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General Information
About the program

ADVANCE STEM Research grant program serves as an unprecedented platform aimed to bring the top-notch expertise in the targeted STEM-related fields in Armenia. ADVANCE grant program connects the distinguished international researchers with the local research groups for them to work jointly on innovative research projects. FAST will ensure comprehensive long-term institutional and financial support for outstanding research groups in Armeniaproviding them an opportunity to produce internationally competitive research. 

The first round of the program is implemented with Yerevan State University. Two grants will be distributed among two newly formed research groups in Armenia. Each group will be recruited to work under the supervision of an international Principal Investigator (PI), around a certain topic identified by the PI, starting from May 2020. The researchers from any institution in Armenia and beyond are welcome to apply based on their interests and qualification in the suggested topic. The program aims to create inter-institutional connections; therefore the composition of the research groups might be very diverse. The duration of the projects will be from 2 to 4 years, details of each project can be found on the “Research Projects” page.

The research activities will be conducted primarily in Armenia. The PI will both visit Armenia and coordinate the group’s work remotely throughout the entire duration of the research project. The PI will also be involved in intensive teaching activities in the local universities to have a broader impact on the ecosystem.

About the PIs

The PIs are scientists who have solid expertise in a related field, extensive experience in leading groups of researchers, as well as ties with international institutions and labs to connect local researchers to the global scientific network. The PIs submit the project proposal, introduce their vision for the project development and, in a broader sense, the subfield’s development in Armenia. They also define the needs of a proposed project and requirements for the researchers, participate in the selection of the researchers and, throughout the project implementation, ensure the project quality.

Granting scheme
  • PI’s travel expenses and some remuneration during their visit to Armenia 
  • Salaries for the local researchers 
  • International travel costs for the local researchers’ participation in the conferences or collaborative research activities abroad 
  • Laboratory supporting materials, consumables 
  • Publications in journals, patenting costs, wherever applicable

Selection process

Application packages can be found under the description of each project. The packages include but are not limited to the application form, CV, and recommendation letter(s). After reviewing the application packages, FAST Committee will short-list the most motivated and qualified candidates for the PIs’ review. The PI will identify the finalists, who will be invited to the interview with the International Committee, involving also the PI.

The application packages are accepted until March 15.

Appeal process

Applicants will be sent a letter about the decision of the Selection Committee. In case of rejection, the Selection Committee might not be able to provide individual information on the specific reasons for rejection. Assessment is competition-based, and applicants with the highest scores are admitted to the program. It is unlikely that any decision made by the Selection Committee will be reversed, as every applicant’s candidacy is going through extensive reviews through a carefully planned and objective assessment process. Still, if the applicant has a serious and compelling reason that they feel the committee should consider, they can appeal the decision. The appeal must represent significant new professional information that was not present at the time of application review. This information should validate the application as stronger than when originally reviewed.

The appeal should be submitted by the applicant to with all the necessary and final information within 5 days after receiving the decision letter. If the appeal is submitted after the deadline, it will not be considered. Each applicant may only submit one appeal per admission term. Once the appeal is received, it will be reviewed by the Selection Committee who will make a final decision. Applicants will be notified of the appeal decisions via email within 10 days after the appeal was received by email. All appeal decisions are final.

Research projects
Computational Agriculture for improved food systems and resilient policies in Armenia

Principal Investigator: Prof. Naira Hovakimyan

University: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), USA

Local Supervisor: Dr. Vardan Urutyan - Armenian National Agrarian University (ANAU)

Vacancies: Senior Data Scientist, Junior Data Scientist

Monthly remuneration: 500 - 1000 USD (depending on the background)

Duration: 2021 - 2025

Eligibility Criteria

Senior researchers

  • Candidates must have a Ph.D. or similar qualifications within Machine Learning, Statistics, Mathematics, Computer Science or other relevant research fields.
  • Experience in programming is strongly desirable. Substantial experience and demonstrated proficiency in agricultural modelling.
  • Specific experience with machine learning, artificial intelligence, climate change modelling and crop yield simulations is a requirement, as well as the experience handling large databases for modelling and data analysis.

Junior researchers

  • Master’s Degree in a quantitative discipline, preferably such as Statistics, Econometrics, Business Analytics, or Data Science
  • Experience in data analysis and preparation, including experience with large data sets (requiring big-data techniques)
  • Agriculture industry experience is a plus

Candidates are expected to be enthusiastic about working in an interdisciplinary academic environment conducting research at the highest international level. Both senior and junior positions, therefore, require highly motivated researchers who are comfortable working in teams, have good interpersonal skills, as well as a collaborative and open mindset.

Project Importance

Climate change and food security are the most significant challenges humanity is facing currently. The demand for bioenergy and agricultural products increases at the global scale which leads to the questions of how much food and energy can we produce and what are the environmental impacts associated with changes in agricultural land use and management.

Armenia is facing severe challenges of climate change and food insecurity and the country’s progress in transforming the agricultural management system was derailed recently by double shocks of COVID-19 outbreak and Nagorno-Karabakh war. In 2021, the poverty rate reached 26.4% of the population, almost 11% of the poor are extremely or very poor. Despite these facts, little expertise is available for optimizing agricultural management and developing an intelligent agricultural management system. Among several reasons for the existence of the above-mentioned challenges, it is also worth mentioning that: (a) there is very poor capacity in Armenia to deal with profound research models for the optimization of agricultural management systems; (b) there is a lack of a country-specific structured database for running such research models; and (c) there is week interconnection between academia and policy making and thus, lack of knowledge-based approaches for political decision making processes. Moreover, it is obvious that especially in Armenia there is a lack of individuals who have expertise in rigorous science and software engineering standards.

Research Aim

The research will help scientists and young academicians to understand comprehensive simulations by using platforms which allow the evaluation of the effects of various management practices under different weather and soil conditions in a timely and cost-effective manner. 

This novel research will be conducted in close collaboration with the cross-disciplinary team of “Optimization of Agricultural Management for Soil Carbon Sequestration Using Deep Reinforcement Learning and Large-Scale Simulations” project implemented by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, KTH Department of Sustainable Development and Stockholm University, Department of Physical Geography. In the first stage of cooperation, the Armenian team will make great use of the Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) platform model.

Expected Outcomes

In a joint learning and testing process the research team will focus on the following outcomes:

  • Analyzing and extending knowledge on the internationally recognized open source APSIM platform for modeling and simulation of Armenian agricultural system
  • Gaining practical experience in the use of APSIM modules enabling the simulation of systems for a diverse range of plant, animal, soil, climate and management interactions
  • Selecting the relevant data and information as well as identifying the lack of a database for running such models for Armenia
  • Building a simulator to test, model and simulate for instance soil-plant interactions for different regions in Armenia.

One important key to achieving these outcomes is that the ANAU and research team will seek to build strong and lasting ties with Dr. Naira Hovakimyan, a W. Grafton and Lillian B. Wilkins Professor of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her team. During the first year, the research team will put its emphasis on analyzing platforms for modeling and simulation (especially APSIM); collecting and comparing relevant data for running such models; identifying and filling data gaps and creating necessary databases. In the second year of its partnership the research team will concentrate on running the APSIM model for Armenia; analyzing the results and gaining knowledge on deep reinforcement learning (RL) and large-scale soil and crop simulations; improving the models, presenting key findings and recommendations to relevant decision makers, publishing results in international journals as well as exploring funding opportunities for the next stage will be objectives for the third research year.

Required Documents

To apply, interested candidates should submit an online application attaching to it the following supporting documents:

  • Curriculum vitae or resume
  • Statement of Motivation
  • Letter of recommendation

Application deadline: October 4, 2021