My curriculum vitae - the Latin origin of "CV", a term so ubiquitous in academia and so rare outside (in the US) that it may serve as a shibboleth - slowly evolved out of a résumé that I began as an undergraduate. Trying to break out of the résumé mindset and accept that brevity required of a CV was a challenge. My one-page résumé - chock full of details and action verbs - was reduced to a paltry, unimpressive CV upon entering grad school. A lack of presentations and publications as an undergrad - items inappropriate for a résumé - were the cause. When I was reviewing my professors' CVs in a search for the optimal format for mine, I caught a case of CV-envy.
When talking with people about academia and metrics for success, the adage "publish or perish" is often brought up. Even people far removed from academia seem to have heard it. However, simply publishing doesn't guarantee success, nor is it the only route to success.
Lesson 2: Academia is a lot more complicated than "publish or perish"
Tenure-track professors need to publish in order to remain competitive for tenure and promotion - and this record of publication typically journal articles. In many fields, books are not highly valued and the reward for undertaking such a large project may not be commensurate with the resources required for its successful completion. Furthermore, at research universities, publishing is only part of the equation: obtaining grants for projects is becoming increasingly viewed as vital to one's career.
Of course, more prestigious journals are valued more than lower-quality journals (though relative merits of journals can be debated). Furthermore, federal grants are typically viewed as more prestigious than state grants and other funding sources because of their perceived competitiveness (even though dollars are dollars, they look better when coming from the federal government). In both grants and publishing, original research that expands knowledge in the field is valued while other ends (such as teaching or service) are not as valued.
While there has been a movement in some places to emphasize the importance of the teaching and service, original research dominates the focus for traditional professors. There are other types of professors (non-tenure track, often with a name like "clinical professor" in many fields) whose duties are dramatically different, often with a decreased emphasis on original research to afford more time for other important activities.
What "publish or perish" comes down to is doing your job well and ensuring that those that make hiring and promotion decisions know it.
With three years of grad school under my belt and three to go, I feel like I've accumulated a fair bit of experience that would make for good advice to people starting out. I'm going to start posting brief tidbits that have proven helpful to me. All of these will be tagged as "lessons from grad school".
Lesson 1: Listen to your advisor.
Your advisor is an experienced professional in your field and has gone through grad school before. Therefore, it is very likely that they have a pretty clear idea where you were, where you are, and where you need to be for the jobs you want. If they think a project is worthwhile, take the hint and spend time and effort on it. If they think a project is a waste of time, minimize the resources you devote to it. Their goal is to get you to the finish line of graduation, and they have a better idea of what is expected of you than you do. Just listen to your advisor.