Penn psychologist selected as a 2013 MacArthur Fellow

The MacArthur Fellowship Program announced Wednesday that Penn’s Angela Duckworth has been selected as a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, positioning her among the ranks of the country’s most elite and innovative scholars.

Duckworth, an associate professor of psychology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, is among only 24 individuals in 2013 to receive one of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s annual “genius grants.”

The prestigious MacArthur Fellowship is awarded to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances.

As a MacArthur Fellow, Duckworth will receive a five-year, $625,000 grant designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements.

Duckworth’s work focuses on studying competencies other than general intelligence that predict academic and professional achievement. She is perhaps best known for her work surrounding the concepts of self-control and grit, and how those personality traits are better indicators of success than factors such as IQ or family income. Her research populations have included West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee finalists, novice teachers, salespeople, and students.

“Angela Duckworth is a wonderful example of what we at Penn value most highly for its combined creativity and impact on society: She is a scholar dedicated to expanding our understanding and finding solutions that will improve people's lives,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said. “Her work has the potential to empower students across the globe, and we're thrilled that she is making this contribution as a member of the Penn community.”

In a TED Talk, Duckworth explained “grit” as the concept of “living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

“I hope this fellowship draws attention to a worthy subject,” Duckworth said in an interview with the MacArthur Foundation. “I hope that it balances out the preoccupation with cognitive tests and IQ scores that seems to occupy at least much of [the] consciousness in American schooling.” She added that she hopes the fellowship also shines light on oft-overlooked factors in education such as effort, grit, self-control, empathy, honesty, and social skills.

“It's thrilling for us to see an individual as deserving as Angela receive this kind of recognition, and an honor that we can count her as our own,” said Steven Fluharty, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and Thomas S. Gates, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Pharmacology, and Neuroscience. “From the time she came to Penn as a doctoral student, she has been a valued colleague whose research, engagement, and teaching have been an inspiration to students and fellow faculty alike.”

Duckworth joined the faculty at Penn in 2006 after completing her Ph.D. in psychology at Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences. She received a BA in Neurobiology from Harvard in 1992 and, as a Marshall Scholar, a master's in Neuroscience from Oxford.

Prior to her career in research, Duckworth founded a nonprofit summer school for low-income children. The nonprofit was honored with the Better Government Award for the state of Massachusetts, and was profiled as a Harvard Kennedy School case study. Duckworth has also worked as a McKinsey management consultant and, for five years, a math teacher in the public schools of San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York City.