1. What is the REU/PIA Program?

Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) runs two student programs each southern hemisphere summer. The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program is an NSF-funded research internship program, which selects six undergraduate students from the United States of America and lasts 10 weeks. For the 2016 program, the program dates will be January 8th - March 19th. Travel to and from the student's home institution is provided. The Prácticas de Investigación en Astronomía (PIA) is a similar research internship program conducted simultaneously for two Chilean students by CTIO.

2. Will I get paid during the REU/PIA program?

The REU program pays a reasonable stipend for the the 10-week duration of the program. For 2016, this works out to $640 per week, paid in bi-weekly increments. The PIA program also pays a stipend commensurate with Chilean living standards, which is paid on a monthly basis.

3. I just graduated with my physics/astronomy degree, can I still apply?

Unfortunately, the REU program only accepts U.S. undergraduates. However, in several instances, students have delayed graduation by a semester in order to participate in the program.  For the PIA program for Chilean students, we can accept undergraduate students, students who have recently received their undergraduate degree (no more than two years since graduation), and first-year or second-year masters students who have not yet begun their masters thesis.  Participants in the REU and PIA programs must commit to working full-time on the PIA program during the entire 10 weeks, e.g. you cannot be working at another job, taking classes, or working on a master's thesis while participating in the program. 

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4. Do you have a list of research projects that will be available for the next REU/PIA program?

For the REU program at CTIO, we choose students and then solicit projects from the staff astronomers to meet the general interests and abilities of those students.  Thus, we do not know the research projects that will be offered until about a month after the students are selected.  This is part of the benefit to participants in our REU program-to be exposed to a field of astronomical research that you have not yet experienced!  As such, we especially encourage students who are flexible about the kind of astronomical research they work on to apply.  You can look at the sorts of projects that have been offered in recent years to get an idea of what topics may be available this year:   If you have a specific area you would like to work in though, make sure to mention that in your application!

5. Where will I live while in Chile?

The CTIO REU/PIA program is hosted at the AURA recinto (compound) in La Serena, Chile. The program provides subsidized housing at House #13 on the recinto. Generally, this means a private room, although due to space considerations, some students are asked to share. The rent is between $220 - $330 dollars per month depending on the U.S. Dollar/Chilean Peso exchange rate, the size of the room, and if the room is shared or single accomodation.  REU students are expected to pay their rent each month in the CTIO Treasury Office using their REU stipend.  PIA students are paid directly by CTIO, and thus their rent is paid for them and their stipend is adjusted accordingly. 

6. Can I get college credit for the REU/PIA program?

In principle, yes, and credit has been awarded before. However, each university is different, so this question must be addressed on a case by case basis.

7. What about medical insurance for REU/PIA students?

Unfortunately, the CTIO REU program cannot provide medical insurance for its students. However, we ask that all REU students provide proof of international coverage for the duration of the program. If you currently do not have any insurance coverage, we recommend which offers low rates of approximately USD$50 - $300 for coverage for the duration of the program, depending on the level of coverage selected.  The PIA students (since their pay comes directly from CTIO) are provided temporary health insurance by CTIO during the program, and their stipend amounts are adjusted accordingly.

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8. The CTIO REU program is from January to March? I can't miss classes then. Are there other student programs?

Not officially. However, if you have an interesting project in mind and there is funding available through a third party, we try to be accommodating.

9. I'm not sure if I should apply, I am only a sophomore...

While most of the students selected tend to be Juniors or Seniors, the selection committee is looking for a diverse mix of students, so we always advise anyone who is interested to apply. Generally, we accept students who have at least taken at least 1 semester of university-level astronomy. Students with less experience than this are less likely to be selected, but by applying you introduce yourself to the committee, which can be a positive thing for the next round of applications. Apply!

10. Yay! I got accepted to the REU program. Can I stay in Chile for a few weeks after the end of the program?

Absolutely! In fact, we would be disappointed if you didn't. Of course, you will be asked to pay any additional costs incurred because of your lengthened stay.

If you have any other questions that were not answered above, please do not hesitate to contact us at

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by Ryan Campbell (REU/PIA Student Coordinator 2009-2010), Updated by Catherine Kaleida (REU/PIA Student Coordinator 2012-2016)

Updated on March 18, 2022, 9:55 am