Last month saw Early Career Researchers (ECRs) pitching collaborative research ideas to a panel of ‘Dragons’, with three projects securing funding from the panel. The event was jointly hosted by the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences (SPCLS) combined with the ECR-led interdisciplinary initiative CINNergies.

ECRs submitted a 500 word summary of their proposal and those who were selected went on to give an oral presentation of their pitches. Just like the real Dragons’ Den, the Dragons were sitting on piles of money (figuratively speaking) with a total of £5000 up for grabs for the ECRs who were able to convince the Dragons to invest in their collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects.


Our Dragons were Professor Carmel Houston-Price, Head of School, Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences; Professor Anastasia Christakou, Director of the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN); Professor Ludovica Serratrice, Director of the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM); and Professor Carien Van Reekum, Research Division lead of the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences (PCLS).

Applications came in on a variety of topics, from the use of augmented reality in retail, to neural correlates of learned helplessness. All received a grilling from the Dragons who dug deep into their rationale, methodological approaches and planned outcomes for return on investment. Three projects managed to secure funding from the panel.

Successful pitches

Lily Fitzgibbon, Vanessa Kurdi, Jayne Morriss

Amount awarded £1500

This project brings together ECRs from across the School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences. It explores university students’ responses to uncertainty and examines whether tendencies to respond to uncertainty with curiosity or intolerance can explain how anxious some students feel about their study. The study will examine whether there are any protective factors that might make people more likely to respond positively to uncertainty. The researchers have identified that goal orientations that students have for their learning, that is a focus on progress and learning or a focus on performance, might affect how students respond to uncertainty, and they will be testing this relationship in the study.

The winning pitchers said “The funding from Dragons’ Den will allow us to hire a research assistant to collect and manage data, as well as compensate students for their participation in the study. We hope that this initial dataset with university students will enable us to secure further funding to develop interventions and to explore these relationships in school-aged children. We loved our experience at Dragons’ Den! We really enjoyed hearing our colleagues’ ideas and presenting our own in this playful format. We are very happy that the SPCLS shows support to early career researchers by offering the opportunity to get some funding to start our own independent projects.”

Rich Harrison, Wiebke Gandhi, Brendan Williams

Amount awarded £660

This project, titled “Losing control – dynamic mechanisms of pain-related helplessness”, will investigate what happens as people learn that they are not – or rather no longer – in control of pain. The group want to find out more about the dynamic brain processes, happening while a person realises that whatever they have learned previously doesn’t apply anymore, and, in fact, they seemed to have lost control over pain altogether.

The group said: “The Dragons’ Den funding will allow us to run 100 participants outside of the scanner to establish a new reversal learning task, specifically focussing on learning pain avoidance strategies, alternating with periods of losing control over pain again. Further, it will enable us to translate the task to the scanner and run some initial pilot scans. The Dragons’ Den was a fun way to present a new study idea, defend it, and receive valuable feedback! It was also very encouraging for many early career researchers in the audience to consider interdisciplinary projects – after all, we do have the ideal research environment for them at CINN – and to hopefully pitch their ideas in a future Dragons’ Den event.”

Nicholas Hedger, Carolyn McNabb, Brendan Williams

Amount awarded £850

This project aims to create a reusable, flexible pipeline for analysing neuroimaging data, that can be used as a research and teaching resource within the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN).

The successful group said: ”The funding we obtained through the Dragons’ Den funding scheme, generously donation by CINNergies, will pay for vital storage on the University of Reading’s server and allow us to work with the huge amounts of publicly available data we need to access for this project. We are really excited to get started and look forward to sharing our results with CINNergies at a later date.”

Stay tuned

Congratulations to all the successful applicants. It was a great event to be involved in, and an honour for me to help organise. The event encouraged collaborations across disciplines and departments and gave ECRs an opportunity to gain experience in competing for funding. The ECRs involved gained valuable face-to-face feedback and developed their skills in concisely pitching their ideas. The hope is that ECRs can use these small funded projects as springboards to help their chances of obtaining larger grants in the near future. We’ll be catching up with them in the future to see how their projects turned out and CINNergies are looking forward to supporting another event like this next year!

About CINNergies

To find out about similar events and learn more about the ECR interdisciplinary initiative, visit the CINNergies website.

CINNergies is a creative and diverse community of early career researchers who share an openness for and motivation to engage in interdisciplinary research.

Our mission is to provide opportunities for early career researchers to meet, to connect, and to share their research interests with the overarching aim of:

  • Fostering a continued knowledge exchange between disciplines
  • Initiating interdisciplinary openness in academic careers
  • Promoting the generation of novel and innovative research projects that bring together multiple disciplines (or approaches) or from which new disciplines (or approaches) emerge

Membership is open to all ECRs. Join our Facebook Group or get in touch via email.

Dr Gabriella Rossetti is a CINN Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences.