How to get a residency permit
You can get a residency permit from the Foreign Police (Vreemdelingenpolitie). This should be applied for within 3 days of your arrival in the Netherlands.
The process is quite straightforward, see below for details. If you are a EU/EEA citizen you will probably be able to get a residency permit without complications or delay.
If you are a citizen from another country, things are a little more complicated. You need to have special skills to do a job that a Dutch person can't do or your (future) employer must be able to prove they were unsuccessful in filling the position with a Dutch person. You have 6 months to find a job before a decision will be taken on your application for a residency permit.
When at the Foreign Police (Vreemdelingenpolitie) you will be asked for your passport, birth certificate, passport photographs and if applicable, your marriage certificate and employment contract. The same documents are required for all family members. You must declare that you have no criminal convictions.
The IND - Immigratie en Naturalisatie Dienst (The Immigration and Naturalisation Service) will decide whether or not to grant you your residence permit, within several weeks. When a decision has been made, they will inform you of their decision by post and you will be told when and where to pick it up. In case they decide not to grant you the residence permit, you can appeal.
If you are coming to the Netherlands for academic reasons, go to http://www.nuffic.nl/ for more information.