I'm not 100% sure how to phrase my question, but I've been grappling with this for sometime and thought maybe the responses would provide me some insight.
I'm currently at PhD student soon to be on the market for postdocs with the goal of staying in academia. My dilemma is this: I am reasonably content spending a large amount of time/mental energy on research. However, I worry that this contributes to a culture of overwork and reinforces academia as a "ivory tower" inaccessible to those without the privilege of being able place such an emphasis on research.
To expand: Much of my life is spent directly or indirectly on research. I don't really subscribe to the idea of having to work "X hours a week" and regularly take day or week long breaks from my research when I'm not feeling like I'm making progress. I also regularly see a therapist and try to take care of my mental health as well as possible. However, even with this in mind, my desire to manage my mental health seems to be rooted in the desire to be more productive. When inspiration does strike, I'm happy to stop whatever I'm doing and follow up on the idea for as long as I'm captivated. Thus, even though I'm not always "doing" research, in the back of my mind I'm usually thinking of something related to research.
So far this seems to have worked reasonably well for me and feels sustainable long term. However, one effect is that I spend more time on research than I'm paid for (honestly this is probably true of any PhD student). What I worry about is that my willingness to research in this way helps to reinforce a lot troublesome aspects of academia. In particular, I wonder about what the effect on the work-life balance of my fellow PhD students, both in the sense that it normalizes what may be an unhealthy work-life balance for many people and in also the sense that there are many people, for whatever reason, who cannot do this even if they wanted.
Unpaid internships/adjunct faculty positions are perhaps a similar and more self-contained example of a similar dilemma- they may be individually beneficial, but certainly reinforce societal barriers and limit who is able to succeed.