Greg J. Duncan, Ph.D.

Early childhood education expert to cap Brain School, highlight Brain Awareness Week

Note: Brain School 2017 will proceed as planned. The snow is not anticipated to begin until 9 p.m., well after the lecture's conclusion at 6:30 p.m. We will continue to monitor the situation. If plans change, we will email all registered participants.

Greg J. Duncan, a distinguished professor in the School of Education, and departments of economics, psychology, and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, will highlight Brain Awareness Week at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

He will discuss the effects of environmental influence on early childhood academic success at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 16.

The presentation will be the capstone course for the fifth annual Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Brain School as part of the global campaign for Brain Awareness Week, which begins Monday, March 13.

The talk is part of the Eric Shullman Distinguished Public Lecture Series – sponsored by the VTCRI and Virginia Tech’s Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health graduate program.

The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute presents Brain School each year as part of Brain Awareness week to increase public knowledge about the progress and benefits of brain research, and to share scientific discoveries about the brain’s development and remarkable capability. Brain School 2017 kicks off on Monday, March 13, with a four-day lecture series.

  • Monday, March 13: “Your Brain is Not Wireless (Yet): How Do You Change Connectivity Between Your Neuronal Landlines?” by Michael J. Friedlander, executive director at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology;
  • Tuesday, March 14: “From Brains to Bytes to Brain-Computer-Interfaces” by Stephen M. LaConte, associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics;
  • Wednesday, March 15: “Shaping Children’s Brains and Behavior: New Findings” by Sharon Landesman Ramey, professor and distinguished research scholar at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute;
  • Thursday, March 16: “Early Childhood Education: What Works and What Doesn’t” by Greg J. Duncan, distinguished professor with the School of Education, Department of Economics, Department of Psychology and Department of Social Behavior, University of California, Irvine

Brain Awareness Week is spearheaded internationally by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and the Society for Neuroscience. The campaign unites the efforts of organizations worldwide in a weeklong celebration of the brain.

Duncan will conclude the week of scientific presentations with a discussion on the impact of environmental factors on early childhood education, specifically the income gap and its relation to academic success.

He spent the first 25 years of his career at the University of Michigan working on, and ultimately directing, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics data collection project. Since 1968, the PSID has collected economic, demographic, health, behavior, and attainment data from a model sample of U.S. individuals and the households in which they reside.

Using this information, Duncan has investigated the roles families, peers, neighborhoods, and public policy play in affecting children and adolescents. His research has highlighted the damaging influences of economic deprivation in early childhood, as well the beneficial impacts of policy-induced income increases for working families.

Currently, Duncan is in collaboration with a group of neuroscientists and developmental psychologists. The team is working to develop a random-assignment evaluation of whether money matters for a child’s early years. They are specifically focused on income and its effect on the developing brain during the first three years of life.

During his lecture, Duncan will review his research, which shows children from low-income households are a year behind high-income children in math and reading achievement when they start kindergarten. He will illustrate how these gaps change little during subsequent schooling, and review the evidence on the importance of expenditures on early childhood education programs.

Duncan was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the National Academy of Sciences, and he also received the 2013 Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize, which rewards scientific work of high social relevance to the development of children and young people, and is awarded to those whose interdisciplinary research findings are applied in practice.

Duncan received his undergraduate degree from Grinnell College and his doctoral degree in economics from the University of Michigan.

Brain School is free, but registration is required as space is limited. To register, visit our Eventbrite page or email us at

Written by Logan Quesenbery