June 4 - 6, 2020 | Duke University

Virtues & Vocations is a national forum for scholars and practitioners across disciplines to consider how best to cultivate character in pre-professional and professional education.

Professions are the backbone of our institutions. Character formation is an inevitable and crucial part of what it means to choose a profession and become a professional, but professionals often have a difficult time recognizing the role of character in their education and work because their professional training focused primarily on the development and maintenance of technical knowledge without attending to the development of the virtues that are required for someone to inhabit a chosen profession as a vocation.

Virtues & Vocations is an annual conference designed to confront this deficiency in professional education. The Kenan Institute for Ethics, in partnership with Duke Divinity School, will bring together scholars and practitioners across disciplines to foster a national conversation focused on how best to cultivate character in pre-professional and professional education. In 2020, the conference will focus on the professions of education, engineering, and medicine, but participants from all professions are welcome, and indeed encouraged. The design of the conference assumes that professions have a lot to learn from one another about how to prepare students to avoid getting stuck in a career by inhabiting a vocation.

Join the conversation about character and see updates about the conference by following us on Twitter: @VirtueVocations

Registration, Call for Papers & Advisory Board Information

Registration Information

Duke University | June 4-6, 2020| JB Duke Hotel & Conference Center

Forum opens with a reception & dinner Thursday and closes at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Questions? Contact erin.c.miller@duke.edu or at 919-660-3181

Early Registration Rate (Until April 1):
$250 – Includes conference, meals and two nights lodging at the JB Duke Hotel
$50 – Includes conference & meals

Duke students can e-mail erin.c.miller@duke.edu to request a fee waiver. Others who are interested in attending the conference but find the cost restrictive may also request assistance by contacting erin.c.miller@duke.edu.

Adam Grant speaks at TED2018 - The Age of Amazement, April 10 - 14, 2018, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Vivek Murthy as our opening speaker. Dr. Vivek Murthy served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States (from December 2014 to April 2017). As The Nation’s Doctor, he brought both passion and innovation to the challenges of leading America’s national healthcare initiatives. As Vice Admiral of the Public Health Commissioned Corps, Dr. Murthy was the youngest active duty flag officer in federal uniformed service. Dr. Murthy is the Distinguished Policy Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Before serving as Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy practiced and taught internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He also has an MBA from Yale. Dr. Murthy will be releasing Together, a new book on loneliness as an epidemic, in April. 

On Friday, Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist at The Wharton School of Business, will give the keynote address. Grant studies how we can find motivation and meaning, and lead more generous and creative lives. He is the author of multiple #1 New York Times best-selling books that have sold over 2 million copies and been translated into 35 languages: Give and Take, Originals, Option B (co-written with Sheryl Sandberg), and Power Moves. Grant’s TED talks on original thinkers and givers and takers have been viewed more than 20 million times. He hosts “WorkLife”, a chart-topping TED original podcast; writes on work and psychology for The New York Times; and serves on the Defense Innovation Board at the Pentagon. He has over 3 million followers on social media and shares monthly insights in his newsletter, GRANTED.

Dr. Kate Bowler

We will close out the weekend with a talk from Dr. Kate Bowler, associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School. In 2015, Bowler was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35. She published a viral New York Times op-ed about the irony of being an expert in health, wealth and happiness while being ill. Her subsequent memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved) (Random House, 2018), was lauded by Bill Gates as “belonging on the shelf alongside other terrific books about mortality” and included on his must-read list. The book tells the story of her struggle to understand the personal and intellectual dimensions of the American belief that all tragedies are tests of character. Bowler continues to host a national conversation around these issues through her popular podcast, Everything Happens.

During the conference, we will explore the relationship between virtue and vocation through a variety of mechanisms. An opening plenary titled “What does virtue have to do with vocation?” will frame our discussion. We will feature experiments in practice from medicine, education and engineering, and offer moderated breakout sessions that address specific challenges and ideas within these areas of professional education.

Thursday, June 4

  • Registration will open at 3pm
  • There will be a reception, dinner and keynote address by Dr. Vivek Murthy, 19th Surgeon General of the United States

Friday, June 5 

  • Breakfast
  • Morning plenaries
  • Lunch
  • Afternoon Breakout Sessions & Paper Presentations
  • Keynote by Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist at The Wharton School of Business
  • Reception & Dinner

Saturday, June 6

  • Breakfast
  • Breakout Sessions & Paper Presentations
  • Master Classes by Field Leaders
  • Lunch & Networking
  • Closing Plenary with Kate Bowler, professor at Duke Divinity School
  • Conference Adjourns at 3pm

Virtues & Vocations seeks both to nurture new scholarship and to encourage innovative practices in professional education. We invite proposals of all sorts (scholarly and programmatic) from all the professions, but for 2020 will privilege proposals from scholars and practitioners in education, engineering, and medicine.


Possible topics include:


  • Virtues in the professions (or a profession)
  • Opportunities and challenges for character formation in professional schools
  • Virtue formation and pedagogical practice
  • Character formation and the aims of [insert profession here].
  • The role of scholarship in the shaping of professional practice
  • Vocations versus careers
  • The role of diversity in forming character
  • The character of an institution in the formation of virtues
  • Who mentors the mentors?
  • What are vocations and why do they matter?
  • What does virtue have to do with vocation?




Please submit a 400-word abstract and a 200-word biography to erin.c.miller@duke.edu by February 15, 2020, with the subject “Virtues & Vocations Submission.” You will receive an e-mail confirming receipt, and notifications of acceptance will be sent by March 1.


Presenters will have their conference registration fee waived (includes registration, lodging and meals) and the opportunity for their work to be featured in publications and online media curated from the conference.


Call 919-660-3181 or e-mail erin.c.miller@duke.edu for more information.

Suzanne Shanahan
Nanerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics
Associate Research Professor, Dept of Sociology
Duke University; Durham, NC


Carole Basile
Dean and Professor, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University; Tempe, AZ


Thomas Hibbs
President, Professor of Philosophy
University of Dallas; Irving, TX


L. Gregory Jones
Dean of the Divinity School
Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. Distinguished Professor of Theology & Christian Ministry
Duke University; Durham, NC


Cheryl Maurana
Senior VP for Strategic Academic Partnerships; Professor of Population Health
Founding Director, Kern National Network for Caring and Character in Medicine
Medical College of Wisconsin; Milwaukee, WI


Christian Miller
AC Reid Professor of Philosophy
Wake Forest University; Winston-Salem, NC


Richard K. Miller
President and Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Olin College of Engineering; Needham, MA


Chris Stawski
Senior Fellow, Kern Family Foundation
Affiliate Assistant Professor, Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education, Medical College of Wisconsin


David Toole
Associate Professor of the Practice; Theology, Ethics and Global Health
Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Initiatives, Divinity School
Senior Fellow, Kenan Institute for Ethics
Duke University; Durham, NC