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Working in the Dutch biotech industry

Meet Maria Fernandes, a team lead for Cell Line Development at Meatable in the Netherlands. Originally from Portugal, Maria arrived in the Netherlands in 2010 for an Erasmus programme during her Master's degree. The thriving Dutch biotech ecosystem with many opportunities, new startups, research, and innovation eventually led her to find a permanent position in the country. Maria finds it exciting to pursue her goals in the atmosphere where the workplace culture values
ork-life balance, less hierarchy, and direct communication.

Maria Fernandes
Maria Fernandes
Quote Maria

If you are a Portuguese professional looking to move to the Netherlands, Maria recommends you manage your expectations, be patient, and build a network. With good connections between companies, universities, and the government, the Netherlands is a great place to grow your career in the biotech sector.


Finding work: from an Erasmus exchange to employment

I came to the Netherlands initially for my studies. I did an Erasmus here during my Master's degree, which was exciting as the Netherlands is a very interesting destination in my field of work.

During my Erasmus, I luckily got a chance to connect with different laboratories and people, learn more about the job market in the Netherlands, meet other people, and understand how the market and the various science hubs work here. That is how I ended up staying after my Erasmus. I received an invitation to do a PhD, and afterwards, I found a job I liked in my area. Generally, if you know what you're looking for and go to the academic centres and bioscience parks, you can browse for jobs in your respective fields.

When looking for my first job after my PhD, it was all a matter of having a good LinkedIn network. I heard about some companies that really caught my interest and started looking into them. I looked at the official websites of bioscience parks where they post their vacancies, and I started getting job alerts; that's how the process started. It's a lot of reaching out, browsing through many websites, being open and using LinkedIn for job searching. The main factors to keep in mind while looking for work are to understand what you're looking for, where the companies are, and which companies are looking to hire people. You also need to understand the vacancies clearly, and the type of people you'd like to join. The process can be frustrating and lengthy, but I think it's like that everywhere. It’s important to have a good network and understand the job market or the country itself.


Biotech sector: Portugal vs the Netherlands

I think that the Dutch biotech industry has a flourishing ecosystem with many opportunities, companies, new startups, and innovative ideas, which make it very exciting and interesting. Compared to Portugal, the Netherlands has a better support system for new companies, startups or people who want to start their own companies. There is a lot of contact between companies, the private sector, and academia, which helps build a robust ecosystem. Unfortunately, academia in Portugal is a bit distant from the biotech sector, and there is less government support for it.

"Compared to Portugal, the Netherlands has a better support system for new companies and startups or people who want to start their own companies."


Working at Meatable: the company culture

I’ve been with the company from the very beginning, witnessing its growth from 10 employees to over 100. While it is growing, Meatable prioritises ensuring the comfort of its employees. A growing team means constant changes. These changes are addressed exceptionally well, especially when it comes to supporting individuals’ development. There’s a whole team that helps to bring out the best in people. In turn, people are encouraged to embrace their true selves, acquire new skills or find the ones that align with their strengths. Not all companies operate like that, so I feel lucky that I can be a part of and contribute to our great company culture.


Workplace culture: a comparison

After working here, I've come to appreciate the Dutch workplace culture. People here do their own hours, and as long as you do your job, no one is looking over your shoulder to see and control how many hours you spend on it. People here are keen on having a good work-life balance, while in Portugal, they expect you to work long hours. Here in the Netherlands, it's not like that, and I appreciate that. In the workspace, at least in my field, there is not as much hierarchy as is in Portugal. In the Netherlands, you are equal to your manager or director, so you can easily approach and talk to people. In that sense, communication is much easier. It's direct, and you can be very upfront and honest about where things are okay and not okay and what you need and don't need without having to worry about hierarchy. That I really like.


What would you say to a Portuguese person who plans on moving here?

When moving to a different country, I would advise managing expectations and being patient. It takes time to feel settled and to get to know new people. In Portugal, culturally, we value our friends and family greatly, and we enjoy spending time outdoors. We rely on this network for support and connection. Re-building this network is essential in a new country, especially if you live alone. I recommend contacting people who are already in the country, as they can guide you with the first steps and help you navigate the complex bureaucracy that can come with moving to a new place. Try finding social groups of people who share similar interests as you or other people from different countries with whom you can share your experiences. In this way, you can help each other.

“Try finding social groups of people with similar interests as you, or other people from different countries that you can share your experiences with.”

Checking the main differences in how things work can go a long way. For example, I found the healthcare system here very confusing because it involves health insurance companies, which is very different from the public system in Portugal. Finding a place to stay is another big challenge when moving here. Take your time and find something that is not long-term. Be patient, as it is a tricky process to find a house or a place to live.

Maria's experience moving from Portugal to the Netherlands shows how building a network, understanding the job market, and having patience are central to finding work in a new country. The Dutch biotech sector offers a robust ecosystem with many opportunities, startups, and government support, making it an exciting place to grow your career. The Dutch workplace culture values work-life balance, less hierarchy, and direct communication, which can be a refreshing change for those accustomed to a more hierarchical and demanding work environment. Adjusting to a new country and culture takes time, but finding social groups with similar interests and backgrounds can help ease the transition. On the whole, Maria's story is an example of how taking the leap of faith and moving to a new country can help your career in surprising ways.


Explore your options in the Netherlands

Learn more about Leiden and Delft Region and the thriving different sectors in the Netherlands.