Teaching on Purpose is a fellowship program that prepares doctoral students as educators who are committed to helping today’s undergraduates lead lives of meaning and purpose.

Teaching on Purpose brings doctoral students and faculty together to explore what it means to be a good teacher of undergraduates and to learn educational practices that will help their students flourish. Today’s college students are grappling with questions of purpose and meaning — questions about who they are and want to become and how to make sense of life — amidst the pressures of college and the increasing uncertainty and complexity of the world. Professors (and graduate students who teach) are uniquely positioned to help students explore how they understand themselves and the world during this pivotal time in their lives. 

Teaching on Purpose is an opportunity for graduate students to cultivate their own sense of purpose as aspiring teachers who soon will be (and maybe already are) playing a vital role in the flourishing of undergraduates.

This fellowship will benefit any doctoral student with a heart for teaching undergraduates regardless of teaching experience. If you have taught previously, you’ll be able to reflect on your teaching experience in concrete ways and gain a deeper and broader understanding of your practices. If you are currently teaching, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss some of the challenges you are encountering and immediately try out some new approaches. If you don’t have experience teaching yet, you can develop a foundation for your teaching practice that will enable you to be intentional in your role as an educator.

Questions we’ll explore include:

  • What’s the purpose of college and the university, and how might that inform one’s purpose as an educator?
  • What kind of teacher-student relationship supports meaningful learning?
  • What are the challenges college students face as emerging adults, and how do we meet them where they are to help them flourish not only as students but as human beings?
  • How do we connect our subject matter to the “big questions” that undergraduates are grappling with?
  • What is our responsibility in responding to students’ anxiety and other mental health issues?
  • What role do higher education institutions and our classroom practices play in promoting (or undermining) democracy and justice?
  • How do we create a classroom community that is a safe learning environment for students to take risks and discuss difficult topics?


  • Weekly 2-hour sessions (Thursdays, 12-2PM, lunch provided), January 20 – April 7 (last session will be a dinner, exact time TBD).
  • Must be able to attend most sessions, with no more than 2 absences due to  previously planned travel for conferences or personal matters (prior notification required). 
  • Modest preparation outside of sessions, such as short readings and written reflections (1-2 hours/week)


  • $3,000
  • Fellows may earn course credit towards the College Teaching Certificate


  • Discipline: Any discipline taught at the undergraduate level at Duke or other institutions
  • Status: Applicants must have passed their preliminary exams.
  • Teaching experience: None required
  • No conflicts with other funding: Participation in this program must not conflict with policies of departmental or external funding sources.
  • Approval of DGS: Applicants must indicate at the time of application that their DGSs are aware that they are applying. The Purpose Project team will reach out to the DGS of selected applicants to confirm approval of participation.


Deadline: Wednesday, December 22, 2021 (11:59PM)

Application requirements:

  • Confirmation that DGS is aware of application
  • 3 short-answer questions
    1. What do you find most rewarding about teaching undergraduates? If you have not had the opportunity to teach yet, what are you most looking forward to? (200 words max)
    2. Why are you interested in the Teaching on Purpose fellowship program? (200 words max)
    3. If you could develop your own course on any topic, what would you love to teach? Write a brief course description (150 words max)

Apply now

Decisions will be announced early January 2021.


Contact Katherine Jo (katherine.jo@duke.edu) or Jesse Summers (jesse.summers@duke.edu).