Students enter university with ideas about their future professions. In some disciplines, the profession and the nature of professional work are well understood, while in other areas, they are more opaque. The authors investigate the ways in which students develop a sense of identity with their profession, how the nature of the profession impacts on identity formation, how students engage with learning based on their professional expectations, and how their pedagogic experience leads towards their professional formation. The authors' investigations are in two parts: first, they carry out a critical review of recent thinking on the question, including its formulation into national policy documents in two countries, Sweden and Australia. Then they adduce empirical data from the research outcomes of two international studies, in which students were interviewed about their understanding and experience of professional work, and the way in which their learning contributed to the development of their professional identities. The authors conclude that professional identity formation is a relation between students' learning experience and the manner in which they anticipate or practise in professional working life.