Dr. Virago, one of my favorite bloggers, writes this on graduate students and professionalization in response to these words of mine addressed to graduate students at GW. I'm reproducing below a comment I just left at her blog, and want to make it clear: I am in no way opposed to professionalization of graduate students, but worry about its overvaluation.
What I intended to convey (ineptly, I know; I'm always at my worst when I'm terse) is that if professionalization is overhyped as the be-all and end-all of a successful program of graduate training, it can become a Holy Grail as depicted in a Monty Python cartoon. Its celestial shimmer is so bright that graduate students told to keep their eyes upon it might not be encouraged to be colleagues in the here-and-now with their current professors. A relentless focus on the conferences at which you should be presenting and the journal articles you should be composing can foster a narrowing of interest. A message implicitly conveyed by the imperative to publish! and present! can be that it is far better to talk to specialists in your own field than to, say, attend a departmental colloquium on an author whose name is alien or on a time period distant from your own.
I wanted to stress that graduate school ideally has its own rewards as an intellectual space, rewards not necessarily related to following the advice in How to Have a Career as an Academic Star. Sometimes those satisfactions can be dimmed when it seems that all value derives from a luminous elsewhere, in the form of the reward system to which "professionalization" is the supposed doorway. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that graduate students should deliver conference papers and strive for publication. Good mentors must ensure that these opportunities are made available and demystified. But bad mentors can use "professionalization" as a way of alleviating their guilty conscience over the fact that so many bright PhDs don't get jobs: if it didn't work out, the problem is that student X didn't adequately professionalize, that student X is a failure - not that the field is extremely difficult to break into no matter how smart and well credentialed you are. I guess what I was arguing for is some notice that growing as an intellectual within a community sometimes means taking the "professionalize or perish" credo - especially when offered as if it were in itself unambiguous and a recipe for success - cum grano salis.