From leaving school with no GCSEs to becoming a chartered engineer

Professional Engineering

gemma christian
gemma christian

Gemma Christian's engineering journey reminds us that it's never too late to embark upon a career in the industry


I didn’t have a typical start for the job I am in now. I didn’t enjoy school and left with no GCSEs. It was only when I started an office job working as an administrator for an engineering company that I realised I had an interest in the industry.

2001-03, Newbury College, Berkshire

I enrolled at Newbury College, studying for a BTEC in engineering. They shouldn’t have taken me, but I had already self-taught C++, so they allowed me to retake my GCSEs in parallel to the diploma – so that was a busy two years, but the course was the first time I felt I had really excelled. The experience was the complete opposite of my time at school, and my supportive teachers encouraged me to continue my studies. 

2003-07, University of the West of England, Bristol

I studied for a BEng (Hons) in aerospace systems engineering at the University of the West of England. During my degree I did a placement year with Airbus Operations as an engineering intern, which really helped me to define my area of interest. Working within the composite materials department, my role was to qualify and document materials for innovative uses on new aircraft. I also did an individual research and technology project on dielectric cure monitoring. This is where I found my love for materials science.

2007-08, Cranfield University

My time at Airbus inspired me to keep going with my education and study for my masters in advanced materials. While at Cranfield, I won a few awards, including the BAE Systems Prize, the Nissan Technical Centre Europe Prize and Student of the Year. 

2008-11, Airbus

I knew I wanted to return to Airbus after my internship with the company, so joining their graduate scheme felt like coming home. As materials and process engineer, I gained a broad range of experience within structural engineering. I spent most of my time at Airbus working on qualification of materials and processes for the A350. 

My specialisation was within assembly technology, and a highlight of this role was working as a concessions engineer on the A380 final assembly line in Toulouse, France, and as R&D engineer in Melbourne, Australia, developing ultrasonic welding and in-situ health monitoring of composites.

2011-14, GE Aviation

As composites development engineer, my main duties included development of materials and processes for the A350 XWB TESS assemblies, resolving manufacturing issues on ‘first build’ production parts. I provided recommendations to design through completion of feasibility/trade studies supported by test, analysis and evaluation. I also led process improvement programmes and presented my findings at the international design board.

2014-Present,  Alvant

I joined Alvant as materials engineering manager and became a chartered engineer with the IMechE. I was responsible for all technical operations, from internal R&D to delivery of materials and applications engineering projects for our customers. I led research activities, including the development of MMC syntactic foam. 

In 2015, I was promoted to chief technology officer, responsible for delivery of a hybrid knuckle prototype for the Aluminium Matrix Composite 2 as well as identification of a casting platform for the Advanced Liquid Pressure Forming process. Last year, I was promoted to technical director, and have been part of a team responsible for the evolution of Alvant from an R&D to a commercial focus. We’re expanding the product offering.


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