Strength in Sisterhood

There's a discussion over at Corporette about networking with older women. It's a follow up to an older post where they talked about networking with an older man who'd previously acted in a way that I would call "skeevy". Now, Corporette seems mostly written to and commented by lawyers so the advice is not universal. But it is a really awesome community for professional women.

So the original writer wrote in about how to navigate what was both a friendship and a networking opportunity with a group of older women she was working with during an internship. The advice was good but it made me a little pouty and jealous and bitter (which is kind of typical for me anyways).
Yeah I know engineering isn't as gender balanced as law is (though neither has a fantastic track record). But I had to think hard about any older women at work. Forget there being a group. There are a few other women my age. I guess I'm just not outgoing enough to suggest we all grab drinks based on our double X chromosome alone (plus if that got out to the dudes, we'd all be lambasted as hairy legged feminist bitches and probably limit everyone's career). But I am upset that there aren't enough women there that something like that would happen naturally.

I had a female boss back when I worked in health care and since working there I had one female boss as well. But she wasn't much of a mentor. In fact the women I've been closest to there have been striving to get out. To make the money they needed to make so they could go spend their days on the beach. Spending days on the beach isn't my thing and it makes sense not every woman would have enough in common to chat. It's just annoying that there aren't enough women that I can find any other female engineers or higher level people that maybe a few of us do have something in common. Maybe some day.

Mechanical Engineering Employment and Pay

Continuing this week's theme of jobs jobs jobs for all you hardworking engineers, I was curious what the outlook had been in my own discipline. I already covered employment and salaries in most disciplines between 1999 and 2010 but wanted to zero in on the mechanical engineers.
Mechanical engineers have had a bit of a bumpy past. The general trend is up but it hasn't been easy. My personal theory for the boost is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have acted as stimulus programs for mechanical engineers. Our own Works Progress Administration putting us to work building tanks and humvees and fighter jets and bombs. The first major climb lags us entering the wars but is pretty strong. I give the delay to the delay in starting Department of Defense contracts and actually funding companies.

Maybe the post 2006 boom is due to the surge (I'd have to look it up). Trends in the automotive industry could also be strongly responsible as well as oil drilling, coal mining, etc. I think the strength even in the recession shows the numbers benefit from more than just commercial development alone. For comparison I pulled the civil engineer's chart over the same period of time.

So same boost up from about the same period on. This one has got to be thanks to housing. The quick and consistent line up and the drop right at the housing crash has had a big effect on the employment of civil engineers. How about our friends the sparkies?
It ain't easy being a sparky. The dot com bubble burst and it hurt. A couple of little climbs later and the recession hits and they are knocked back again. Still, given how heavily commercial electrical engineering is it's probably got a much more sustainable path to growth than defense dollars and government bailouts of the auto industry. Something to keep in mind.
Next a quick look at pay for mechanical engineers:
The bottom line is inflation adjusted. Without that the skyrocketing wages look pretty crazy. But even with inflation engineers managed a 10.5% increase to their mean annual salary over the last ten years. What? You're probably thinking. I'm a sprocket and my salary hasn't been going up. Could be what with the recession and choosey employees they're more likely to hang on to somewhat older and more experienced engineers in lieu of hiring younger ones or keeping young ones on. That may not be the personal experience of older engineers, but even if we're taking very minimal trends it can add up. And 10% increase over 10 years for the gain of 10 years of experience seems kind of like a bargain on the employer's side of things.

Still, the war might be to thank (or blame) for the strength in mechanical engineering employment. ME employment is up over 15% from 1999. Despite the bust civil engineers are employed at 19% more than 1999. And as you can see in the graph electrical engineers broke just about even (actually a drop of two tenths of one percent). I don't think engineers should go into a field based on national numbers and national salaries. Locality can make a huge difference. And of course it's important not to chase money but to do something because you think you'll enjoy it.


Engineering Employment Over Time

How has engineering fared as a career during this recession? How has it been doing over time? Must be jobs week here at Design. Build. Play. Since I was so hard on software "engineers" before I made a separate category from today's Bureau of Labor Statistics data. I'm including programmers separately (but still there) from computer/software engineers (which here includes both systems software and applications). So how do we engineers do?
As you can see computer and software engineers have done particularly well. I'd grant the decline to programmers as being employers are ever more demanding specific degrees from their programmers so it's more just a transfer between categories. The recession has only continued the downward trend from before.

In comparison, civil, electrical and mechanical look almost flat. Of course they aren't really. So maybe you went into engineering for the money, how's that been doing? Here's some not adjusted for inflation salaries over time.
Again it's the same breakdown by discipline and again you see the obvious levelling off of the programmers' salaries. Mechanical and civil seem tied like in the previous graph and now electrical has a definitely higher salary. Is this because it has lower employment compared to the other disciplines as seen in the first graph? Does scarcity drive electrical engineering salaries up?


Engineering Jobs by Discipline

I talked before about what states are hiring engineers and where all the engineering jobs are. Best estimate there are something like 44,000 engineering jobs open nationally right now. The census says that in 2008 84,000 people graduated with engineering degrees. Engineering shortage? I think not. Probably my 44,000 search was not broad enough to include the kinds of jobs engineering graduates might go into. But still, that's nowhere near a shortage, is it Corporate America?

So what kind of engineers are being hired right now? Software engineers.
Making up almost half of open jobs software engineers have it made. If we have a shortage of engineers, maybe it's that kind of engineer. The problem is we're recruiting people into a very diverse field without specifying what we really want or really need. I was curious how this stacked up to major choice and pulled a some numbers from a local university to give a breakdown:
You can tell mechanical and civil/structural majors are heavily overrepresented. People are probably going into these fields and finding the jobs aren't there. This is all magnified when certain geographic areas (Detroit vs Silicon Valley) have very different focuses even when colleges might be more diverse. Chemical and electrical engineering majors are a little closer to the national average of open jobs and software/computer engineering heavily underrepresented.

I'm a bit torn by including software engineers here. There's a big difference between "computer engineer" and a programmer. Many job openings ask for a degreed engineer when what they really need is a programmer. But if they're asking for an engineering degree that becomes a part of the requirement that job seekers have to meet even when it's unlike other engineering disciplines. Given the low numbers though it's possible those with other degrees, or no degrees at all, are filling the gap for these open software jobs. That is if anyone is even hiring.


Appendix A: Where are the engineering jobs?

Ask and ye shall receive! A full version of the list available for your ranking/competing pleasure. I only hope this means arguments about whether South Dakota is better than North Dakota (it's not) start erupting. Sorry for the jpg, while I am an excel pseudo-wizard my blogger skills are lacking.
Yes I know Washington DC isn't a "state" and I left out some exciting US territories. Sorry!

Where are the engineering jobs?

So who's hiring engineers? It's no surprise in raw numbers that the top five states with engineering jobs open* include some of the most populace states with large metro areas and of course the center of automotive engineering in the states.
But how does that compare to the population of those states? Washington DC tops the list at the most engineering jobs per capita. Illinois is still doing pretty good and though it's not the list Michigan pulls in at #6. As for bottom of the list Montana comes in last but no region is left alone here with southern states and northeast also represented. The big population states of California and Texas fell in the middle of the list.
*Total job openings per state were pulled from CareerBuilder as a basis of estimate. Total state populations pulled from Wikipedia.


Future Engineers

A couple of links for easy weekend reading.
A summer camp in San Jose teaching kids hands on civil engineering skills.
Will there some day be a 5-stroke petrol combustion engine that does better than a diesel engine?
Bob Gower CEO of United Memories gives a tour of the place that does chip testing for the semiconductor industry right in Colorado Springs before he retires. They gloss lightly over outsourcing, the quality of US engineers, and the worth of keeping jobs here.


Engineers good business people?

Apparently some engineer got booted off some British version of The Apprentice because the British Donald Trump (Lord Sugar?) doesn't think engineers are good at business. The engineer in question goes on to defend himself by citing other successful engineers such as: Bill Gates, James Dyson and Mark Zuckerberg.
Now first of all, I'm not sure a "programmer" is always an engineer. I have mad respect for Bill Gates but neither he nor Zuckerberg completed college. And both are largely known for their programming skills. Given the days of early computers Gates might have more street cred as an engineer since "programming" in its infancy was hardware driven. I'm not saying their both not successful and smart, just that I wouldn't necessarily lump them into an umbrella family of engineers for every single purpose. James Dyson, however, designed the best vacuum I ever used and appears to be like the Tony Stark of vacuum cleaners. Though I'm not entirely sure he has a degree in education that would make all three of them just general genius types. I mean two of them dropped out of Harvard. You gotta figure in many cases have you the advantages to get into Harvard you're already at a good spot (whether that's social upbringing advantages or just pure raw natural talent).
Second of all, this argument always makes me think of Tom Smykowski from the movie Office Space who defends his job by saying he's necessary because engineers aren't good with people. I know a great many liasons and systems analysts and project coordinators who it would seem have the same responsibility: go between from the technical to the customer (one could almost argue the highly paid Program Manager fulfills this role as well). It's not so much I think that engineers and technical folks are not good with people, but that their technical skills are valued in such a way that's how management wants them to spend 100% of their time. Versus you can hire somebody else to be the facilitator or communicator. But it does seem to be the trap that engineers and probably scientists fall into.
What do you think, does that hold technical people back? What about the other way, are liasons and communicators valued in the same way technical employees are?


Movie and a chat

I guess this week has been one for introspection. I watched The Philosopher Kings on Netflix last night. It's currently streamable and very good. The premise is they interview custodial workers at many top US universities and as expected when you ask somebody for their story there's more than just their exterior or just their job.
The movie was sprinkled with quotes. The kind that seem really brilliant to me and I immediately want to post here or put up on my cube wall for inspiration. Before realizing I am a cynical hag and maybe nothing will change that, even a nice documentary and a couple good quotes. But all in all it's a very interesting movie. It's not surprising maybe that several of the workers have undergone great personal tragedy at some point in their lives, overcome adversity, and have (or are portrayed to have) generally positive outlooks about their lives and their jobs.
This was after a conversation with HerrTech where I was bemoaning my future at MegaCorp and ranting about my jealousies towards the others on the chessboard. He began asking me how much of it was really about partial treatment or what I could be doing to make it up. He asked if I was being proactive and finding problems to solve before people asked me to. He also told me not to get cocky about my job stability. This is all a bit strange coming from HerrTech who doesn't make the world's best optimist and generally agrees there's no reason to give too much to one's job.
So I had all this in mind. This idea that I would bring it at work today. The idea that I've had a relatively cushy and stable upbringing compared to those custodians and maybe I could be doing more. A notion that if they can be satisfied I can certainly be satisfied with my cushy office job. All this is battling the sarcasm the bitterness the cynicism that normally operates in my brain space. Not sure what conclusions I'll come to, if any.


Angst Nostalgia

I've been listening to Pandora for a while and it's probably the only reason I haven't switched to a Windows Phone yet. If you're not familiar with it, you choose songs or artists and build your own radio stations.

I was sitting and listening to the rock music I listened to as a teenager in one of those rare moments of inactivity in between other moments. With headphones in my ears and sitting on my bed I closed my eyes and remembered listening to these same songs in my angsty youth. I tried to imagine myself sitting on the bed in my parents' house being a teenager and feeling the emotions I felt then. But the emotions I feel now for this music are just echoes. And I can't even get myself to forgot for one second who I am now. I think that's a good thing. I feel stronger and more confident now. Maybe more like an adult than I wish I always was or had to be but there it is. Something in me has fundamentally changed and grown. No going back.

To masters or not to masters

So I'm going to blame GEARS for getting all my little mind wheels spinning on this. He wrote a few topics at Engineer Blogs firstly to never pay for grad school if you are a US citizen and secondly a post on whether grad school for engineering is worth it. Of course all of this got me thinking. I hadn't planned on going back for my master's. Going through my bachelor's was like going through the gauntlet. I'm still tired just thinking about it. I don't think I'd get to go for free as I'd likely need to keep working through this whole thing. Unless I waited a significant amount of time (like 6 years).
And yet at work I am starting to realize I will have to work twice as hard to achieve the same level. Where in two years from now I might qualify for a promotion if I spent the next two years working on my masters I could easily turn that into two promotions in three years. It's possible that the longer I stick around the more people will have master's degrees and the more that will become the norm for engineering.
But thinking about it really makes me tired. Yes it won't be as long and bitter as the five years of working full time while doing my undergrad, but it'll still be probably a two year minimum commitment while I'm trying to juggle ever growing responsibility at work. I could wait, but if I wait it just seems like time wasted that could've been spent gaining the credential.


SIBQ - Sorry It's Been Quiet

And sorry I used an acronym for my post title. But hey, I'm an engineer, what'd you expect?
I know the posting has been sporadic here at Haus Tech. But at last it's Friday. Part of the lull stems from craziness at Megacorp. My team is being restructured under a higher level individual and this has meant I'm being asked to take on higher level responsibilities to cover the gap. This is usually a good thing. But I suspect it'll be part of some temporary situation where possibly these duties will flow back upwards on a periodic basis, or since the powers that be haven't exactly been formerly notified they may just assume the next guy up is handling them (as he should be). I don't know, I do tend to overthink these things. Like a lot. So we'll see how it goes.
Some of my energies have gone into keeping up with my posting schedule over at Engineer Blogs and an effort to now always write about communication or workplace dramas I've been trying to post on technical subjects so last week was on bearings and this week is on condensation.
I think I have a partial tendency to avoid writing about technical topics because sometimes I feel like an imposter engineer (which I'm sure doesn't help the confidence issues at work) as well as sometimes the cool stuff I am doing is just way to specific to my field and would a) ruin my pseudonymity and b) get me fired.
But on top of all that I feel like as an engineer I was prepared for having to solve design problems. And even though I know there would be a lot of politics and corporate intrigue, navigating them is still a challenge. Probably a greater challenge than doing an analysis on a failing component. Not to mention they are universal issues (I think).
So if you'd like to see more technical stuff here, pipe up. If you like the workplace whining posts or hate them let me know. If you want to tell me how your day is going or how the weather is please share that too. You know, whatever you feel like bringing to the table here.


Lines of Communication

This being more than a decade into a new century you'd think we'd have our jet packs and flying cars already. Or more importantly perhaps, weren't we all supposed to be working from home by now?
Telecommuting was supposed to be the future. And I see why corporate America doesn't switch over to that model (both for good and bad reasons). But one of the many drawbacks of working in an office together has to be the tendency to share news and information via word of mouth. This is good for informal chatter or tentative things you can't commit to official writing yet. But it also allows the important folks to procrastinate on making decisions. They can verbally tell a subordinate to go in one direction, and not have to take blame for switching course a few weeks or days or hours later.
It also means there's a plethora of emails that go unanswered. Both because people are slacking and not responding, but also because the official response that can be done in email becomes a lot more serious. It's the new memo or fax of today and while it doesn't always have to be formalized you know that, like what goes out on the internet, it will be there forever. Your words will be around and you will have to commit to what you wrote about or write a retraction email, the great shame giver.
But in my case it means waiting for direction and not getting it because once it's in writing it goes. And the higher ups may have their reasons for delaying, but it can be frustrating when you're dealing with an internal or external customer that expects an answer and you have to tell them your superiors are just sitting around ruminating on it rather than sending a quick yay or nay via email.


Excel-Fu: Selection Boxes and Cost

I thought it might be handy to post some of the tips and tricks I've been learning lately in various software programs. Because in order to teach myself I had to go scouring the internet for different sources, and maybe someone else is trying to do the same thing (plus the best way to remember something seems to be to teach it to somebody else, or if that fails write it down in the indelible ink of the internet).

Say you're considering building an assembly and have different options for different parts that would result in total cost differences. For my example I'm only using two components, but if you had a lot you might want something more automated. In the end what I needed was several drop down boxes where each option would reflect its cost and then add to a total below.

So here's how you'd do that which should be helpful if you've been trying to implement drop downs in Excel, use a lookup table, or figure out how to pull and use data from a selected drop down value.

In order to use a drop down you need what Excel considers developers tools. In order to turn this tab in, you go to File-> Excel Options. There, depending on your version of Microsoft Office, it might be under the popular tab, or might be under the "customize ribbon" tab. You want to have the "show developer tab" checked.
Then you go into your developer tab, click "insert" and there should be a drop down of various options. The one I'm using is the Form Controls -> Combo Box. But I imagine a lot of this stuff would work on either types of controls and boxes.

This will turn your mouse into a little plus sign. Go ahead and drag how big you want your box over wherever you want it. Then right click it and select Format Control.

But let's backtrack. First you're going to need some data for all this. I have two sets of options for my two widgets. You can locate this in another sheet of your excel document, but here I've stuck mine on the same sheet so it's clear what I'm doing.
Now back to your format control. It gives you three options to fill in in the "control" tab. Input range, cell link, and drop down lines. If I'm building the box for my first widget (options A through C) my input range is I3:I5. You can type this in, or just put your mouse in the box then drag your mouse over the cells you want. For right now, you don't care about the cost, only your "names". Cell link is the actual cell where your drop down value is going to be stored. I usually select the cell that seems most inhabited by my drop down box. Drop down lines is the number of values I have, 3 in this case, and I usually select 3-D shading cause why not, it's pretty.

Now you've got a drop down box that has some values in it that you can select. If it's bugging out at this point, you've probably messed something up in switching between sheets, so re-check your values and make sure they're still calling out the cells you want.

Next you'll need two columns to the right. One I've hidden because its sole purpose is to grab the "name" from the drop down. The problem with excel and drop down menus is it just correlates values to numbers. If you try to copy the value of your drop down it will just be a number of 1 through N where N is the number of options you have. In order to get that number to correspond to the value, you have to use a kind of silly workaround formula, the OFFSET formula.

In this case it's =OFFSET(the cell directly above my "names" table,the cell that my drop down box is storing its info in,0). The 0 is the actual offset value. Or in my case, =OFFSET(I2,C3,0). This is all important too because it means you need a row above your names table as you can see I had above. Now no matter which value you select in drop down, the column should mirror that value. Since you don't really need this column again later you can hide it (right click the whole column, select hide).

Next to callout the price value of your component you'll use the tables I showed a few figures up. This is the next colum over and uses the VLOOKUP function.
So the values I want here are =VLOOKUP(the value I'm converting, my WHOLE lookup table, 2, FALSE) or in my case =VLOOKUP(F3,I3:J5,2,FALSE). The 2 is because the value I want is in the 2nd column. If you were selecting a larger table you could specify any column you want. The F3 cell is where I used offset to grab the "name" value from the drop down. The false is to indicate I want only an exact match (for the name) rather than a partial match.

So now you can have drop downs with selected values, connect them to prices, and of course you can use a sum value (=SUM(G3:G7) ) to nab your costs and make a total further down.

Some of these methods are probably cheap workarounds, but still I hope you learned something. If you didn't and were bored sorry. Maybe you can write in with your badass software tricks.


Design Fridays: Volvo's new flywheel

Volvo's claiming their new flywheel design will be able to give a four cylinder the equivalent of six cylinder power as well as save 20% of combustion energy.
A flywheel is just a name for a rotational device that's able to store energy. It does this by using inertia and saving rotational energy. The amount of energy that can be stored is based on the moment of inertia and rotational speed, where moment of inertia is based on mass and radius of the wheel. Typical flywheel designs might include differing weights at certain points in the wheel that help keep the rotational speed more consistent and higher.
In your typical automotive application, a flywheel sits on the end of your crankshaft and converts the energy and movement of the crankshaft into a more consistent rotational speed.
Volvo is claiming that their flywheel will be able to store so much energy that when the engine is idling it can actually turn off and the energy stored in the wheel is enough to start combustion again. If so that could explain their 20% fuel savings number as engine idling is a well known waster of energy (why electrical cars and the Prius shut off at a stop). The flywheel also sounds like it is using aspects popular in hybrids and electric cars: regenerative braking. There've been a lot of attempts to incorporate regenerative braking into designs, the idea that you can get back part of the energy you're wasting to brake. But generally these designs haven't been efficient enough to be practical (plus once you add complications, you add more room for failure, and the more components the heavier your car thus reducing your energy savings).
They're supposed to start field testing this sometime later this year.


Bernanke's Economic Outlook

So on Tuesday Bernanke spoke to some banker's association in Atlanta and covered some important topics: like, is the humidity there not craaaazy?
Okay, not really. He re-iterated the same stuff he always does. That they'd rather pick from their tool belt of regulatory options to affect the economy rather than doing interest rate changes. Why? Does he not crave absolute power? Well the real answer is the interest rate is already so low, it's no longer a tool that the federal reserve really has available to them. But if they admit to this maybe consumer confidence will implode...or something. Not to mention continuing to keep interest rates incredibly low is really working out for the banker elite who's making a killing on borrowing money from the government at 0% and then lending it back to the government via treasury bonds for 3 or 4%.
He mentions trying to keep inflation low, though it's clear from low rates for so long that this is not a priority for the voting majority of the federal reserve board. Instead it's more cheap talk to buoy up certain people (large debtors like banks who have a bunch of mortgages or the government itself) rather than worry about those who are at a critical point (the poor and the elderly living on fixed incomes).
He states that his objective is to keep inflation low and keep the value of the dollar high and his excuse for why this is not actually happening is the importation of oil. Gas prices, something the reserve doesn't even look at in its core inflation index, are wildly inflating and somehow contributing to a falling dollar value. The US actually only imports about 51% of its oil. Something like 350 billion a year. With a 14 trillion GDP, 1 trillion handed to banks as free money, and a looming national debt, Bernanke really wants to blame this one on gas prices? If anything the falling price of the dollar might be contributing to speculation on oil as a commodity which could be one of the main reasons for the rising price of gas at the pump.
His only concessions to the real people is that they are working on achieving "maximum employment" (almost as if he is admitting to a possible future of long term high unemployment rates). I guess he is working on that like I am working on being nicer to rich, elite bankers. Which is to say, not at all. Then he only briefly mentions that the lower growth rate the GDP is seeing is somehow contributing to what people really care about (employment, real wages) because it is "frustratingly slow". I'm not sure why he'd connect GDP with employment. That's like connecting stock market prices, dividends, and shareholder profits with real wage gains for the working class. The two are not correlated. Or if anything, are negatively correlated.



There's been a lot of discussion in the news lately about the James Webb telescope. It's planned orbit is about 1.5 million miles from earth. I was curious how this compared to existing space objects so I rigged up a scale representation. The larger dotted circles are just for clarification of finding the much smaller centers and locations of the objects. The moon is about 250,000ish miles out from the earth and the hubble telescope, at 366 miles, would have been visually on top of earth in this view so I left it off. What do you think, does it properly convey the scale and ambition of the Webb telescope? 


Leave Your Mark

An interesting gallery of John Rennie's engineering legacy. A scottish civil engineer in the 18th and 19th centures he was responsible for design of many canals, bridges, waterways, docks and harbours scattered around Great Britain. When we look at great buildings and wonders we don't always think of the engineer who designed it but they are as much a part of it as the society, labor and technology that went into the construction.


Looking for trends in all the wrong places

I found the above graph here. It's not so important that it doesn't include the last five years or so for my purposes.
I was looking at MegaCorp's new hires and discovered that in the last three months of intense intern hiring (it's the season for interns!) 24% of them have been female. I wondered how this compared to engineers hired. Turns out in the first 5+ months of this year, 10% of our new hire engineers have been female.
Now, my local university says that about 18.5% of engineering degrees are conferred to women. So the intern numbers seem to be, if anything, on the high side.
Compare the new hire numbers to the historical chart at the top and you'd see that we'd have to be averaging 30 years of experience for the engineers we hire for 10% to be a reasonable number. It's unlikely our average new hire engineer is 50 years old or more.
What does this mean? Why is the effort being made on the intern level to bring in more women but we don't see it when it comes down to hiring full-timers? It's possible, I suppose, that women are graduating with degrees, and working internships, but then somehow not going into engineer at all. If they are going into completely different fields after getting an engineering degree, and in high numbers, that could explain it.
Or is it part of the general trend that women tend to work in lower paying occupations so it's easier for a woman to get hired on as an intern than it will be for her to get hired as an engineer. Or maybe HR is trying to push diversity but can only manage to do so as a part of its intern hiring program but can't convince managers to hire more experienced women.
This might make a lot of sense if both numbers were on the low side or on the high side. Then you could draw some conclusion about MegaCorp's particular industry or maybe locality differences. As it is it looks a little strange.


Workplace Politics and the Engineer

People in general have a tendency to over estimate their own skill level in comparison to their peers. I am guilty of this, likely having seen myself as an "above average" employee since the minute I started working. All this despite struggling with impostor syndrome where I am prone to doubts and being found out as a fraud not as capable as I'm pretending to be.
So this was kind of in the back of my head when I read this article from Evil HRLady at BNET about whether you should dispute a performance review. The employee was marked average on everything, and felt they should be above average on some things and below on others. Evil HRLady's response seemed practical and correct:
Problem:  You are, actually, pretty average. Ouch.  Sorry.  But average is average and if you're better in some areas (as you said) and worse in others (as you said) that is going to average out to be, well average.
Sounds pretty correct. Then the original poster piped up in the comments and tried to stress that they were in fact above average. They pointed out all the things they do (working long hours, helping customers, sorting sections that had been abandoned, volunteering and covering for other employees). This got me to thinking. Their employer doesn't care about all these things. Does an employer really care about your "effort"? Maybe if you're a grad student, beyond that your boss wants to see output, results, to-do lists knocked off. They don't care that you "help" or "share" with your coworkers. It's a known fact that those who are good at working with others and training new employees are rarely promoted.
I suspect parallels in academia would be a professor who is an especially good teacher for which they get no credit for. Their research maybe places them at "average" at their university, and in their eyes exceptional teaching in addition to average research makes them above average.
I think the key is in order to not kill ourselves at work is make sure you're focusing on what's actually important to your boss. Mine likes to see a lot of written output even when the actual problem is not solved. Tracking progress, tasks and investigations look good to who he has to show his numbers to. Theoretically if you make your boss look good, they will value you. They may take credit for some of your actions (though more often in my opinion even a good employee doesn't always realize the value of direction and ideas from superiors that add to their projects). But in the end if you can separate what you think makes you an "above average" employee with what's important to those doing your review you can probably save yourself a lot of angst and heart burn focusing on things you might think matter but your organization doesn't actually value.