for Irish beers and live music

Tulip fields near Leiden in April Holland Netherlands

Nearby in/near Noord-Holland

Close enough to Amsterdam that they can be a morning or afternoon trip (generally within the province of Noord-Holland). Tip: Use 9292 to plan train and other public transit journeys in the Netherlands!
Aalsmeer flower auction
Gouda or Alkmaar cheese markets (go for the full historical thing)
– Haarlem (they have a nice Saturday morning market in the old town square)
– * Keukenhof tulip fields (best in April, when the tulips are in bloom)(if you’re feeling cheap or tired and just want a glimpse, take the train between Leiden and Heemstede-Aerdenhout, and you’ll pass by some great fields)(or cycle through the tulip fields with my route!)
Zaanse Schans windmills & historic town
– Zandvoort aan Zee (the beach!)

Maastricht Holland Netherlands

Elsewhere in the Netherlands

These require a full day or more.
– * Delft (market in the old square, Nieuwe Kerk, Oude Kerk)
– Den Haag (Mauritshuis, Gemeentemuseum, Scheveningen beach)
– Maastricht, caves in Valkenburg aan de Geul, and the 3-country point (will probably need to rent a car once you reach Maastricht, and likely requires an overnight stay in the area)
– Rotterdam, Maeslantkering storm surge barrier, Kinderdijk windmills, boat trip around the Randstad

Amsterdam Centraal train station Holland Netherlands

What would you add to the list? Are you planning to swing through the Netherlands on your next trip?

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