First woman in her field

Dr Laxmee Sobhee-Beetul is UCTs first female graduate in geotechnical engineering.

A Newlands woman has become UCT’s first female PhD graduate in geotechnical engineering.

Dr Laxmee Sobhee-Beetul, 34, graduated last month with a PhD in civil engineering, specialising in geotechnical engineering.

Known as the “soil doctor”, a name given to her by her son, Rishabh Beetul, 5, her qualification relates to the behaviour of the ground in the construction industry.

“For any construction project, the concerned soil has certain characteristics which dictate whether it is strong enough to sustain all the weight that will be put on it after construction,” she said.

During her studies, she visited construction sites to understand the engineering behaviour of soils.

Geotechnical engineers do field tests on sites using large machinery as well as lab tests to gauge the different engineering properties of soils.

“It’s important to do a proper geotechnical investigation, adequate tests, write a good report and understand what the site area entails from an engineering point of view,” she said.

Dr Sobhee-Beetul was born in Vacoas, Mauritius, and she credits her parents, Ramraj and Savitri Sobhee, for getting her where she is today.

Her father had taught her there was no such thing as a man’s job, she said.

“In one of the chats we had when he was fixing cars, the word ‘engineer’ came up, and I asked him, ‘What is an engineer?’”

She said she had always enjoyed science and doing experiments.

“I actually played in the soil a lot as a kid, without realising at that time that I would become the ‘soil doctor’.”

She left Mauritius in 2006 to study at UCT, completing her Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2010 and her Master’s in 2012.

For her doctorate, she was under the supervision of Associate Professor Denis Kalumba whom she described as very knowledgeable, understanding and supportive.

Professor Kalumba said it had been an honour supervising
Dr Sobhee-Beetul.

“She is a driven woman who was very focused on achieving her dream and I congratulate her on such a wonderful achievement,” he said.

Dr Sobhee-Beetul said it had taken a while for her to realise her studying days were behind her.

“I have mostly been studying my whole life. It is a different feeling to realise that I am not a student anymore. It’s a big relief, and I’m overwhelmed and overjoyed.”

She thanked her husband, Ashvind Beetul, for his support.

Mr Beetul said his wife had worked hard to accomplish her dream of completing her PhD at UCT.

“She has shown that women can also be great achievers in the field of engineering,” he said.